1815 Chronograph vs. Historiques Cornes de Vache 1955
Chronograph watches are quintessential in the modern gentleman’s collection and, therefore, are a must-have in every manufacturer’s catalogue. While originally intended to be a tool (to measure heart rate, to time a race etc.), the chronograph watch today serves mainly as an accessory, and an object of curiosity and fancy. The dress chronograph is an important sub-category of the chronograph watch. Designed to be dressy and elegant, it lacks the ruggedness or sportiness typically associated with the chronograph watch. And yes, it looks great with a suit.
For this 1-on-1, we look to two of the world’s finest makers of dress watches: A. Lange & Söhne and Vacheron Constantin. The former is a young brand from Saxony; the latter, one of the oldest watchmakers in the world, based in Geneva. While the styles of their watches are different, their quality is consistently top notch and industry-leading. The most iconic dress chronograph from Lange is undoubtedly the Datograph. However, it is not exactly the dressiest. That honor belongs to its little brother, the 1815 Chronograph. The 1815 Chronograph is one of the finest chronographs ever made and it deserves a rival that is similarly magnificent. With that in mind, we chose to pit it against the Vacheron Constantin Historiques Cornes de Vache 1955, a connoisseur favourite.
The 1815 Chronograph is encased in a Lange stock standard case, one that is shared across nearly all Lange watches. Don’t be fooled by the fact that it is a ‘standard’ case, though, because at Lange, the only standard is perfection. Its overall design is typically German: overbuilt and austere. Where finesse is introduced is in the finishing. The case is polished and satin-brushed alternatingly for a stunning visual contrast. Our favourite bits are the bevels on the edges of the lugs and pushers; they really add nuance to an otherwise modestly designed case.
On the other hand, the case of the Historiques Cornes de Vache 1955 has a more ‘flamboyant’ character. Inspired by the vintage Ref. 6087 made, of course, in 1955, it features lugs that resemble the horns of a cow (hence “cornes de vache”). It is these sensuous, gorgeous lugs that have mostly given the Historiques Cornes de Vache 1955 its unmistakable character, and its cult status today. Even though both the 1815 Chronograph and the Historiques Cornes de Vache 1955 share similar case sizes (39.5 mm x 11.0 mm vs. 38.5 mm x 10.9 mm, respectively), the Vacheron Constantin all-star has a more refined appearance. This is thanks in part to its thinner bezel, fully polished surface, and vintage pump pushers.
The dial design of the Historiques Cornes de Vache 1955 can be described as vintage, but with a small contemporary twist. And that twist has to do with the tachymetre scale printed in blue. The rest of the elements on the dial, from the typography to the stick hands, are strictly old-school. The bi-compax layout of the counters also reinforces this notion.
Meanwhile, the 1815 Chronograph has a traditional-style dial that leans towards the contemporary, depending on the variant. The various elements on the dial, such as the Arabic numerals and the railroad style minute track, are in fact inspired from old Lange pocket watches. Instead of a tachymetre scale, the 1815 Chronograph has a pulsometre scale printed onto its chapter ring. And instead of a bi-compax layout, the two sub-counters are placed just beneath the horizontal axis of the dial. While the dial of the Historiques Cornes de Vache 1955 evokes longing nostalgia, the 1815 Chronograph dial boasts a more cohesive and harmonious design, at least in our opinion.
The origin stories behind the movements of both the 1815 Chronograph and the Historiques Cornes de Vache 1955 could not be more different. The in-house designed and manufactured Calibre L951.5 that beats within the 1815 Chronograph is essentially the historical Datograph movement sans the outsize date function (plus a few performance upgrades). The view of the case back is virtually identical to that of its famous sibling. And you probably don’t need to hear about it again, but we’ll say it anyway: the Datograph/1815 Chronograph calibre remains one of, if not the most architecturally satisfying and well-finished chronograph movements ever to exist. And to think that back in 1999, this was the very first in-house chronograph movement of the modern era, and that it was by an upstart brand – it’s insane.
The Calibre 1142 that drives the Historiques Cornes de Vache 1955, on the other hand, started its life as an ébauche: the Lemania 2310, which has been around for decades. The longevity of the movement is indeed praiseworthy; as they say, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. Of course, the Calibre 1142 we see today is a heavily modified version of the Lemania 2310, with upgrades to various components and to finissage. The same calibre is also currently used in the brand’s Harmony Chronograph Small Model.
Much like the Lange Calibre L951.5, the Calibre 1142 is a horizontal clutch, column wheel chronograph movement. As is always the case with this type of chronograph calibre, the chronograph works of both movements are laid out in full glory on top of the plate, visible through the sapphire crystal case back. The only functional difference that exists between the two calibres is the flyback. Activated by pressing the reset button while the chronograph is running, the flyback function combines three steps – stop, reset, restart – into one, allowing an ongoing time measurement to be interrupted and a new one to be started immediately. This function is found on the Lange but not on the Vacheron Constantin.
Endowed with the Geneva Seal, the Calibre 1142 is not only constructed but also finished to a superlative standard. Of note are the numerous internal angles found on the edges of the bridges, as well as the iconic Maltese cross on the polished column wheel.
That said, Lange has taken the Calibre L951.5 to a whole other level. Just visually, it is clear that it has been afforded a greater degree of detail and care. Sharp internal angles aside, it too has been adorned with gold chatons, heat-blued screws, a column wheel and swan neck regulator that has been immaculately black polished, and of course, a hand-engraved balance cock. All this would not have been possible without the manufacturer’s double assembly protocol, where movements are assembled and adjusted before taken apart to have individual components cleaned. Only prior to the second assembly do some parts receive their final surface finish; this is to ensure that the finissage isn’t marred and is flawless.
On the Wrist
Objectively comparing the technical specifications of two watches is all well and good, but equally as important is how they actually feel on the wrist – the user experience, if you will. We have went hands-on with both timepieces on numerous occasions and though experiences are subjective, we trust that ours can serve as a reliable guide.
With the Historiques Cornes de Vache 1955, said experience was utterly pleasurable. This sentiment applies to both the platinum and the pink gold variants, although we do prefer the former for its icy cool factor. The first thing you notice are those cow horn lugs. The way they curve and taper on the wrist is sensuous, almost sexual. Its 38.5 mm diameter is small enough to remain dressy and yet big enough to have an impact. The blue-printed tachymetre scale acts as the perfect foil to the charming vintage design of the dial and pump pushers. And speaking of those pushers, their push action is firm and reassuring – you will know when those pushers have been actuated.
Not to be outdone by its Vacheron Constantin counterpart, the 1815 Chronograph itself is a joy on the wrist. It may not have the vintage charm of the Historiques Cornes de Vache 1955, but it more than makes up for it with its amicable blend of the contemporary and the traditional. The watch sits well on the wrist thanks to its sub-40 mm frame. And while its case is not as ornate, it is still impeccably finished. The dial is a total show-stopper; everything about it screams of elegant design. From the typography, to the layout, as well as its multi-planed nature, the dial is just so easy on the eyes. The watch does not look anachronistic at all, but is still grounded in tradition – a bit of a paradox. And with regards to the push action of those chronograph pushers, they feel buttery smooth – the complete opposite of the Historiques Cornes de Vache 1955.
To tie this 1-on-1 up in a nice knot, a price comparison is essential. To be fair, only the pink gold variants of both watches will be compared: the 1815 Chronograph retails at around SGD70,400, while the Historiques Cornes de Vache 1955 is priced in the ballpark of SGD82,500. With superior finishing, an extra flyback functionality, and being 15% less expensive, the 1815 Chronograph appears to be the value pick. That said, it is worth keeping in mind that the Historiques Cornes de Vache 1955 is a much more collectible timepiece and, as such, will retain its value significantly better than the Lange. In the end, it truly comes down to what a collector values in a watch.