‘Tis the season for retrograde date displays here at Vacheron Constantin, a functionality that has been in the family since the 1920s. This year, no fewer than three new models were introduced at Watches & Wonders celebrating the spritely complication, one of which was the Traditionnelle Tourbillon Retrograde Date Openface.
Review: VC Traditionnelle Tourbillon Retrograde Date Openface
The Tourbillon Retrograde Date Openface is the only timepiece in the current Traditionnelle collection featuring the retrograde date, a display that is more prevalent in the Patrimony collection. The openface design of the dial follows the likes of Traditionnelle Twin Beat Perpetual Calendar (2019) and Complete Calendar Openface (2021) which share a similar avant-garde design theme. Toss in a tourbillon as the centrepiece and you get a watch that exemplifies contemporary design, mechanical sophistication and traditional craftsmanship, all in one package. Here, we bring you the details and our honest thoughts on the latest addition to Vacheron Constantin’s Traditionnelle collection, the Tourbillon Retrograde Date Openface.
The Case, Dial, and Hands
The case of the new Traditionnelle Tourbillon Retrograde Date Openface measures a modern 41.00 x 11.07 mm. Rendered in pink gold, it features a stepped design with a thin bezel, hallmarks of the Traditionnelle collection. It is a simple enough design that aims to maximise the impact of the dial.
And what a dial it’s got. The multi-dimensional dial of Vacheron Constantin’s latest Traditionnelle is assembled in four parts. The first is the most visible: the 18K gold slate grey plate with a hand-guilloched segment and the retrograde display printed below it. Then, there’s the 18k gold hour markers. The third part is the opaline, railway-style, minute and second tracks. The last part paradoxically covers the greatest surface area but is the least visible: the sapphire crystal that reveals the mechanics of the watch. The clash between traditional and contemporary here is stunning. And the same can be said for the hands – classical pink gold dauphine hands for the time, and a more unorthodox blackened gold hand with white arrow tip for the retrograde date. It bears mentioning that despite the convergence of so many different elements, the design of the dial is (surprisingly) coherent and aesthetically pleasing.
Driving the Traditionnelle Tourbillon Retrograde Date Openface is the 30-jewel, 242-part Calibre 2162 R31. The movement is based on the seminal Calibre 2160 from 2018, which was then Vacheron Constantin’s first and only self-winding tourbillon movement. The new Calibre 2162 R31 is essentially a more stylised version of its predecessor, with the addition of a retrograde date mechanism on the dial-side. Both movements beat at a stately 2.5 Hz but the Calibre 2162 R31 has a slightly lower power reserve of 72 hours (vs 80 hours in the Calibre 2160) presumably due to the additional complication. The movement is fitted with a peripheral rotor that winds the watch like a full rotor would without adding height to the movement and obstructing the view of the movement through the sapphire crystal.
The tension between old and new that is seen on the dial is taken to the next level on the movement. The bridges and plates in the Calibre 2162 R31 are given a brooding NAC slate grey finish that confers an industrial look. Visible from the dial-side, the top half of the base plate is finished with simple, vertical hand-brushing while the bottom half is hand-guilloched with straight lines. In spite of the elaborate surface treatments on the bridges and plates, it is the tourbillon that remains the star of the show. Vacheron Constantin tourbillons are widely considered in the industry to be one of the most beautiful and it’s not difficult to see why. The shape of the cage is inspired by the Maltese cross which doesn’t just look cool, but is also emblematic of the brand. The highly angular shape of the cage lends itself to many opportunities for inward angling, opportunities that Vacheron Constantin seize when lesser brands would flinch. These angles, as well as other beveled edges and the top surface of the cage, are mirror polished by hand to a sheen. One of the four screws that are on the edges of the tourbillon cage is given the same galvanic treatment as the bridges to set it apart from the rest, thus allowing it to double as a seconds indicator.
The Competitive Landscape
What happens when you bring traditional fine watchmaking into the 21st century? The Traditionnelle Tourbillon Retrograde Date Openface is ideally what happens. The watch is the perfect example of how old-school watchmakers could appeal to contemporary tastes without losing its identity. Even with modern elements integrated such as the sapphire crystal dial and the slate grey galvanised bridges, Vacheron Constantin’s latest Traditionelle is still dripping with class. The juxtaposition of old and new is not a novel design concept in watchmaking but it is executed to perfection here. The price is available only upon request but expect figures around EUR200,000 mark.
One worthy alternative to the Traditionnelle is the Breguet Tradition Quantième Rétrograde 7597. It hasn’t got a tourbillon, but other aspects of the watch are reminiscent of the Vacheron Constantin. From the open visage and galvanised bridges to the pronounced use of guilloche, the Breguet 7597 is also a masterful blend of tradition and modernity. And like in the Traditionnelle, the angle at which the retrograde date hand operates is nearly 180 degrees. The difference, however, is that in the Breguet 7597, it sweeps the bottom half of the dial rather than the top half. The hand is blued and – because it stems from beneath dial-level – has periscope-like bends to allow it to point to the date track that’s been fixed at dial-level. Put simply, the Breguet 7597 is the result of classic and modern design cues done right. Retailing at around the EUR40,000 mark, it is an excellent piece to consider if a tourbillon is not a must.
Where the tourbillon and retrograde displays are of concern, look no further than the Blancpain Villeret Tourbillon Volant Heuere Sautante Minute Rétrograde. Apart from having a name that’s a mouthful, the Villeret, like the Traditionnelle, also features the tourbillon (albeit the flying variety) as its main attraction. What’s truly distinctive in the Villeret is the retrograde display; it doesn’t indicate the date but, rather, the minutes. So instead of only being able to see the display jump at the end of month, owners of the Villeret get to see it every hour. The watch, with a beautifully guilloched movement and a kiln-fired enamel dial, was introduced back in 2018 and was priced SGD 207,000 at release.
Vacheron Constantin may be known as a bastion of traditional watchmaking but that reputation doesn’t keep them from their permanent need to innovate. As they say: different strokes for different folks. The Traditionnelle Tourbillon Retrograde Date Openface isn’t the most orthodox offering we’ve seen from the brand but it will find no shortage of suitors. Implementing contemporary design into an otherwise classical piece is a sensible way to find common ground between timeless tradition and current trends in the 21st century. When executed to the high standards seen in the Traditionnelle Tourbillon Retrograde Date Openface, the outcome is, more often than not, one of awe.