The Traditionnelle collection, through its blend of elegant design and technical excellence, is the embodiment of haute horlogerie as envisioned by Vacheron Constantin. This year, at Watches & Wonders 2021, the illustrious Genevan watch manufacturer unveiled what could easily be deemed the ultimate Traditionnelle watch.
Vacheron Constantin Traditionnelle Split-Seconds Chronograph Ultra-Thin – Collection Excellence Platine
Fitted with the epic in-house Calibre 3500 and anointed with the prestige of platinum, this new addition naturally finds its place at the very pinnacle of the Traditionnelle line. Here, we bring you the details and our thoughts on the new Traditionnelle Split-Seconds Chronograph Ultra-Thin – Collection Excellence Platine.
The Case, Dial, and Hands
As part of the Collection Excellence Platine, the Traditionnelle Split-Seconds Chronograph Ultra-Thin is created with the celebration of platinum in mind, starting with the case. The case, including the bezel, crown, and chronograph monopusher, is forged in 950 platinum. Its 42.5 mm x 10.72 mm case size means that the watch is going to radiate an assertive presence on the wrist, but in a tactful manner that only a platinum Traditionnelle timepiece can. The case is paired with a gorgeous blue alligator leather strap that has been hand-stitched with woven platinum and silk thread – trademark of a Collection Excellence Platine timepiece.
In addition to a platinum case and platinum stitching, the Traditionnelle Split-Seconds Chronograph Ultra-Thin is also fitted with a platinum dial. In stark contrast to the immaculately polished case, the dial is sandblasted, granting it a delicately grainy texture that appears fiery under incident light. The indications on the dial are neatly displayed and intuitive to read. The Traditionnelle Split-Seconds Chronograph Ultra-Thin has a bi-compax chronograph layout with a 60-minute counter at 3 o’clock and small seconds at 9 o’clock. There is also a handy power reserve display at the 6 o’clock position. A tachymetric scale runs along the perimeter of the dial along with the applied white gold hour markers. Pointing out the time in hours and minutes are a pair of dauphine hands, also made of white gold. One might wonder why neither the hands nor the hour markers were made in platinum, given the platinum theme of the watch. The most logical reason would be to create some visual contrast against the platinum backdrop; white gold, especially when rhodium-plated, shines in a different shade of silver compared to platinum. To prevent confusion, all hands not involved in time-telling are wisely rendered in flame-blued steel which matches the strap nicely.
Driving the Traditionnelle Split-Seconds Chronograph Ultra-Thin is a movement that feels familiar, like an old acquaintance. Indeed, the Calibre 3500, a mechanical tour de force, was once housed in the Harmony Ultra-Thin Grande Complication Chronograph watch, in celebration of the 250th anniversary of Vacheron Constantin back in 2015. The movement has never been used in another reference since – that is until this year, where it has been brought back to power a more elegant, equally exquisite timepiece. This isn’t anything like an old has-been coming out of retirement; it’s more like the ‘Return of the King’. The 473-part, 47-jewel Calibre 3500 is, in itself, a masterpiece. For one, it is delightfully thin – only 5.2 mm in height – in spite of its sheer mechanical complexity. For another, it has a peripheral rotor, which contributes to the aforementioned thinness and is fairly rare to see even today.
The Hallmark of Geneva-certified Calibre 3500 has a decent power reserve of 48 hours and operates at a stately 3 Hz frequency. From an aesthetic point of view, the movement ranks among the best in the market. Of note are the intricate levers sprawled across the movement, the inward and outward anglage, the polished bevels and screw heads, the Maltese cross relief-engraved onto the two column wheels, and of course, the 22k gold peripheral rotor adorned with motifs inspired, once again, by the Maltese cross. Thanks to the latter, the Calibre 3500 can be self-winding and, at the same time, viewed unimpeded through the sapphire crystal case back. This would not have been possible with a legacy winding rotor, and is why horizontally-coupled chronograph movements tend to be manually wound.
The Competitive Landscape
The split-seconds chronograph is arguably the most difficult complication to perfect – yes, more so than the tourbillon (which isn’t even a complication), the perpetual calendar, and even the minute repeater. While the complication has become less uncommon today, the ones executed at the level of Vacheron Constantin’s Traditionnelle Split-Seconds Chronograph Ultra-Thin are still a rare treat that only select manufacturers can produce. The Traditionnelle Split-Seconds Chronograph Ultra-Thin stands out even amongst its elite peers because of its unique peripheral rotor and platinum-heavy garb. Of course, such excellence comes at a price: USD280,000 to be exact – and only 15 pieces will ever be made.
One fine specimen that could give the Traditionnelle Split-Seconds Chronograph Ultra-Thin a run for its money is the A. Lange & Söhne 1815 Rattrapante Honeygold, introduced last year to celebrate the 175th anniversary of the Saxon brand. As the name suggests, the watch has a case rendered in honey gold, a proprietary alloy that has a unique hue and is harder than conventional gold alloys. The manually wound Calibre L101.2 that drives the watch is a sight to behold. While not as architecturally sublime as the Calibre 3500, the Calibre L101.2 is at least as well-finished plus additional flourishing like gold chatons, flame-blued screws, frosted bridges and hand-engraved cocks. Retailing at USD134,000, the 100-piece limited edition Lange is half the price of the Traditionnelle Split-Seconds Chronograph Ultra-Thin but equal in quality.
For true bang for buck, look no further than the Montblanc 1858 Split Second Chronograph. While there are many variations to this amazing model, the one photographed below – the 1858 Split Second Chronograph Limited Edition 8 – is the latest one, created for Sincere Fine Watches. Limited to only 8 pieces, the watch comes with a smoked red dial and a titanium case. While its huge 44 mm size is something to get used to, the beauty of the movement makes it all worth it. The Calibre MB M16.31 is inspired from a Minerva pocket watch movement (which explains the size) and is thoroughly hand-finished to perfection. Architecturally evocative and impeccably decorated, Montblanc’s Minerva movements have long captured the hearts of connoisseurs and the Calibre MB M16.31 is no exception. The best part? Hardly any fine timepiece in the market tops the Montblanc 1858 Split Second Chronograph in value proposition. The Limited Edition 8 variant, for example, retails for SGD51,000, about seven times less than the Vacheron Constantin Traditionnelle Split-Seconds Chronograph Ultra-Thin.
The Vacheron Constantin Traditionnelle Split-Seconds Chronograph Ultra-Thin Collection Excellence Platine has got it all: elegance, opulence, exclusivity, and of course, ingenuity. The watch is a paragon of luxury and high watchmaking. And indeed it is a relief to see the outstanding Calibre 3500 reborn in another reference, rather than being put on ice indefinitely, which would be a real shame.