Wednesday, October 28

Review: Vacheron Constantin Les Cabinotiers Minute Repeater Ultra-Thin – A Romantic Note

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Vacheron Constantin Les Cabinotiers Minute Repeater Ultra-Thin – A Romantic Note

In the Vacheron Constantin universe, Les Cabinotiers represents a department in its own right dedicated to the personalisation of pieces and unique creations. This tradition dates back to the 18th century, a time when master watchmakers were called cabinotiers and worked in ateliers bathed in natural light, known as cabinets and located on the top floors of Geneva’s buildings.

Various one-of-a-kind masterpieces have been born out of the Les Cabinotiers department, including the Celestia Astronomical Grand Complication and Symphonia Grande Sonnerie 1860 from SIHH 2017. This December, in Singapore, Vacheron Constantin presented no fewer than 11 unique watches that pay tribute to the musical arts – aptly called the ‘La Musique du Temps’ series.

Of the 11 chiming timepieces, one stood out as having the cleanest design and being the closest to the purist’s definition of a dress watch. Here, we take a look at the new Les Cabinotiers Minute Repeater Ultra-Thin – A Romantic Note.

The Case, Dial, and Hands

So, what’s there to like on the Les Cabinotiers Minute Repeater Ultra-Thin – A Romantic Note? Well, what’s not to like? Starting off with the case, we have an 18K 5N pink gold body that has been polished in its entirety for a refined look. It measures a contemporary 41 mm in diameter and is only 8.5 mm thick, which is a feat in itself given the complexity of the movement. Apart from the minute repeater slide on the flank, the case is otherwise austere in design, reminiscent of the brand’s Traditionelle timepieces.

The case is understated yet elegant.

Moving inward, we get to what may be deemed perfection as far as watch dials go. The off-white (eggshell colour, according to Vacheron Constantin) dial of the Les Cabinotiers Minute Repeater Ultra-Thin – A Romantic Note is rendered in grand feu enamel with a gold base. Even the 12 Breguet-style Arabic numerals are enameled, but in black. And just on the perimeter of the dial is a charming railroad-style minute track. Apart from the company marquee, Maltese cross logo, and ‘SWISS MADE’ inscription, nothing else is on the immediate surface, ensuring that the dial stays as pristine and clean as possible. Indicating the time are open-tipped feuille hands that complete the charm offensive from this stunning dial.

From the Breguet hands and numerals, to the oven-fired enamel dial, it is hard not to fall in love with such a simple yet gorgeous dial.

Making a simple dial look good is no simple task as any mistakes are laid bare for all to see. Here, it is flawless, dignified and absolutely dashing.

The Movement

Driving the Les Cabinotiers Minute Repeater Ultra-Thin – A Romantic Note is the 265-part, 36-jewel Calibre 1731, thus named in a nod to the founder Jean-Marc Vacheron’s birth year. The main characteristic of the Calibre 1731 is its impressive thinness for a minute repeater movement. At just 3.90 mm, it is only slightly thicker than its predecessor – the Calibre 1755 dating from 1992 – because of its impressive 65-hour power reserve. Numerous technical considerations ensure that the Calibre 1731 possesses superior acoustics. For instance, the gongs are not only connected to the case middle so as to amplify the sound, but also superimposed, rather than aligned side by side. In addition, the flying strike governor, tasked with regulating the rate at which the hammers strike, is entirely silent; silent governors are a feat only a rarefied company of manufacturers can claim to have achieved.

The Calibre 1731 as seen through the exhibition case back.

It should also come to no surprise that the Calibre 1731 – with its Hallmark of Geneva certification – is fantastically finished. As evidenced by the view through the exhibition case back, the bridges are decorated with even Geneva waves, chamfered edges, and sharp angles. The hammers, as well as the screw heads, have been mirror-polished to a blinding sheen. Suffice to say, the Calibre 1731 is as beautifully decorated as it is technically superlative.

The Competitive Landscape

Watch connoisseurs love complications, but they tend to come with dial displays that destroys the dressiness of a watch. This is why time-only minute repeater dress pieces have a special place in the hearts of connoisseurs. They usually appear deceptively simple at first glance, that is until the repeater slide is spotted. Several high-end brands have a stake in this particular genre of watches, but few do it as well as Vacheron Constantin. Even within Vacheron Constantin, the Les Cabinotiers Minute Repeater Ultra-Thin – A Romantic Note ranks among the finest of its kind. Naturally, being a privately commissioned piece, the pricing is kept a secret, but expect it to be in the ballpark of half a million Swiss Francs.

The watch cuts a slender profile on the wrist and will easily slide under any dress cuff.

For a minute repeater you can actually buy, one does not simply look past the Audemars Piguet Minute Repeater Supersonnerie from this year’s most ‘love-to-hate’ collection: the Code 11.59. Widely considered the best looking piece in the controversial collection, the Minute Repeater Supersonnerie was the recipient of the Men’s Complication Prize in this year’s GPHG. The Calibre 2953 that beats within is based on Audemars Piguet’s original Supersonnerie minute repeater movement, which boasts superior chiming volume and clarity. Almost a year on from its debut, the case and dial design of Code 11.59 watches remain an acquired taste for most (especially the dial). While it is not nearly as dressy as the Vacheron Constantin, it is definitely worthy of a mention as 2019’s most scrutinised minute repeater. The Code 11.59 Minute Repeater Supersonnerie is priced at CHF295,000.

The Code 11.59 Minute Repeater Supersonnerie on my wrist, with a graduated blue/black grand feu enamel dial.

Another time-only minute repeater that bears mentioning is the Laurent Ferrier Galet Minute Repeater Montre Ecole. The watch is rendered in stainless steel due to the alloy’s good acoustics, and has a dial in the ever-popular salmon hue. It features Laurent Ferrier signature designs such as the assegai hands and montre ecole case. While the Calibre LF707.01 that beats within isn’t in-house, you can bet that it is finished to exceptional standards, something that Laurent Ferrier is famous for. The watch is priced at CHF290,000.

The Laurent Ferrier Galet Minute Repeater Montre Ecole, based on Laurent Ferrier’s own ‘school watch’

Final Thoughts

The Les Cabinotiers Minute Repeater Ultra-Thin – A Romantic Note is as close to perfection as it gets. It is as elegant as a dress watch, but has the trappings that make a watch geek swoon, like a grand feu enamel dial and an excellent minute repeater movement. Vacheron Constantin’s Les Cabinotiers department continues to make amazing, unique pieces that are sure to please their respective owners – the only downside, is that everyone else only gets to enjoy them through photographs.

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2 Comments

  1. Frank, thanks for this excellent review. I think VC really nailed it with these 11 or so Cabinotier pieces. I absolutely love the aesthetics of the one you have reviewed here. It would also make such a fantastic time only piece. Same case and dial; but with VC’s calibre 2450 or maybe even 1120. I hope VC is listening.

    Among these Cabinotier pieces, I also absolutely love the Skychart with Tourbillon and Minute Repeater.

    • Thank you for your insight as always! I, too, enjoyed the new Cabinotiers pieces. Big fan of Vacheron Constantin’s Metiers d’Art watches so watches like the La Caravelle 1950, and the Four Seasons really speak to me. Even The Dance of Gemstones looks great to me – a total class act. The piece I reviewed here is likely going to be most people’s favourite, because it is elegant, clean, simple, but done perfectly, in my opinion. I have heard some complaints from the community of the numerals being too italicised, but that doesn’t bother me at all.