The Collector’s View: Vacheron Constantin Traditionnelle Manual Winding: Kunal Khemka talks about his first love, why he bought it, and 9 years on, why he is still deeply in love. Our review with the watch in the new 2017 slate grey dial is found here.
I remember the moment vividly. It was 18th January 2009, a day prior to the start of SIHH in Geneva. And just about 2 weeks shy of my 32nd birthday. I was at Kolkata Airport waiting to board my flight to New Delhi. Before heading for security, I checked The Hour Lounge (THL) website (Vacheron Constantin’s then official online community) on my Blackberry to see if their new timepieces were revealed. (THL usually revealed them a day before for community members.) And voila, what a treat for the eyes! VC had introduced several impressive timepieces under their new Patrimony Traditionnelle family. First introduced in 2007, VC added to this new line in 2009. These included the Caliber 2755, a classic triple grand complication comprising of a Minute Repeater, Tourbillon and Perpetual Calendar. And the Patrimony Traditionnelle Chronograph, a column wheel chronograph based on the legendary Lemania Caliber (VC designation 1140); a gorgeous timepiece and an instant classic. And there were others; all equally impressive. A newly resurgent VC was keen to show the horological world that it had finally ‘re-arrived’. Somewhere towards the lower part of the list was an elegant classic three-hand dress watch. It took my breath away. A prayer had been answered. I knew I had to have one. It was the Patrimony Traditionnelle Manual-Winding with Caliber 4400.
During my mid-20’s, I was eager to acquire a prestigious haute-horology classic dress watch. I believed then, as I do now, that every man and woman should have one. A classic dress watch is a ‘wardrobe essential’. Stubborn that I am, I wanted one from the Holy Trinity of Vacheron Constantin, Patek Philippe, or Audemars Piguet. (At the time I was clueless about A. Lange & Sohne.) I visited watch websites and pored over magazine ads for my dose of horology. I discovered the Robb Report US edition, which prior to pre-recession 2008, was thick, and full of glossy watch advertisements and occasional watch articles. It became a part of my horological education. Back then, the watch websites were nothing much, but I did manage to order a few catalogues. I was extremely tempted by PP’s Calatrava collection and AP’s Jules Audemars collection. The watch that won me over was the VC Malte Grande Classic.
Launched In 2003, this was a classic three-hand watch with a guilloche dial, which debuted their new inhouse manual-winding Caliber 1400. I really wanted this. It’s introduction at the time, both the watch and the movement, was huge for a resurgent VC. This was just prior to VC’s 250th Anniversary in 2005.
Fast forward seven years later to 2009 with VC’s incredible 250th Anniversary horological achievements well under their belt. When VC launched the Patrimony Traditionnelle Manual- Winding with Caliber 4400, it felt like the “spiritual successor” to the Malte Grande Classic – at least for me. This time around I was able to afford a haute horology dress watch. But my journey towards Patrimony Traditionnelle ownership was not straightforward. Its path included a beautiful distraction, one which came from within VC itself. It was the Vacheron Constantin Historiques American 1921.
Launched in 2008, the Historiques American 1921 debuted VC’s new manual-winding caliber 4400. Its beautifully proportioned 40 mm cushion shaped case; sandblasted dial with bold Arabic numerals; Breguet Hands; all rotated 45 degrees clockwise, helped make it an instant sensation. It was a modern interpretation of a watch VC had made in the 1920’s and was a tribute to the roaring twenties. On a trip to Geneva in May 2009, I was fortunate to see one (sans the strap) at the VC manufactory in Plan Les Ouates. I was smitten. It was love at first sight. This, in spite of ‘falling in love’ with the Patrimony Traditionnelle launched at SIHH just a few months earlier! The Historiques 1921 was all over the “place”, including Hollywood. In the 2010 ‘Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps’, Josh Brolin’s character – Bretton James – a modern day Gordon Gekko, wore a 1921. Though it appears for only few seconds during the latter part of the film, it was a moment I anxiously waited for. In 2009, it was awarded the Watch of the Year prize by the Fondation Haute Horlogerie (FHH). The 1921 had become a horological icon.
In October 2010, I ordered a 1921 at VC’s Boutique in Marina Bay Sands in Singapore. Delivery was stated at 6 months. Upon leaving the boutique, I caught a glimpse of the Patrimony Traditionnelle. Upon noticing this, the Boutique Manager suggested that I should get this as well! While I was excited about the 1921, my subconscious kept poking at me. I was conflicted. Somehow it did not feel right. I finally had to admit to myself that while I loved the 1921, my eagerness to acquire it was mostly driven by the ‘sensation’ surrounding it at the time. My heart still wanted the Patrimony Traditionnelle. It ‘spoke to me’ a lot more.
In January 2011, VC informed me that my 1921 was ready for collection. I got cold feet. I did not know what to do. I confessed to my wife and to a close friend, both of whom believed the Patrimony Traditionnelle was a better choice for me. The Historiques 1921 is an amazing timepiece but was not (yet) for me. VC was kind enough and allowed me to change. On a trip to Singapore in February 2011, with huge excitement and knots in my stomach, I ventured to the VC Boutique at Marina Bay Sands and collected my Patrimony Traditionnelle. The entire boutique experience of being shown the watch, learning how to properly wind-it, and finally wearing it was magical and unreal. My first haute-horology dress watch. And from a brand I love and adore. The most perfect 34th birthday present to myself
Side note: in 2013-2014, VC had separated the Traditionnelle line from Patrimony to create two different families. So ‘Patrimony Traditionnelle’ ceased to exist as a name, except for those who bought one prior to the split. One of the reasons for the introduction of the Traditionnelle line was that its design aesthetic allows the introduction of complications. And several of VC grand complications are part of the Traditionnelle family.
The Traditionnelle is a classic elegant three-hand dress watch. While classic three-hand (or even two-hand) dress watches are not uncommon, the design language of the Traditionnelle appealed to me a lot more. Its delicate enough to be a Swiss-French design yet achieves a slightly Teutonic tone with its vintage-inspired style rail-road style minutes and seconds track surrounding the dial and seconds subdial. Among its cavalcade of details are applied gold baton style hour markers and the dauphine style hands, which are mirror-polished one side only. The applied gold Maltese Cross just above ‘Vacheron Constantin Geneva’ looks beautiful.
The case is 38mm and made of 5N pink gold, which has a lovely warm hue. Another interesting detail is the presence of a ‘ribbed’ patten towards the lower part of the case which gives the case less of a ‘block look’, and hence a vibrant personality of its own. And the lugs slightly curve downwards, ensuring a comfortable fit and feel on the wrist. Turn the watch over, and the Caliber 4400 is visible in all its glory. The caliber 4400 fills the case back perfectly. Dial side and case back, there is beauty and balance all around.
Beating at 4 Hz (28800 v.p.h.), the in-house caliber 4400’s large single barrel provides a power reserve of approximately 65 hours. (Mine has measured about 67-68 hours and near perfect timekeeping.) For a serially produced hand-made caliber from a mainstream brand, it is beautifully finished, and meets the criteria of the Poincon de Geneva or Geneva Seal. (When the Traditionnelle was launched, the Geneva Seal was applicable only to the movement. Since late 2011, the rules were updated to the apply to the entire watch. All Traditionnelle manual winding timepieces crafted 2012 onwards are covered by the new Geneva Seal.) The Caliber 4400 is a modern-day movement designed such that it can be easily serviceable by any qualified watchmaker.
To my eyes, the Traditionnelle is among the most beautiful and elegant classic dress watches available today. For a watch that (almost) went unnoticed during its launch, it has emerged a bestseller for VC. There have been few limited editions and different variations over the years. These have included a Boutique Exclusive Pink Gold version with Guilloche dial, and a Platinum version with Grey dial. VC paid the Traditionnelle the ultimate compliment by launching a Collection Excellence Platine (CEP) version. CEP is an elite club of limited-edition platinum watches, where the case, dial and stitching on the strap are crafted in platinum! CEP models are rarer, and proudly mention ‘PT950’ between four and five o’clock. If I were buying a second Traditionnelle today, I would choose either the White Gold version or the newer Pink Gold version with Slate Grey dial.
For many, collecting watches is ‘not about watches’ anymore. Many buy them for investment. Often a watch is judged based on the length of its waiting list, premium over retail price, and its secondary market value. Certain brands’ ‘Artificial Scarcity’ tactics have shifted focus away from horological marvels such as the Traditionnelle, which go further unnoticed.
An aesthetic and mechanical delight, the Traditionnelle is incredibly versatile. An essential with formal wear; yet equally at ease as a weekend watch, perhaps with jeans. It transcends age and time. A perfect graduation present; 40th birthday present; and even a 70th birthday or retirement present. It looks equally good on someone in their 20’s and, also their 70’s. A strong case could be made for it as part of an only 2-watch collection; the other one being a versatile ‘sports watch’. (VC’s own Overseas collection could be the second watch here. And there are few other obvious options.) If taken care of, it will outlive its owner and remain a family heirloom. And unlike a lot of timepieces today, the design of the Traditionelle will age well, and will be equally relevant 20, 30, 50 years later. Its simplicity and elegance will never go out of style.
Owning my Traditionnelle acted as a stepping stone towards watch-collecting and enhanced my knowledge and exposure of horology. Most importantly, it opened a world of friendships, which are priceless. I hope to add to my collection. I am tempted by timepieces from mainstream brands, microbrands, and independent watchmakers; whether simple timepieces or those with complications. While my tastes have evolved, the Traditionnelle will remain a Foundation and Special piece in my collection. One that I will never part with.