We continue our Vertical Collection Series with a guest contribution from Kunal P. Khemka. Kunal is a passionate collector of Vacheron Constantin, and we present his selection of the three essential watches from VC.
The concept of Vertical and Horizontal Collection are used in Wine as a tasting methodology. In the former, same type of wines of different vintages from the same vineyard are tasted. In the latter, wines of the same vintage, but from different vineyards are tasted.
This is our third in the series where we apply the concept of the former – three essential watches from one maison. In the first of the series, we explored the vertical collection with A. Lange & Söhne. We next examined the offerings from Patek Philippe. And here, we present our pick of three essential watches from Vacheron Constantin (VC). Three VC’s that we believe have become icons and represent the incredible history, diversity, ability, and values of this incredible Maison.
Founded in 1755 by Jean-Marc Vacheron in Geneva, Switzerland, VC is the oldest continuous watchmaker in existence. It has been ticking away for 263 years without interruption through good times and bad. VC is considered part of the Holy Trinity, the other two being Audemars Piguet and Patek Philippe. Choosing three VC’s for this vertical collection is an extremely difficult task, because this storied Genevan maison has so many incredible watches from both its past and current collections. It’s akin to placing your hand in a jar of precious D Flawless diamonds, hoping to pick the best three!
Almost every year, VC carefully selects a timepiece from their past, usually from the 1900’s, and lovingly reinterprets them for the modern era. This is the Historiques Collection and is an integral family of watches for Vacheron Constantin as they serve as a reminder of their history. These watches are limited in production and usually priced at a premium. They have included masterpieces such as the Chronometre Royal 1907, the Ultra-Fine 1955, and Cornes De Vache 1955.
Launched in 2007, the 1921 American was the third Historiques timepiece after the collection was relaunched in 2005. The case is beautifully proportioned: 40mm Pink Gold Cushion Case, a near ultra-thin case thickness of 8mm. But it was the Sandblasted Dial with Bold Arabic Numerals and Gorgeous Breguet Hands – rotated 45 degrees clockwise – which caused a sensation in the horological world. Here was a breathtakingly beautiful vintage-inspired Time-Only timepiece. But one where the Dial Tilt came with an abundance of VC history and cemented the 1921’s place on the Horological Walk of Fame.
The 1920’s were a period of immense prosperity for the United States; a period where it saw great economic and cultural growth. A period which transformed it into a world power. Its citizens demanded the best, and brands such as VC strived to cater to their demand. As such, the “original” 1921, an Art Deco design, was born in the early 1920’s as a small limited run of 24 watches.
The first twelve pieces had the dial design of the current model, but with the movement, crown, and dial turned counter-clockwise – essentially a watch to be worn on one’s right-hand wrist.
A second set of twelve pieces had different numerals and hands (such as those in pilots’ watches), but movement, crown, and dial turned clock-wise, like the current model. Essentially a watch to be worn on one’s left-hand wrist.
In the current model, the dial is tilted 45 degrees, but the dial design is such that the sub-seconds hand remains at 3 o’clock, now because of the rotation is more like 4:30. Perhaps reinforcing the message that the Historiques Collection re-interprets historical models and not re-issues them. The 1921 was also considered a driver’s watch. With his or her hand stretched while holding the steering wheel, the time could be easily read by just looking straight at the Tilted dial, rather than having to Tilt one’s hand. However, historically, it was not typically considered to be an important VC. But one original piece came up for auction in 2005 during Antiquorum’s thematic auction in Geneva to mark VC’s 250th Anniversary. It was sold at CHF 61,000. We searched Antiquorum’s website for the auction catalog, but could not find the watch. Its success generated curiosity and interest, and hence a modern-day Icon (and bestseller) was conceived and born.
The Historiques 1921 significance is made even higher as it debuted the Calibre 4400, an in-house manual-wind movement, beautifully finished and adorned with the Poinçon De Genève or Geneva Seal. (When this model 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. Therefore, all Historiques 1921 crafted 2012 onwards are covered by new Geneva Seal.)
The Calibre 4400 is a modern-day movement designed such that it can be easily serviced by any qualified watchmaker. Beating at 4 Hz (28800 v.p.h.), it’s large single barrel provides a power reserve of approximately 65 hours. (The author has personal experience with a VC timepiece with this caliber and has measured the power reserve at about 67-68 hours and near chronometric timekeeping.) This work-horse caliber is now powering many of the simple time-only pieces in the Patrimony, Traditionelle and Malte line. From the outset it was designed to accommodate further complications, and this goal was realized recently with the launch of the Historiques 1948 Triple Calendrier 1942 (Calibre 4440 QC) and Historiques 1942 Triple Calendrier 1948 (Calibre 4400 QCL). In the 1921, this caliber is visible by means of a sapphire caseback.
The decision to debut this caliber with the 1921 was pure genius. On one hand you have a timepiece with an Art Deco spirit that offers a glimpse into the 1920’s; a period one can now only reminisce in Hollywood movies or old photographs. On the other hand, a watch hand crafted in the most modern way possible and powered by a modern 21st Century movement. This combination of past, present, and future has cemented the 1921 as an all-time great, and a fitting Must Have VC in this Vertical Collection.
Shortly after the launch of the Pink Gold version, a Yellow Gold and Platinum version were launched. SIHH 2018 saw the launch of the 1921 in a smaller case dimension of 36.5mm in Pink Gold to cater to smaller wrists, for both men and women. One of the most notable examples was the New York Boutique edition limited to 64 pieces (NY boutique is located at 64 Madison Avenue). Another limited edition was the Monticello Motor Club edition limited to 15 pieces. There have possibly been few others, and few individual commissions as part of Vacheron Constantin’s Les Atelier Cabinotier service.
The Historiques 1921 American in Pink Gold.
Overseas Collection and Historical Background
The Overseas is Vacheron Constantin’s family of Luxury Sports watches. For many, the Overseas is the first point of entry into the world of Vacheron Constantin and is an integral part of its collection. It was initially conceived as the “222” in the 1970’s on the heels of the Quartz Crisis, which affected the entire Swiss watch industry. Both Audemars Piguet and Patek Philippe launched the Royal Oak and Nautilus respectively, both designed by famed designer Gerald Genta. VC launched the 222 in 1977, to celebrate its 222’nd anniversary and was designed by reputed designer Jorg Hysek.
The 222 was the precursor to the Overseas range which was launched in 1996. The first series was produced from 1996 to 2004. The second series, a more modern version of the first series, was launched in 2004, and produced from 2004-2016. Both the first and second series were powered by ebauches from either Jaeger Le Coultre and F. Piguet, finished to VC’s extremely high meticulous standards but not bearing the Geneva Seal. However, as the market was becoming more sophisticated and transparent, demand for an Overseas range with in-house movements bearing the Geneva Seal were being heard loud and clear. The answer was the Overseas third series launched in SIHH 2016.
The initial launch included: (The 2016 VC Overseas announcement details here)
a) Overseas time only with date, with automatic caliber 5100 (originally launched in the Quai De L’ile Reference 4500S.);
b) Overseas Small Model for ladies with automatic caliber 5300;
c) Overseas Chronograph with automatic caliber 5200, and in-house column wheel chronograph movement;
d) Overseas Ultra-Thin with legendary caliber 1120/1;
e) Overseas Ultra- Thin Perpetual Calendar with legendary caliber 1120 QP/1.
The entire third series of the Overseas collection was conceived with the new Geneva Seal criteria in mind; that is, they apply to the entire watch. All these calibers are automatic, and their 22K gold rotor is designed as a wind-rose, a symbol of travel. The travel theme was further emphasized with a superb strap-change system via an ingenious mechanism, without the need for any tools. All the models in stainless steel come with the stainless-steel bracelet as well as a leather and rubber strap; while all gold versions come with a leather and rubber strap. The ability to change the strap enables one to change the personality of the watch depending on mood, furthering highlighting VC’s marketing catchphrase for this family “An Invitation to Travel”.
The Overseas World Time was launched in May 2016, about five months after SIHH. Unlike many of the new Overseas calibers launched in SIHH, the World Time was an integration of the new Overseas case with an already mature automatic World Time caliber – 2460 WT, launched originally in the then Patrimony Traditionelle World Time during SIHH 2011. This is a unique world time, as it shows the time in all 37 time-zones. 37 because three places fall under a Quarter Time Zone (GMT plus full hours and plus or minus a quarter hour), and ten falls under a Half Time Zone (GMT plus full hours plus a half-hour). Among these, the Kingdom of Nepal falls under a quarter time zone (GMT +5:45) and India falls under a half time zone (GMT +5:30). India should fall under two-time zones (GMT +5 and GMT +6), but politics demanded the half hour timezone. Also. there is no logical reason for Nepal to be fifteen minutes ahead of India (flight time from Kolkata, India to Kathmandu, Nepal is about one hour). But such is the world we live in, and such variations in time zones are the result of decisions made by politicians and possibly dictators. It is a nightmare for watchmakers to integrate such political complexity in a word time watch.
VC does so successfully and deserves huge respect for doing so. With a diameter of 43.50 mm and thickness of 12.60 mm, the Overseas World Time wears smaller than its actual size and has a personality all its own, and coupled with the new strap change system, makes one want to go out and explore the world. And the design, while being ‘technical’, is also a ‘tad badass’, all the while retaining the inherent values of a VC timepiece.
Its ease of use by simply using the crown contradicts the complex world time module underneath. Let’s say you live in Los Angeles and it is 6 PM (1800 hrs.) in the evening.
- You pull the crown to the first position and rotate it counterclockwise until L. Angeles on the city ring is directly above the black triangle at 6’O Clock. At this point you push the crown back. Notice that the city ring and Lambert Projection map at the center of the dial move together.
- Now you pull the crown to the second position and set the time. You keep rotating the hands and hour ring until the hands show 6 O’clock and the hour ring shows 1800 hrs. (24 hr. scale), just below the black triangle which is now just below L. Angeles.
- Now the time is set, and as the minutes and hours on the hands go by, so will the hour ring move in sync counter-clockwise. If the reference time is L. Angeles, only the hour ring will move; the city ring and world map remain stationery.
- A cursory glance at a specific city name against the corresponding hour on the hour ring is all that is needed to read the time in one of the 37-time zones.
The caliber 2460 WT/1 which powers the Overseas World Time is the true centerpiece of this watch. Beating at 4 Hz (28800 v.p.h.), this is a world-class in-house automatic with a complex world time module. It has a power reserve of approximately 40 hours. It is based on the automatic caliber 2460, Vacheron Constantin’s first in-house automatic movement launched in 2005 as part of their 250th anniversary celebrations, and now a work-horse automatic movement powering several of VC’s automatic watches (including those with additional complications) in the Patrimony, Traditionelle, Historiques, and Metier D’Arts line.
While Jean-Marc Vacheron founded VC in 1755, it was Francois Constantin who joined his heirs in 1819, and travelled extensively throughout Europe for decades opening new markets for them. In those days, travel within Europe itself was perhaps more daunting than the ease at which we cross the oceans today. Global travel goes back to the very origins of VC. By launching the Overseas World Time, VC integrated the ultimate travel watch with the ultimate world time movement, and as such created a fitting Must Have VC in this Vertical Collection.
The Overseas World Time is available in three dial colours of Blue, Silver, and Brown.
The Overseas World Time with Brown dial.
Every watch brand has a family of watches that is the Face of the Brand. Calatrava for Patek Philippe; Lange 1 for A. Lange & Söhne; Royal Oak for Audemars Piguet and Reverso for Jaeger-LeCoultre. All Iconic family of watches from Iconic maisons. For VC, this honour falls to their Patrimony collection (originally Patrimony Contemporaine) which was launched in 2004. In VC’s own words from its website: “Circular Perfection, a quest for essentials, harmonious proportions. Patrimony epitomizes stylistic purity, inspired by Vacheron Constantin models from the 1950’s.”
It means the most beautiful round watches in the world, and one whose style harks back to VC’s core DNA, possibly going further far back than the 1950’s. This collection includes masterpieces such as:
- Simple time only Patrimony (reference 81180), a two-hand watch powered by the manual winding caliber 1400 (predecessor to the caliber 4400.)
- Its automatic sibling (reference 85180), with seconds hand and date at 6’O clock and powered by the world-class (and VC workhorse) automatic caliber 2450 Q6.
- Complicated pieces such as Patrimony Retrograde Day-Date (reference 4000U), and Patrimony Moonphase and Retrograde Date, both powered by automatic calibers 2460 R31R7/2 and 2460 R31L.
- Grand Complication such as the Patrimony Perpetual Calendar powered by legendary caliber 1120 QP.
The Patrimony could be a compelling first point of entry into the world of VC. If a young man or woman is looking for his or hers first ever classical dress watch, they could blindly choose from across the range.
Historical Background to VC Grand Complications and Minute Repeaters:
VC has an incredibly strong heritage of crafting grand complications, including minute repeaters. This is one main reason why they are part of the Holy Trinity. Few of their legendary and historically important grand complication pieces include:
- The Packard, a grand-complication pocket-watch commissioned by American Industrialist James Ward Packard and delivered in 1919.
- The Boisrouvray, a grand-complication pocket watch sold to Count de Boisrouvray in 1948.
- The King Fouad, a grand-complication pocket-watch commissioned by the Swiss community of Egypt as a gift for King Fouad of Egypt in 1929.
- The King Farouk, a grand-complication pocket-watch commissioned by King Farouk of Egypt (King Fouad’s son) and delivered in 1935.
It was not until 1941 that VC debuted the Reference 4261, its first simple minute-repeater wristwatch. There were other versions before and after with complications. Fast-forward 50 years or so, and VC launched the minute repeater caliber 1755, inspired by its vintage minute repeater movements. This movement was used in the Openworked Minute Repeater Reference 30030 (caliber 1755 SQR Dore) and Minute Repeater Reference 30010 (caliber 1755 H 239).
Towards the end of the 90’s and early 00’s, a resurgent VC embarked on significant research and development to prepare new calibres for its upcoming 250th anniversary which would fall in 2005. The results of this included a range of diverse timepieces, such as the magnificent limited edition Tour De L’ile and St. Gervais. The Tour De L’ile with its sixteen complications was the most complicated wristwatch in the world at the time. Both these timepieces served as a platform for VC grand complications launched shortly thereafter. These include the following, and were launched as part of the new Patrimony Traditionelle line:
- Calibre 2755 – Minute Repeater, Tourbillon, and Perpetual Calendar.
- Calibre 2253 – Tourbillon, Perpetual Calendar, Equation of Time, Sunrise/Sunset Time – all with a 14-day power reserve.
- 14-Day Tourbillon – Tourbillon with a 14-day power reserve.
In 2015, the Traditionelle line was separated from the Patrimony family, now referred to as Traditionelle. And Patrimony Contemporaine simply became Patrimony. It was on the heels of this resurgence that the Patrimony Ultra-Thin Calibre 1731 (originally Patrimony Contemporaine Ultra-Thin Calibre 1731) was born and launched in 2012. The caliber 1731 was also the direct successor to the caliber 1755.
With this complication, VC attempted to create the thinnest minute repeater caliber at the time. A minute repeater is among the most difficult horological complications to make; making it thinner makes it even more difficult to make. And to name it after the birth year of Jean Marc Vacheron just goes to show how big a deal this is, even by VC standards.
The dial is simple as it is beautiful. It has the exact same aesthetics as the Patrimony reference 81180. The only difference is the presence of a sub-second’s dial at 8 O’clock and the minute repeater activator slide on the left of the case. The former is a quirky touch, together with the minute repeater activator signaling that there is something more to this watch than meets the eye. With a case diameter of 41mm and thickness of 8.10mm, its proportions are perfect, and wears superbly on the wrist. In addition to displaying the time along with seconds, it chimes the hours, quarters, and minutes once the slide on the left is activated. There are no tourbillons, perpetual calendars, or split-second chronographs here. Turn the watch over, and the magic begins.
Clearly visible are the two Strike Hammers next to the proprietary Centripetal Chime Governor, all located top – top-left of the movement. The Centripetal Chime Governor’s role is to regulate the speed of the hammer strikes. The minute repeater gongs surround the entire movement. All these elements indicate that this is no ordinary time-only piece. Watching the hammers strike the hours, quarters, and minutes must be every watch collectors dream come true.
At a thickness of 3.90mm, the caliber 1731 beats at 3Hz (21600 v.p.h.), has a power reserve of about 65 hours, and is as beautiful as it is beautifully finished. Among the established brands, VC is among the very few known to have the best movement finishing across its entire range. Even by VC’s own high standards, the finishing here is exemplary, whether it is the treatment of Black Polish, Anglage (Hand-Beveling or Hand-Chamfering), Perlage (Circular Graining), and Cotes de Geneva (Geneva Stripes). The movement meets the criteria for the Geneva Seal. Worth noting is that 1731 is crafted in the Hautes Complications (high complications) workshops at VC. Here, only the most challenging and complex of grand complications are crafted, caliber 1731 being one of them. One master watchmaker and two apprentices will work on each movement, often taking anywhere from three to six months to complete. These apprentices are the very best watchmakers and have had to prove themselves over more than a decade to be deemed qualified for this ‘Temple of Watchmaking’ or the high complications workshops. Since this is a “acoustic” timepiece, each Patrimony Calibre 1731 is delivered with a “La Musique du Temps” resonator, enabling the new owner to hear enhanced chimes from this masterpiece.
This is the Holy Grail of Watchmaking. One of the most challenging horological complications being crafted by the very best of watchmakers, and proudly mentioning the name “Vacheron Constantin” on its lovely dial. This watch is the stuff dreams are made of. If this is not a fitting Must Have in this Vertical Collection, then what is?
The Patrimony Minute Repeater Calibre 1731 is available in Rose Gold, Platinum with both a Slate Grey and White dial version, and Platinum Collection Excellence Platine.
The Patrimony Ultra-Thin Calibre 1731 in Platinum with Slate Grey Dial.
Selecting three VC’s for a Vertical Collection is a difficult task. But the author has attempted to do so using three models that represent the history, abilities and breadth of the brand.
The Historiques 1921 offers a glimpse into VC’s glorious past. It shows how the beauty of the past can be reinterpreted into a modern-day timepiece.
The Overseas World Time shows how a complex and fast-changing world can be miniaturized into a versatile (and ideally travel) timepiece.
And last (but not least), one cannot go wrong with any VC grand complication timepiece. But there is something very magical and mythical about the Patrimony Ultra-Thin Minute Repeater 1731. Perhaps this is the timepiece Jean-Marc Vacheron would be tinkering with if he were alive today.
The following Sources and Individual were consulted to write this article:
Test: Vacheron Constantin’s Historiques 1921, by Witold Michalczyk, July 2, 2015. https://www.watchtime.com/reviews/test-vacheron-constantins-historiques-american-1921
“The History of the Vacheron Constantin Overseas – The Other 1970’s Icon”, by Xavier Markl, 01/11/2016. https://monochrome-watches.com/history-vacheron-constantin-overseas-1970s-icon
“All The Time In The World: Vacheron Constantin’s new World Time shows the time in 37 time zones, and both time and time zone are set by a single crown.” By Norma Buchanan, published in Watchtime (US Edition) June 2011.
“Calibre 1731” by Alexandre Ghotbi and Vacheron Constantin, published by Assouline Publishing in 2013.
A Watch of Note: How Vacheron Constantin makes the world’s thinnest minute repeater. By Mike Disher, published in Watchtime India October – December 2013.
Les Collections 2004-2005 (Vacheron Constantin Catalogue).
Vacheron Constantin website. www.vacheron-constantin.com.
A Special Thanks to Mr. Marc Montagne – Digital Marketing Manager at Vacheron Constantin for information on VC Minute Repeater Calibre References.
Editor’s Note: Kunal Khemka is an entrepreneur and businessman. He has loved mechanical objects since early childhood. Growing up in India, in an extended family, he got indoctrinated in horology by his watch-loving Uncle. Thanks to his uncle, his love for Vacheron Constantin was cemented at an early age. As a child, he loved Tag Heuer, and on a trip to Singapore, almost drove his parents crazy to buy him one, a watch which he still has today. Over the years, as Kunal had the opportunity to study and work in different countries, he gained further exposure to the different types of watches and brands. Also, the birth of the various online forums and the introduction of various print media added to his knowledge, love, and passion for all things horology. A turning point came in 2014, when Kunal had the opportunity to live in Singapore, arguably one of the most watch-crazy countries in the world. Here, he was properly exposed to the wonders of German horology, especially of A. Lange and Sohne, and the magic of Independent Watchmaking. But most important, numerous friendships were born as a result of the Watch Get -Togethers (GTG) he had the opportunity to attend. For Kunal, watches represent an ideal platform where a combination of history, tradition, art, micro-engineering, physics, astronomy, calendars, music, art forms, precious metals and stones, social status, fun, and off-course time-telling collide into an object of permanence, one which will outlast its owner. Kunal is currently based in Kolkata, India.