I love the Spring Swiss fairs; it’s like leaving a kid run wild in Disneyland! And this year Disneyland was the Vacheron Constantin booth where the most exiting watches presented at the Swiss fairs (Basel and SIHH) were released. The star of the 2007 edition of the SIHH was undoubtedly Vacheron Constantin with the launch of the awe inspiring Metiers d’Art Les Masques collection.
But that’s not it… along with the launch of 2 new in-house calibres, Vacheron Constantin also launched a new model range called the Patrimony Traditionnelle featuring distinctive cases with large bezels, stylish lugs, knurled edges on the case back and beautiful two tone dials reminiscent of some of the fantastic dials found in the brand’s vintage pieces.
My goal with this article, with lots of “in the flesh” photos (click on photos for a larger view), is to share my impressions on Vacheron Constantin’s new releases. I just got back from Geneva so these are my very first impressions and my mind may change during the year so please don’t quote me :-)
I have to admit that there was not one single new watch from VC that I didn’t like. The 2007 vintage is harmonious and consistent. It seemed that during the fairs every brand wanted to prove that it had 21st century cool by applying ad nauseum new materials, new forms and new ways of telling time to a point where the fine line between gimmick and innovation had long been crossed. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a great fan of MB&F, Vianney Halter, Urwerk and Richard Mille but the “originals” not the followers and that’s why Vacheron Constantin’s new models were such a breath of fresh air: you don’t have to put carbon fiber and black PVD on everything to be bold and creative!
While speaking to an executive from a very high end brand, competitors of Vacheron Constantin, his words were: “It’s impressive what they have done this year and obviously they had a blast at doing it” (for French speakers the exact words were “ils se sont eclatés”)!
Let’s start with the fairer sex and the new Egerie with a pave case and mother of pearl dial.
The Patrimony Contemporaine in rose gold
This model housing Vacheron Constantin’s in-house automatic calibre 2450 (with Geneva Seal) was first launched in 2006 in yellow and white gold. The reference 85180 is now also available in rose gold. Vacheron Constantin has also gotten rid of one of my pet peeves: unnecessary writing on dials explaining to the owner what the watch is actually doing! In the new interpretation of the Patrimony Contemporaine, the word “automatic” is no longer on the dial which may be a small step for Vacheron Constantin but a giant step for my mental health. Bravo!
The Patrimony Traditionnelle self winding
I love this watch! The two tone dial is absolutely stunning, and I like the fact that the seconds hand is placed at 9; it gives a rather original look to a classical watch. Most of all its size is a perfect 38mm.
Not only is the ref 87172 an off beat alternative to more “classical” dress watches but it also houses the new Vacheron Constantin 2455 automatic calibre. Needless to say that this movement also features the Geneva Seal and is impeccably finished. Recently independent watchmaker Kari Voutilainen (the cognoscenti often compare his finish to the great Dufour’s) recently commented on the amazing finish of Vacheron Constantin’s calibres which he considers to be among the best in the industry!
My only small criticism would be the date window at 3. The dial would have been cleaner in my opinion without an aperture for date but I’m sure that had Vacheron Constantin left out the date many would have criticised the brand for not having put in a date function, so…
In rose gold:
The Patrimony Traditionnelle Perpetual Calendar Skeleton
Now this is a watch which is definitely all the way on top of my wish list! Watch aficionados and professionals basically agree that the artisans of Vacheron Constantin have the most amazing skeletonising and engraving skills on the market and this new perpetual calendar models is the perfect example.
In the mid 1990s VC had introduced a skeletonised perpetual calendar in a 36mm case. This new model is a reinterpretation of that model in a larger 39mm case. What I particularly like about this model is that in fact it is more an openwork model with engraved movement than a skeletonised watch per se enabling you to see directly through the movement.
Often the major problem with engraved/skeletonised timepieces is the sacrifice of legibility. Here, Vacheron Constantin has opted for a transparent sapphire dial enhanced by a silvered ring integrating the hour markers and minute-track. The perpetual calendar indications, transferred on the dial, consequently gain in legibility. Transparency was also used with the moon phase indicator, whose two discs can be made out through the frosted glass for a brilliant effect.
I also like the contrast of the masculine case with large bezel and tense lugs and the poetry and finesse of the impeccable engraving and calendar functions. A true winner!
If you want to be knocked off your feet all you have to do is turn the watch over, the engraving is nothing short of sublime and almost pushes you to wear the watch movement side up!
The Patrimony Traditionnelle « Caliber 2755 »
The only thing I don’t like about this watch is its name! Christening such an amazing timepiece after its calibre number is rather dry! It would have definitely deserved a more romantic name.
The calibre 2755 is based on – yes you have guessed correctly – the new manufacture calibre 2755 which is Vacheron Constantin’s most complicated calibre in production (I’m not counting the Tour de l’Ile which was limited to only 7 pieces) and which took 3 years to develop.
This complicated timepiece features a tourbillon, a perpetual calendar, a minute repeater and a power reserve indicator discretely placed on a bridge on the back of the watch.
When I first heard that it had a 44mm diameter I was afraid that it would be way too big but believe me it looks perfect on the wrist (this is coming from someone who rarely wears anything over 38mm). The Caliber 2755 has the typical Patrimony Traditionnelle case and two tone dial, I love the ex-centred indications and the big tourbillon cage with its fantastic finish (to obtain the tapering of the tourbillon bridge over 12 hours of manual labor is required)!
The most amazing aspect of this watch nevertheless is the quality of the chimes. Vacheron Constantin has always been lauded for the quality of its repeating watches but its watchmakers have gone a step further. A centripetal speed-regulator in the striking-mechanism has been developed. This original device eliminates the noise interference normally experienced with pallet systems. This results in a crystalline seraphic chime. To give you an example I heard the watch before seeing it while in a room with people talking and music on!!
A gorgeous piece of mechanical artistry which would be on my wish list if I didn’t have to sell an arm to pay for it!
Métiers d’Art “Les Masques”
THE conversation piece of the whole Genevan fair. Rarely have the words art and masterpiece been used so correctly. My first reaction to this collection was the same as being thunderstruck: breathless, speechless, heart beating fast and wobbly knees! It’s hard to define the divine but you can recognize it when you see it and for me the hands of the gods guided the designers at Vacheron Constantin to create such original, bold and daring pieces.
At an epoch where originality resides in the use of carbon fibber and black PVD or the most improbable partnership with cars, motor cycles and boats Vacheron Constantin opens a whole new un treaded path where art and horology meet.
China Death Mask
(Yellow gold case)
Alaska Frontal mask
(White gold case)
Indonesia - Facial mask, Wayang Topeng theatre
(Rose gold case)
Etoumbi-Mahongwe mask from the Congo - Facial mask
The idea of a watch where the art form on the dial should have centre stage with the time reading functions pushed to the periphery was first developed at Vacheron Constantin with The Four Seasons launched for the brand’s 250th anniversary in 2005. For certain collectors these watches were too baroque, nevertheless Vacheron has taken the same principle and taken it one step further with the Masques collections.
The concept was to use an art form still little known to the general public: the so called primitive arts. Geneva has the chance of housing one of the most prestigious collections of primitive arts: the Barbie-Muller Museum and collaboration between the museum and Vacheron seemed therefore unavoidable. The museum lent a certain number of pieces to Vacheron for replication but the great difficulty resided maintaining the proportions in a miniature version. Different techniques were tried but the final results were unsatisfactory. Vacheron Constantin finally turned to the Geneva Engineering School for help in making a three-dimensional image of each mask. By putting the plans together on a computer, they were able to modify the volumes point by point and find the best angle for fitting the whole mask into the case while safeguarding the harmony of its forms. It was thanks to the magic of laser technology that the miniaturisation of the masks became possible.
The time is read by means of four discs indicating the hours, minutes, days and date in windows. A clever technique using transparency and specially-treated glass creates the impression that the masks are floating. Each sapphire crystal has a different tint, obtained by a unique metallisation process, so that it sets off the colour of the mask.
Michel Butor’s (a contemporary French poet) short poems dedicated to each mask circle the sapphire dial in letters of gold and can only be read when the light strikes it from a certain angle. This effect is achieved by vacuum metallisation, a sophisticated technological process in which the gold letters are sprayed onto a sapphire crystal.
The effect is amazing and depending on the inclination of the wrist the sapphire crystals hues vary as well as the coloring of the letters. There is such subtility and depth in the dial that you can almost drown in it and spend hours just staring at it mesmerised by its sheer beauty.
I was certain that the Masques would be one of those love/hate watches with no place for lukewarm reactions but until now, to my great surprise, there have only been positive feedback on them.
The Masques will be offered as a set of 4 and only 25 will be available. Now that really REALLY bothers me. These awe inspiring masterpieces, in my opinion, should have been available individually as to make them more “affordable” to those love struck like myself whereas a set puts the Masques on a whole different stratosphere attainable by a happy few. Needless to say that I have spent a fortune on lottery tickets since I have been back :-)
In my opinion 2007 is the year where Vacheron Constantin actually has reached horological excellence and demonstrates its supremacy in the watch world with technically and aesthetically amazing works of art which set the manufacture on a whole different level with a promise for enchanted tomorrows. Vacheron Constantin will also be releasing a few other watches during the year all very exciting pieces so stay tuned... :-)