In the early noughties, Vacheron Constantin’s classic watches were highly inspired by what the venerable marque had created in the 1990s which in turn had their roots in the 1970s-1980s with diameters of 33mm-35mm. Around 2002-2003, following the request of the Italian market, Vacheron Constantin set out to create a new dress watch breaking away from what was in its collection at the time.
Says Christian Selmoni Artistic Director of Vacheron Constantin: “We needed to make a huge break from our past, create a 21st century classic dress watch and yet respect Vacheron Constantin’s genetic codes, this was not an easy equation.” The team delved into what many consider the golden era of dress watches and discovered a timepiece from the 1950s from which they got their inspiration, with the totally crazy idea of creating a 40mm watch at a time when even many sports watches weren’t that big!
Selmoni continues “we told ourselves that in our segment of elegant/classic watches we could create the osmosis between a large 40mm case, volume, legibility and a slim case”.
However, wanting something and achieving it are two different things and obtaining the perfect equilibrium between a large dial with no indications other than hours and minutes and a slim case without the ensemble looking bland or uninspiring was a daunting task for Vincent Kauffmann, Head of Design, and his team.
Says Kauffmann “we decided to use similar indexes and minutes track as found in our vintage piece from the 1950s but the exercise was made complicated due to the proportions of the watch with its large curved dial and thin indexes. We also decided to use these typical baton hands as to accentuate the slimness and refinement of the watch”.
The case was also a new creation and designed like a saucer with a bezel following the curve of the crystal. A cavalcade of details make this case one of the most elegant and yet complex I have seen in this category. Says Kauffmann: “ the case with its mix of tense lines and soft curves is very morphological on the wrist”.
In 2004, after close to 2 years from the original idea taking form, the Patrimony was launched and a watch I immediately hated, I could not understand why a dress watch needed to be so large. However, like all things challenging your perception and certainties it is just a matter of time to take a step back and accept and I rapidly grew to fully appreciate the Patrimony, enough so that when the special boutique edition rose gold model with black dial came out, circa 2007, I got one!
Vacheron Constantin wanted to create a full collection with the Patrimony with complicated movements , yet always retaining the slim case. After having launched the Bi-Retrograde Patrimony in 2006 the idea was to complete this collection by the top thus the perpetual calendar (2011) and minute repeater (2013).
The present watch that I got to test drive is not only a delightfully refined perpetual calendar but also part of the uber cool Collection Excellence Platine and limited to only 100 pieces.
When the Patrimony Perpetual Calendar was presented it had been close to 10 years that Vacheron Constantin had not offered a simple perpetual calendar with a full dial. Reviving one of Vacheron Constantin’s iconic complications from the early 90s, this perpetual calendar shows both month and leap years on a 48-month cycle at 12 o’clock, the day of the week is displayed in a counter at 9 o’clock, the date in a counter at 3 o’clock and moon phases at 6 o’clock. This watch, while classic in style, boasts a 41mm platinum case adding modern flair with its sleek profile and taught lines.
The perpetual calendar module used is the one found on historic models from the 1990s such as the ref 43031. This module being of a smaller diameter the calendar indications are centered in the middle of the dial, yet thanks to its incredible slimness the module and the cal. 1120 together measure a dainty 4.05mm. in thickness.
The designers have found a great way to not make the functions seem too close to the center by using the long indexes of the Patrimony models so that the periphery does not look overly empty.
Says Selmoni about the challenges in creating this model “we needed to avoid the calendar functions looking too centered and really worked on the dial design and fonts. Furthermore, integrating the calendar correctors within a curved case was no easy task. We also needed to keep the “technical” perception of a perpetual calendar without losing the pure and zen like spirit of the Patrimony”.
One of the global design elements of the Patrimony is the slim case and Vacheron Constantin naturally turned to a historic and slim movement, the slimmest automatic wind in its collection of calibers: Cal 1120 measuring a mere 2.45mm in thickness resulting in a total of slightly over 4mm. with the perpetual calendar module.
Where Vacheron Constantin had succeeded in creating the utmost slimness in its manual wind movements starting 1955 and the Cal 1003 it had more difficulty in giving a major diet to its automatic calibres which were all above the 5mm thickness line. However, in 1966 the brand in conjunction with Jeager LeCoultre and Audemars Piguet, started work on creating an ultra thin automatic and in 1967 the 2.45mm thick calibre 1120 was launched, with the particularity of having the rotor placed on a “rail” with the mass turning around the movement and not on top of it.
Caliber 1120 originally came with a free sprung Gyromax balance that was rapidly discontinued for the use of an index style regulation system. With the rebirth of cal 1120 as an inhouse movement Vacheron Constantin placed this mythical caliber in the Patrimony perpetual calendar using a skeletonized (and superbly hand finished) rotor complete with a Gyromax balance and the Geneva seal.
The Patrimony Perpetual Calendar is already a rare beast unto itself yet made event more rare and viciously desirable by placing it within the Collection Excellence Platine (CEP).
The CEP was launched quite rapidly after the original time only Patrimony was presented, watches with not only a platinum case but also crown, buckle and an incredible platinum dial. The brand pushed even further by using platinum in the threads of the straps!!
Luxury and exclusiveness for the sake of luxury and beauty! That’s the idea the team at Vacheron Constantin wanted to develop when in 2004 they started thinking about creating a piece with a platinum dial. An eight to ten month research and development period followed to come up with the jaw dropping final result. The first difficulty was to find the perfect sand blasting substance and pressure to give the dial the wanted glittery and grainy appearance, the next difficulty resided in the material itself. Vacheron Constantin wanted to use a pure platinum dial with no protective coating as to keep the “raw” metallic aspect. To do so, many tests were undertaken to come up with a dial with the correct tension, able to withstand the different steps of drilling, control and casing without marking.
It takes about three times longer to make a case in platinum than in gold. As platinum is an extremely resistant metal, slower tool speeds and lower pressures are required to minimize friction and tool wear. The metal heats easily and can subsequently deform (rendering a rather inelegant “orange peel” effect) and can be only worked on by experienced artisans. To make the case, a platinum sheet is rolled to the required thickness and stamped out to form shaped blanks. These blanks are then machined into their final shape by computer controlled lathes using up to 15 different tools to attain the final result. The case needs then to be hand polished: an intricate process that involves eliminating all the machining marks by applying successively finer grades of abrasive paste to obtain the special luster which makes platinum so desirable.
The dial is even more of a headache to make than the case as the tolerances are much lower. Platinum being a soft but abrasive metal it sticks to the cutting tools and makes drilling the holes for the hands or for the applied indexes, with a width of about 0.25mm, a particularly delicate maneuver. In comparison a gold dial takes about five times less time to make!
The visually arresting sheen of the dial needs to be seen to be truly appreciated; the dial’s grainy appearance reflects light in a very original manner giving this watch a monochrome post-industrial appearance of the highest contemporary effect.
The Patrimony Perpetual Calendar CEP is a surprising watch. It can be immediately identified as a Vacheron Constantin and as such has become a classic. The case is large yet tastefully restrained and in this particular version is an austerely beautiful study in monochrome with a touch of blue. Yet in a different combination such as the pink gold with slate dial the watch becomes flamboyant and exuberant.
I briefly mentioned the moonphase display which is the only element of color on the dial (other than the calendar hands) immediately attracting the eye. It gives a 3D effect that I find very appealing and even though it is made of white gold enhanced by a blue galvanic treatment it looks like a drop of mercury on a blue lapis lazuli background.
The Patrimony Perpetual Calendar is classic in style but also fascinating and intriguing as it is a watch that will attract or create negative comments especially due to its size but then again hats off to the Vacheron Constantin team to have gone the whole route fully believing in the possibility of creating a watch which is elegant and refined yet boasting a large diameter.
I for one, am extremely enamored by this timepiece. During the week I was wearing it I couldn’t stop staring at it and taking it off to admire the movement, it has incredible presence on the wrist and even though on the larger size sits perfectly on the wrist and fits nicely under the shirt cuff. The Patrimony Perpetual Calendar is a beautiful watch in its own right but in the CEP livery it becomes one of the severely coolest perpetual calendars out there!
Please bear in mind that these are just MY thoughts and impressions and are purely subjective
What I like less
The calendar displays are a bit too close to the center
The months displayed on a 48 month cycle making them extremely difficult to read
The PT950 on the dial indicating it is platinum. This used to bother me over 10 years ago when the first CEP models were introduced and still bothers me but now with my waning eyesight I can’t really make it out anymore!
What I like
The overall wrist presence
The Patrimony case which is elegant, refined and complex at the same time
The thickness of the 8.9mm
The drop dead gorgeous platinum dial
The playful moonphase display
The free sprung balance
The skeletonized rotor
some mouthwatering photos
Great report and photos. I agree with your last comments Alex.
To me, VC presents a new variation of this Patrimony QP and without any integration of your justified comments.
Boring and not my taste for the same reasons.
Love that cal. 1120
I find the case to be unbalanced. I have nothing against larger cases but when I tried the Patrimony QP I found the case too thin compared to the case size. On the other hand the Bi Retro is perfectly balanced IMHO
Alex, this is a terrific and very informative review of the CEP Patrimony Perpetual Calendar.
The dials on the CEP pieces are amazing. I had a conversation with Christian earlier this year. He and I share a similar passion for the CEP 81180 (one of the first two CEP pieces launched back in 2007) -- he really admires that model, as do I.
I may have missed it in your review, but there is somethin else interesting about the starry field background on teh moonphase disc. The stars are not randomly placed, but are actually outlines of constellations in teh Northern Hemisphere, I believe. If you look closely, VC has drawn lines connecting the stars to represent specific constllations. Isn't that cool? I think they are doing this on all of the perpeteual calendar watches with this type of moonphase subdial as of this year, from what I can tell.
Thanks again for the great review.
This watch has two things I love, a thin case made from platinum, and a perpetual calendar. Thanks for the write-up and the lovely photos, Alex.
The dials of the CEPs are to die for, and like you...the PT950 becomes less noticeable as I get older (unfortunately, so do the calendar indicators on a PC).
I also love seeing cal. 1120 behind a sapphire case back, it deserves to be shown off!
Alex, here you have another excellent essay and can't say anything more than BRAVO again!!! I am always amazed of your insight and research on top of the deep knowlwedge of the brand, keep them coming, I saved all your articles as prime refference...
A real beauty ! Thanks, Alex.
Thank you for the review Alex.
It is a very lovely watch! Your review with the designers' comments really helps to understand the concept and the changes in the design from the original layout in the 1990's.
I was surprised when I saw it in the Boutique because of the thinness of the case and the diameter which allows the dial to look less busy, something difficult to do in a perpetual.
The photos are great and really show off the watch.
And the cherry on the top is the Cal. 1120.
A very elegant watch!
seem less cluttered, shows the amazing details that make up a watch
I also like the skeletonized rotor of cal.1120
and 3D effect of the moonphase display.