The object of this article is not to have an exhaustive list of all the calendar watches created by Vacheron Constantin but rather present some of the more interesting pieces created in the past 256 years by Vacheron Constantin with a special focus on calendar watches which give more than merely the date.
What are the different calendar functions and what are the different ways of indicating them?
- The simple calendar: with date to which can be added day, month, moonphase and even a week number. In these pieces the date needs to be manually adjusted for each month which have less than 31 days.
- The annual calendar: the movement automatically takes into account days of 30 or 31 days but needs to be adjusted once on the last day of February (unless it is a leap year where the correct date is indicated).
- The perpetual calendar: automatically calculates the months wich have 28, 29, 30 or 31 days.
This information can be given either via a hand or apertures on the dial or a mix of both.
The calendar is like the air we breathe, it surrounds us it rhythms our lives but we don’t really pay any attention to it.
But if we step back a moment we can reflect on a system which nature has imposed and human genie has organised.
The Renaissance saw the rise of clocks with astronomical indications (even though these creations had always been pursued by astronomers and clockmakers - in the late 19th century two anaphoric clocks (mechanical astrolabes) dating between the 1st and 3rd centuries were discovered)
|Jean Valliers circa 1630|
|late 16th century Pierre Benoy|
Musée Horlogerie Locle
|Legendcirca 1670 Pierre II Caillate|
It is unsure who made the first clock with calendar function but it seems that the 1st to have patented the first clock with calendar function was New York based John Hawes in 1853. Unfortunately I did not find reliable information on the inventor of the perpetual calendar but it seems that the very first wrist watch to incorporate this complication dated from 1925.
Emperors and Popes
From the ancient Egyptians, to the Greek and the Romans, from astronomers to mathematicians and priests the history of the calendar is mostly about getting the lunar and solar calendars to fit in a scheme comprising only whole numbers.
The perpetual calendar is a mechanical solution to an astronomical problem.
On February 24, 1582 Pope Gregory XIII introduced the Gregorian calendar, adopted over the centuries by the entire international community and today, accepted as the standard civil calendar.
As is often the case, this innovation found its roots in a serious problem that needed a solution: the inaccuracies resulting from the Julian calendar. This calendar was based on the assumption that there were 365.25 days between vernal equinoxes, when in fact the correct number is 365.2425 days, a difference that results in 11 minutes less per year. Pope Gregory XIII, as well as the entire Roman Catholic Church, was particularly interested in seeing this wrong righted as this steady shift interfered with the celebration of Easter, whose date is directly tied to the equinox.
In this new calendar a year is made of 12 months of 28, 30 and 31 days. Every year that is exactly divisible by four is a leap year, except for years that are exactly divisible by 100; the centurial years that are exactly divisible by 400 are still leap years. For example, the year 1900 was not a leap year but year 2000 was.
However only Catholic countries adopted this system many other nations preferred to keep their traditional systems with which they were comfortable, but a lack in consistency as more and more nations adopted the Gregorian model lead to widespread reform. By the 20th Century, the final abstinent countries, including Russia and Greece, joined the rest of the world in assimilating to the Pope’s proposal. When the Gregorian calendar was adopted, the adjustment to be made for the error was a total of 10 days (13 days for Russia and Greece due to the difference accumulated since the 16th Century and the 20th Century) which accumulated at a rate of 3 days every 4 centuries. While this modified calendar may have originated as a means of catering to religious tradition, it has found its place in the international community and has provided consistency and durability for Centuries since.
Imagine the tiny gears, springs and clutches which need to recreate the earths rotation around the sun, which will automatically calculate if the month has 28, 30 or 31 days and also calculate the leap year…and repeat this cycle ad vitam aeternam.
Basically the wearer…or his descendants will need to set the watch every 400 years!
The perpetual calendar is not only technical but also an extremely enigmatic one, with a calendar we can look back on our past and even have a glimpse of our future.
“A perpetual calendar is an interesting complication because you don’t receive instant gratification. With a minute repeater all you need to do is activate the trigger to hear if it works perfectly, with the tourbillon you see it immediately. With the perpetual calendar you need to be patient and project yourself into time...into a 4 year cycle.” Says Chrystian Lefrancois, one of Vacheron Constantin’s master watchmakers.
But lets have a look ate Vacheron Constantin’s long history and diverse designs in terms of calendar watches.
Vacheron Constantin’s 1st calendar clock with a stunning engraved dial and indication of day and date
Yellow gold pocket watch with date on periphery of the dial. Date pointer hand
A Jump hour with date at 6
A stunning yellow gold double sided pocket watch. Time indication in the front and perpetual calendar with moonphase on the back.
Minute repeater with day and date via aperture at 12
Day and date indication via aperture at 12
Red gold case, minute repeater, chronograph with perpetual calendar indicated on a 48 month cycle and moonphase
Quarter and half quarter repeater, chronograph and perpetual calendar on a 48 month cycle
Quarter repeater with date and a sublimely guilloche dial
Minute repeater, split seconds chronograph, perpetual calendar on a 48 month cycle and moonphase.
His timepiece has a chronograph with a rare 15 minute counter at 12, and one of 4 Vacheron Constantin pocket watches ever made featuring an alarm function. The watch has a simple calendar function with day and date as well as moonphase.
Perpetual calendar on a 12 month cycle, equation of time (hand with the sun on its tip) and time of sunrise and sunset calibrated for Paris.
A very original timepiece with time function on the front and a triple date with moonphase on a semi open dial enabling the wearer to see the movement on the back.
A watch with no hands, representive of Vacheron Constantin's Art Deco avant guard designs. Jumping hours at 6, wandering minutes on a semi arch right above and the day and date indicated via apertures.
Day and date indication via apertures and moonphase.
Minute repeater and perpetual calendar on a 48 month cycle and moonphase
Instantaneous perpetual calendar (meaning all calendar indications jump at the same time at midnight) on a 48 month cycle, equation of time and time of sunrise and sunset. This watch also has a 1st class Observatory Bulletin.
Perpetual calendar on a 48 month cycle and moonphase
Day and date apertures and moonphase. One interesting element of this watch which unfortunately can’t be seen in this photo is that the case is made of green gold (mix of gold 75% and silver 25%) which gives a greenish tint to the gold.
Day and date via apertures and moonphase
Triple date via apertures
Vacheron Constantin’s second most complicated pocket watch. It features a
carillon minute repeater (3 hammers), grande sonnerie, petite sonnerie, split-seconds chronograph, perpetual calendar on a 12 month cycle and moonphase.
It was in 1927 that Francis Peter, president of the Cairo Joint Tribunal and a Swiss citizen, visited Vacheron Constantin’s workshop on the Quai de l’Ile in Geneva. He had been appointed by the Swiss community of Egypt to find a gift to be presented to King Fouad I of Egypt. Fouad was a known collector of watches—a passion he shared with his wife. He would pass his objects and feelings on to his son, King Farouk.
Vacheron Constantin had already begun working on an exceptional timepiece with an array of complications and eight hands. Once completed, it was destined to be the most complicated watch ever created by the brand. Francis Peter chose this movement and had it encased in yellow gold. Its case back was decorated with the royal coat of arms and its perimeter trimmed with diamonds.
In October of 1929 this timepiece was presented to Francis Peter, who requested that the day and month indications be changed from English to French, as this was the language the Francophile king would undoubtedly prefer. One month later, the timepiece was presented to King Fouad in a sandalwood box decorated with the royal crown and the king’s monogram in Arabic. Inside the box, the year 1929 was inlaid in gold and flanked by the Swiss escutcheon and the Egyptian royal coat of arms painted on enamel. The inside of the double back cover of the pocket watch—known in watchmaking parlance as the cuvette—was engraved with the following words: A Sa Majesté Fouad 1er Hommage de la Colonie Suisse d’Egypte, which translates as “To His Majesty Fouad I Tribute from the Swiss Colony of Egypt. The word “colony” actually meant “community” here.
Probably Vacheron Constantin’s first calendar wrist watch. Day and date via apertures and moonphase. This watch was produced in a green gold case.
Triple date with the date indicated via a central hand and moonphase
Triple date via apertures and moonphase with power reserve indicator
Also called “Amercicaine” because the month indication is before the date (contrary to Europeans who put the date before the month). Triple date with moonphase.
Vacheron Constantin’s 3rd most complicated watch; it features a carillon minute repeater (3 hammers), Split-seconds chronograph, perpetual calendar on a 12 month cycle, moon phase and alarm.
Started in 1914 and finished in 1928, it was sold in 1948 to Count Guy de Boisrouvray, cousin of Monaco’s Prince Rainier III.
This watch is not only impressive because of its 657 components and 11 hands but also due to the fact that it is one of only two highly complicated Vacheron Constantin timepieces to be outfitted with an alarm and one of only four pocket watches made by the brand to feature this complication.
The second interesting element of this 66 mm timepiece is the detail given to the escapement. It has a Guillaume balance, whose alloy exhibits unusual properties in terms of thermal expansion and changes in elasticity, with gold and platinum micro screws and an unusual, rare regulation system.
Vacheron Constantin was so proud of this watch that the brand chose it to illustrate the cover of the book World of Vacheron Constantin, published in 1992.
Another very original and creative timepiece, time is read via a subdial at 9 and has a central seconds hand. Perpetual calendar plus leap year indicator and moonphase.
An extremely rare rectangular triple date with moonphase. Made in white gold and green gold.
Triple date with moonphase
Day and date with sub seconds at 9 and moonphase at 12
Date indicator at 3 and subseconds at 9 with moonphase at 12
A gorgeous grand complications featuring a split seconds chronograph, perpetual calendar with leap year indication and moonphase, tourbillon and power reserve indicator
Made in 1932 this piece is the only multi complication pocket watch by Vacheron Constantin featuring a tourbillon. Its regulation was entrusted to Edmond Olivier who was not only a master watchmaker but a true artist in regulation of movements sent for Observatory trials. One of the particularities of this piece results from the fact that watch’s accuracy is not adversely affected when the chronograph is functioning. In 1934 it obtained 1st prize at the Geneva Observatory trials and in 1939 it was presented at the National Swiss Exhibition in Zurich.
Quite an interesting rectangular piece with the date on a semi circle at 12. It is interesting to see that the dates of the day before and day after can also be seen, a design feature that we are seeing implemented more and more today.
Vacheron Constantin’s most complicated pocket watch.
Featuring the following complications : minute repeater, grande sonnerie, petite sonnerie, split seconds chronograph, perpetual calendar with leap year indication, moonphase, alarm and
power reserve for going train and sonnerie
During a trip to Geneva in 1937, King Farouk of Egypt insisted on visiting the Vacheron Constantin manufactory. Charles Constantin, acting as his guide on the tour, confessed his surprise at the breadth of the 17-year-old prince's knowledge of watchmaking. "But, Monsieur Constantin," he replied, "I dismantled so many watches when I was a child...unfortunately for them...!"Thank goodness he did not dismantle this outstanding watch.
This 80 mm behemoth, whose manufacture lasted more than six years, is outfitted with 13 hands. The calibre boasts no less than 820 components. Manufactured between 1930 and 1935,this watch remained in King Farouk's collection until 1954 when it was auctioned in the Cairo sale of the Palace Collection. Even if this was a gift to the young king, like his father he also had the language for the calendar functions changed from English to French.
One of Vacheron Constantin’s first multicomplication wrist watches! Made for a client in Spain this gold tonneau shaped watch made as a unique piece features the day of the week, the date via a retrograde hand and a minute repeater. The dial has the originality of having the numerals in blue rather than the habitual black. It is believed that this is the first wrist watch to feature a retrograde hand (something which became a trend in the watchmaking industry 60 years later!).
End of Part 1
I had decided to catch-up with the HL and I was more than compensated by viewing this excellent article. To say I am looking forward to Part 2 would be an understatement! Knowledge is a wonderful thing to share and this is a first-class example of having done just that. I enjoyed it so much that breakfast extended into taking morning coffee followed by a nudge to 'get-moving'...... Alex - thank you so very much. Every second you spent on this wonderful presentation is gratefully received and appreciated. Tony