Vacheron Constantin and the Tonneau 100 Years of Creativity Part 1

The birth of the tonneau shaped wrist watch is pretty much linked to that of the wrist watch. Interestingly and on a side note it is the only type of wrist watch shape which has retained its name in French rather than use the English term of “barrel shape” which probably makes you think more of Albanian snake oil than the velvety poem for the soul that a 1946 Petrus can be!

You can almost say that the wrist watch was born in tonneau form! I’m not referring to watches born as pocket watches with soldered lugs but to watches created from the beginning to be worn on the wrist…the later raising some kind of a scandal in the early 20th century as the action of looking at the time was perceived as a serious infringement of the most elementary conventions of polite society.  The Revue Internationale de
l’Horlogerie
Suisse in its March 1, 1913 edition even published an article entitled “Can the wrist watch be a good timekeeping instrument?”!!!

While the gentlemen of society were debating to know if wearers of mechanical wrist adornments should be kicked out of the Polo Club or sentenced to hard labor in a far off colony,watch brands were ablaze with creativity creating forms furthest away possible from the traditional round.
Amongst the most interesting theories on the reason behind the tonneau,  one states that it was a deliberate will to break with the round pocket watch and create a new form. Another theory is that since the top and bottom of the tonneau case was flat the strap would fit better and not rub against the case as could happen with the soldered lugs on the round pocket watch cases.

The purpose of this article (or series) is to have a non exhaustive look at Vacheron Constantin’s diverse production of tonneau shaped wrist watches starting 1912.

Even though tonneau can refer to a general shape there are a few sub categories:
 
Tonneau with round  dial opening

Vacheron Constantin and the Tonneau 100 Years of Creativity   Part 1

Tonneau with tonneau dial opening

Vacheron Constantin and the Tonneau 100 Years of Creativity   Part 1


Short tonneau

Vacheron Constantin and the Tonneau 100 Years of Creativity   Part 1


Fancy (fantaisie) tonneau

Vacheron Constantin and the Tonneau 100 Years of Creativity   Part 1


Elongated tonneau

Vacheron Constantin and the Tonneau 100 Years of Creativity   Part 1


Starting 1904 Vacheron Constantin photographed certain pieces of their collection and attributed a photo reference number in increasing order from 1 to 3800. This system was used for the brand’s emblematic pieces from 1904 to 1937.

Starting Jan 1, 1938 Vacheron Constantin adopted reference numbers for its watches starting from 4000. Reference numbers starting with 5000, 8000 and 9000 were never used and it is in the mid 70s that the numbering system was modified going from 4 to 5 digits.

Between 1938 and 1950 the reference numbers were not inscribed in the case back, for post 1950 models the reference number is inscribed in the lower part of the inner case back. 

Vacheron Constantin and the Tonneau 100 Years of Creativity   Part 1

 

Vacheron Constantin and the Tonneau 100 Years of Creativity   Part 1

I will provide photo references where available.

In this Part 1 all the timepieces house round calibers which range from 9’’ (9 lignes or 20.25mm) 12’’ (12 lignes or 27mm) in size.

Vacheron Constantin and the Tonneau 100 Years of Creativity   Part 1


Vacheron Constantin and the Tonneau 100 Years of Creativity   Part 1

 
Vacheron Constantin launched its first tonneau watches in 1912 and up to the late 20s released quite an impressive number of variations produced in incredibly low numbers and from unique to a few dozens.
 
 
Maybe not a tonneau wrist watch per se this is the very first Vacheron Constantin wrist watch made in series and due to the shape of the lugs (angel wings) the watch has a tonneau form.
 

Vacheron Constantin and the Tonneau 100 Years of Creativity   Part 1

 
1912 – Photo Reference 885
 Little information is available for this piece other than it is unique with a rather interesting engraving on the case.
 
Vacheron Constantin and the Tonneau 100 Years of Creativity   Part 1
 

 
1912 – Photo Reference 908
 Elongated tonneau with wire lugs. Interestingly from the photo the dial doesn’t look as if it is signed
 
Vacheron Constantin and the Tonneau 100 Years of Creativity   Part 1


1912 - Photo Refrenece 941
Elongated tonneau. Unique piece in platinum case with yellow gold case back. The bezel is set with diamonds and sapphires. The strap is screwed to the lugs. Houses a 9’’15/12 caliber.

Vacheron Constantin and the Tonneau 100 Years of Creativity   Part 1

 
1912 – Photo reference 942
Elongated tonneau. Unique piece in platinum case with yellow gold case back. The bezel is set with diamonds and sapphires. The strap is screwed to the lugs. Houses a 9’’15/12 caliber.
 
Vacheron Constantin and the Tonneau 100 Years of Creativity   Part 1



1912 – Photo reference 952
Made in only  in white gold with silver dial. The strap is screwed to the lugs. Houses a 9’’15/12 caliber.

Vacheron Constantin and the Tonneau 100 Years of Creativity   Part 1


1913 –
Made in yellow gold this watch  has an amazing white enamel Greek motif drawn on the bezel. Houses a caliber RA 11’’
 Vacheron Constantin and the Tonneau 100 Years of Creativity   Part 1

1914 – Photo reference 1172
An original shape somewhat a rounded diamond shape. Made in white gold and yellow gold.

Vacheron Constantin and the Tonneau 100 Years of Creativity   Part 1

Vacheron Constantin and the Tonneau 100 Years of Creativity   Part 1
 

   
   
   

1915
11’’ caliber in yellow gold case and screwed lugs

Vacheron Constantin and the Tonneau 100 Years of Creativity   Part 1
 

1917 – photo reference 1440
Made in yellow and white gold, this timepiece featured a very interesting strap system where the latter went though the bows acting as lugs and passed under the case.


Vacheron Constantin and the Tonneau 100 Years of Creativity   Part 1


1917 –photo reference 1455
 Love the numerals and the inward curving top part of the case. Made in white gold housing a 11’’ RA caliber.

Vacheron Constantin and the Tonneau 100 Years of Creativity   Part 1



1918 –
Made in yellow and white gold with Cal 11’’ RA. It is also the first use of radium on the dial.

Vacheron Constantin and the Tonneau 100 Years of Creativity   Part 1



1919 – photo reference 1837
Made in yellow gold this watch if not slightly larger in its centre would be rectangular. 

Vacheron Constantin and the Tonneau 100 Years of Creativity   Part 1



1919 -
An extremely original diamond shape case. Housing a 9''94 caliber

Vacheron Constantin and the Tonneau 100 Years of Creativity   Part 1


1920 –photo reference 1764
A stunning “obus” tonneau wrist watch made in a unique platinum case as well as a small number of white gold cases. Obus would translate as bullet head which is easily understandable when looking at the lug shape! Houses a 9’’94 movement. I love the inner rail track and the brand name which take the same shape as the lugs!

Vacheron Constantin and the Tonneau 100 Years of Creativity   Part 1



1920 –
Also called tonneau arqué (bow shaped tonneau) made in yellow gold Cal 9’’ and 10’’

Vacheron Constantin and the Tonneau 100 Years of Creativity   Part 1

Vacheron Constantin and the Tonneau 100 Years of Creativity   Part 1



1920 – photo reference 2576
Also called semi-tonneau (demi tonneau). This model was made from 1920 to 1931 in white, yellow and green gold

Vacheron Constantin and the Tonneau 100 Years of Creativity   Part 1



1921 -
Also called tonneau pointu (sharp / pointed tonneau) Made in yellow and white gold housing a 9’’ Cal

Vacheron Constantin and the Tonneau 100 Years of Creativity   Part 1



1922 – photo reference 2573

Made in only white gold

Vacheron Constantin and the Tonneau 100 Years of Creativity   Part 1



1922 – photo reference 3305 / 1865
Made between 1922 and 1930 in white or green gold

Vacheron Constantin and the Tonneau 100 Years of Creativity   Part 1

 

1922 – photo reference 1969
Elongated tonneau case with bullet head lugs

Vacheron Constantin and the Tonneau 100 Years of Creativity   Part 1
 


1922 – photo reference 1970
Also called toneau pointu (sharp / pointed tonneau)

Vacheron Constantin and the Tonneau 100 Years of Creativity   Part 1
 


1922 – photo reference 1975
Tonneau model with round glass
 
Vacheron Constantin and the Tonneau 100 Years of Creativity   Part 1



1922 – photo reference 1976
Also called tonneau court (short tonneau)
 Vacheron Constantin and the Tonneau 100 Years of Creativity   Part 1



1922 – photo reference 1977
Also called Tonneau Tronqué (cut off  tonneau), made only in white gold.

Vacheron Constantin and the Tonneau 100 Years of Creativity   Part 1
 


1922 – photo reference 2586
Also called Tonneau Tronqué (cut off  tonneau),this model was made from 1922-1929 in white and green gold.

Vacheron Constantin and the Tonneau 100 Years of Creativity   Part 1 



1923 – photo reference 2317
 
A very interesting design on which I have no information. Notice the tonneau case and straight lugs, the size is certainly small for todays tastes but the design is extremely masculine.
Vacheron Constantin and the Tonneau 100 Years of Creativity   Part 1



1924 – photo reference 2316
Also called Tortue (turtle) due to a larger case width, the case was made by Verger Frères, Vacheron Constantin’s famous Parisian case makers. This model was made between 1924 – 1928 in white gold, green gold, yellow gold as well as 2 platinum pieces and 2 pieces in osmior (a white meltal also called platinor).
 
Vacheron Constantin and the Tonneau 100 Years of Creativity   Part 1



1924 – photo reference 2433
Also called Demi Tonneau (semi tonneau) it was made in green gold and white gold with a cal RA 10’’

Vacheron Constantin and the Tonneau 100 Years of Creativity   Part 1



1924 – photo reference 2434
A watch with a gorgeous guilloche center dial. Made for only 2 years in green gold and white gold.
Vacheron Constantin and the Tonneau 100 Years of Creativity   Part 1

 

1924 – photo reference 3289 /3296
Also called Tonneau Court (short tonneau) made only in white gold. This model seems to be the first to also indicate the seconds.

Vacheron Constantin and the Tonneau 100 Years of Creativity   Part 1


Click here for Part II

06/18/2012 - 18:29
06/19/2012 - 00:00
06/19/2012 - 14:07
06/19/2012 - 16:19
06/19/2012 - 19:50
06/19/2012 - 23:22
06/22/2012 - 03:45
06/29/2012 - 00:45
WOW!!
06/18/2012 - 18:29
Another superb work of V&C design creativity!  The Ref. 2316 Tortue really jumps out for me but they are all lovely.  Thanks Alex heart
thanks Dean, knew this was the sort of article you would enjoy :-)
06/19/2012 - 13:19
e
looking at the ref 908
06/19/2012 - 00:00
I thought I was looking at the 100th anniversary Malte. Was that the inspiration for it? On another note, I must admit I have never come across a picture of a green gold piece. Do you happen to have somewhere in that magical archive of yours some coloured pics of the 2576 or 2586  (or any of the pieces) in green gold? I am really intrigued to see how they look in colour. Alex, what can I say, this is a mesmerising expose of the Tonneau! Although the Malte and Tonneau in general never appealed to me, the 2576 and 2586 have instigated an appreciation of this shape! Best, Walid
I thought ref. 952 looked exactly like the 100th anniversary tonneau
06/19/2012 - 01:27
Malte. Sure enough over the centuries VC has developed many wonderful pieces that today inspire creativity and modern reinterpretation of the said vintage timepieces are reflected in the Historiques lines. So many beautiful watches to extract from. Surely a few years down the road Historiques collection will be the most interesting offering in the Vacheron line-up. Great write-up, Alex. And it's another fantastic article today... Boy do you have the power!
I stand corrected ;), Radek
06/19/2012 - 01:50
Yes the case shape of the 952 looks much like the 100th anniversary, but there is something about the whole package of the 908 that just screams make me again! Best, Walid
the design department didn't really get inspiration from one model but
06/19/2012 - 13:51
a general view of the tonneau watches from 1912-1915
thanks buddy!
06/19/2012 - 13:28
e
Petrus 1964, surely...
06/20/2012 - 00:03
I am sure it was a typo, and you meant to write 1964 Petrus, one of the best vintages of the last century, together with '61.  '46?  1945 and 1947 were both great years, but 1946... meh. laugh
fantastic idea Alberto, let's open that 64 Petrus in your cellar next
06/20/2012 - 11:15
time I'm at your place cool Thnak you for the generous offer
Walid, Green gold isn't completely green but yellow gold with a
06/22/2012 - 13:08
greenish tint Here's a photo of a green gold case
I didn't realise that was the name for it
06/27/2012 - 03:14
I always thought of it as yellow gold with a couple of years added to it to give it the 'vintage' feel. I must say, I really love this place because everytime I log-on I learn something! Keep it up Alex!! Best, Walid
Ref. 2317 is my favorite of the bunch in terms of design
06/19/2012 - 10:25
It does look a little small, but that is a sign of the times. This, again, is a Tremendous Article Alex!!! BR, Dan
funny how these watches which are close to 100 years old still
06/19/2012 - 13:56
look so modern!
Re: Vacheron Constantin and the Tonneau 100 Years of Creativity Part 1
06/19/2012 - 12:53
Thank you Alex. This is the beginning of a wonderful online encyclopaedia :)
merci Marc:-)
06/19/2012 - 14:07
e
Thanks Alex
06/19/2012 - 16:19
Not an easy subject in years where watches and documents are scarce ! cheers Francois
not an easy subject as the general public prefers round watches but
06/20/2012 - 11:16
there is so much more creativity  in form watches 
Re: Vacheron Constantin and the Tonneau 100 Years of Creativity Part 1
06/19/2012 - 17:22
Thanks for another very informative article, Alex.   It is nice to see so many lovely designs from VC's past.  My personal favorite is the watch from 1915.  Very simple and classic. It would be nice to have a tonneau in my collection, but I think Best regards, Kazumidevil
Oops, I posted prematurely...
06/19/2012 - 17:26
I was saying that it would be nice to have a tonneau in my collection but I think I would have to slim down a bit to "fit" the chic-ness that would go with a classic tonneau.  For now, my chunkier Toledo should be a better match to my chunkier physique.cheeky Kazumidevil
slim is no longer in Kaz, I say chunky physiques call for a
06/20/2012 - 11:17
tonneau tourbillon cheeky
That's my concern as well.
06/20/2012 - 20:15
Though Franck Muller has got chunkier tonneau model now, it'd probably look too big? Dunno, got to try one in the metal.
Fantastic Piece of Work
06/19/2012 - 19:50
In general I like the shorter tonneau forms, but that enameled case from 1913 is super cool.
wait til you see part 2, some really funky stuff coming up :-)
06/20/2012 - 11:17
e
A rich history of tonneau...
06/19/2012 - 23:22
...and that was just Part 1!!!  Wow, Alex this is a great article.  It is nice to see how much inspiration VC had to draw upon from for its new models in 2012.  I was thinking I would like to have a VC tonneau shaped watch, but then I realized, the Overseas is a tonneau (a fancy or fantaisie style, based on your notes).  Check! Thanks for publishing this great article. Best, Robert
So QdI is a tonneau as well if I'm not mistaken... (nt)
06/20/2012 - 00:13
nt
QDI is a cushion which I guess is a squared up tonneau?!!
06/20/2012 - 11:18
e
yikes hadn't though of the Overseas as tonneau but you are right! will
06/20/2012 - 11:20
need to put it in the follow up laugh
Indeed a good read and comphrehensive as always, Alex.
06/20/2012 - 16:32
I have never had a tonneu shaped watch before, maybe VC can be the 1st? :) Cant wait for part deux...
I love tonneau shaped watches but don't have one right now, who
06/20/2012 - 17:18
knows maybe sometime soon?
So late to the game but just had to get a Thanks
06/20/2012 - 23:35
for a totally enthralling article and can't wait to see part II. The 1920's Tonneau Arque is my favorite and would really like to see that revived in Rose gold, maybe a mono-pusher--you all know my chronograph addiction. This is also a most interesting and entertaining thread. Best to all, Tim
a mono pusher tonneau chronograph would be a killer!
06/21/2012 - 10:55
e
my V&C monopoussoir
06/22/2012 - 02:43
Fashionably large too angel
Beauty Dean! Gives a new definition to "strap". Thanks for
06/22/2012 - 06:14
A great laugh;)., Tim
Re: Vacheron Constantin and the Tonneau 100 Years of Creativity Part 1
06/21/2012 - 02:11
Great article, Alex Can't respond in depth right now, having too much fun in Paris ;-) Best, Joseph
Thanks Joseph, enjoy Paris :-) wish I could have been with you guys
06/21/2012 - 10:56
r
HELLO VC MANAGEMENT
06/22/2012 - 03:45
If you had a brain you would publish a book based on Alex's Articles!!! Another superlative effort!
LOL!!! Justin I would settle for a raise :-)
06/22/2012 - 11:48
e
What a post!
06/29/2012 - 00:45
This is a reference piece for the ages, Alex!  As I'm very slowly learning more about the vintage world, articles such as this one are invaluable. Thanks, Gary
Thanks Gary, glad you enjoyed it
06/30/2012 - 12:45
M
Re: Vacheron Constantin and the Tonneau 100 Years of Creativity Part 1
04/03/2014 - 12:11
Thanks Alex! The tonneau is not really for me but I can appreciate others wanting and loving them.
Thank you and welcome to the Lounge
04/03/2014 - 12:13
e