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Part 1 (1912-1924) of the article dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the tonneau watch at Vacheron Constantin showcased the creative energy flowing within the brand if the numerous and varied designs of pieces made in unique or extremely low numbers is anything to go by.
In Part 2 we continue discovering Vacheron Constantin’s tonneau shaped creations from 1925-1936. A period which may seem less creative than the early days of the tonneau but nevertheless the brand continues experimenting with different shapes and styles and introduces the first two tone tonneau cases mainly in white and green gold.
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 1964 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 rising 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 series of articles 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 glass
Tonneau with form glass
Fancy (fantaisie) tonneau
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.
I will provide photo references where available.
In 1927 Vacheron Constantin started using an oval shaped movements for certain pieces and in 1932 started using tonneau shaped movements.
|RA 8''15-12||RA 8''||RA 9''|
Interestingly the majority of the watches were made in yellow, green or white gold, rose gold being only used in the 40s when the interest for tonneau watches was wanning.
Also called Tonneau Tronqué (cut off tonneau) made in a green gold case and housing a 9’’94 calibre
1926 – Photo reference 3459
Unique piece made in platinum
1927 – Photo refrenece 2661
An extremely interesting piece as it had atwo tone case with bezzel in white gold and case in green gold but it also housed an oval shaped 8’’15/12 calibre
1927 – Photo reference 2893
Also called Tonneau Allongé (elongated tonneau) it was made in a choice of green gold, white gold and platinum using the tonneau shaped 8’’15/12 calibre
1927 – Photo reference 3244
Made in an extra small series of platinum cases and housing a 9’’ caliber
1927 - Photo refrence 2757
Also called Tourtue (or turtle) due to its rounded middle section not unlike a turtles shell. Made in white gold and housing a 11’’ caliber.
1927 – Photo refrence 2758
An extremely elegant curved tonneau case made in extremely limited numbers in green gold and housing a 9’’94 calibre.
1927- Photo reference 2759
The case back is curved (but not the case) which was made in an extremely limited number in two tone white and yellow gold.
1927 – Photo reference 2761
Also called Demi Tonneau (semi tonneau) this model was made for a 2 year period in green gold
1927 – Photo reference 2765 or 3656
Made during one year only in a very small number and in a two tone white and green gold case.
1927 – Photo reference 3383
Also called Tonneau Court (short tonneau) and only made during one year it is interesting to see that the tonneau case does not tapper at the top, the dial opening which remains round is also quite different. This model housing a 11’’ caliber was made in white gold and yellow gold.
1928 – Photo reference 2869
A mysterious watch as there is no information available on it other than this photo!!!
1928 – Photo reference 2907
Another mysterious watch with no information but I love the way the lugs merge into the case. The Malte tonneau models from the early 2000 seem quite inspired by this.
1928 – Photo reference 3657
Housing a 11’’ caliber this model was made for only one year and in green gold.
1928 – Photo reference 3244
Almost rectangular in shape with very thin bezel this watch was made for one year in green gold.
1929 – Photo reference 3023
Housing a 9’’ caliber this watch is extremely rare as it was made only in platinum
Probably Vacheron Constantin’s first calendar wrist watch. Day and date via apertures and moonphase. This watch was produced in a green gold case.
1930 – Photo reference 3194
Another elusive piece on which no information is available
1930 – Photo reference 3365
A really interesting piece with an extremely modern design, halfway between the round and the tonneau. Made in green gold with a 9’’94 calibre
1932 – Photo reference 3352
Also called Tonneau Plat (flat tonneau) not as much for the case thickness but as for the wide bezel. Housing a 9’’ caliber but I have no information on case metal.
1933 – Photo reference 3426
Also called Tonneau plat (flat tonneau) this model was made mainly in yellow gold with a few pieces in white gold and a unique piece in platinum.
1933 – Photo reference 3388
Vacheron Constantin’s first water resistant wrist watch (thanks to its screwed on case back and bezel) and certainly a piece which inspired directly the Overseas. Housing a 12’’ caliber this watch was made in a unique yellow gold piece.
1933 - Photo references 3446 and 3447
Little information is available on these two pieces which feature day/date moonphase (3447) and day/date (3446) it is believed that these watches were among the very first wrist watches to feature aretrograde date hand!
1936 – Photo reference 3620
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.
Recently a nephew of the original owner posted some photo of the watch here on the Lounge
Click here for Part 3