We continue the journey in Vacheron Constantin’s fascinating minute repeaters, in this Part 2 we delve further into minute repeater wrist watches.
For Part 1 of the History of Vacheron Constantin Minute Repeaters
1942 - Ref 4261
According to the Antiquorum database, towards the mid-20 th century, Vacheron Constantin produced only 36 examples of minute-repeating wristwatches, in pink, yellow, white gold and in platinum: 17 examples beginning in 1942, 9 beginning in 1944 and 10 beginning in 1951. This piece has a 5.25mm movement thickness
1955 - Ref 4261
In platinum with a 3.28mm movement
1957 - Ref 4293
A triple date with moonphase indication minute repeater ref 4293, the movement was made in 1943 but only cased in a rather large (for the time) 38mm rose gold case, and sold in 1957. According to Vacheron Constantin archives two models were to be made but only one actually left the ateliers.
Even with the full establishement of the wrist watch Vacheron Constantin continued making minute repeaters like this in a yell w gold hunting case. Movement is 4.7mm thick.
1961 - Ref 6448
Made in 3 unique dial variations: white gold (one with a regular dial -sold in 1962 - and the other with diamond indexes-sold in 1961) and 1 in platinum with diamond indexes sold in 1962. The model with regular dial sold at Christie’s Geneva for CHF 363,000
watch the video presentation
1992 - Ref 30010
The late 80s saw the revival of the mechanical watch after the quartz crisis who almost sealed the fate of the Swiss watch industry, brands were starting to recover and Vacheron Constantin came limping our of the quartz crisis decided to regain the summits and to do so by adding one of the most complex complications to its collection: the minute repeater.
In 1998/1999 the brand started working on this gargantuan project, assigned to two men: Marcel Goy, Vacheron Constantin’s then Technical Director and Gerald Dubois, of Dubois-Depraz, the movement manufacturer. The goal was to recreate a mythical movement in line with the amazing extra flat repeater movement the brand had used in the 40s.
One must understand the challenge that this task posed, not only the original plans and drawings of that calibre were no longer available and due to the quartz crisis the industry was lacking a whole generation of watch makers, constructors, engineers etc… possessing the know how and capable of working on such projects. Vacheron Constantin had to start from zero and it was a trial and error process by taking apart a vintage movement, studying it and trying to rebuild it.
One of the main difficulties, other than keeping the calibre thin, was building the perfect gongs capable of rendering not only a loud strike but also a pure and crisp chime. Legend doesn’t say if the gongs were dipped in horse urine as was done in the 18th century to harden them but in any event the magic formula was found.
Vacheron Constantin also experimented other ways in obtaining the best acoustics and this path took the brand to adapting the cases individually to each movement making the two inseparable (a movement could have a phenomenal chime in a case it was adapted for and a so-so chime in another).
In 1992 the calibre 1755 (3.28mm thick) was introduced in two versions: simple and with a perpetual calendar. The non perpetual version came with a solid dial in either platinum or yellow gold and a stunning skeletion version in either rose gold or platinum.
The 36mm case was a tribute to the fantastically beautiful tear drop lug repeaters it had gotten its inspiration from.
Only 200 Cal 1755 were ever made.
An amazing skeleton version was also created firts in rose gold then in 20 limited pieces in platinum in 2008
1992 - Ref 30020
(ref 30040 -2006)
Cal 1755 was also used with a perpetual calendar housed in either yellow gold or platinum.
The 3.28 mm repeater movement now measuring a total of 4.9 mm with the extra perpetual calendar module.
In a 36mm case it was a tribute to the fantastically beautiful tear drop lug repeaters it had gotten its inspiration from, the perpetual calendar was also very traditional in its implementation and inspired from the pocket watches of the 19th century where the months are given on a 4 year period without an extra hand for the leap year.
In 2006 Cal 1755QP (as for Quantième Perpetuel – perpetual calendar in French) was used in the now defunct round shaped Malte (41mm case) in rose gold giving it a more modern and masculine look. In 2010 the last 8 Cal 1755QPs were cased in a round Malte case but this time in platinum.
Cal 1755 is a milestone for Vacheron Constantin, the brand was back and wanted the world to know, it proved that it was ready to face challenges no matter how difficult and created a mythical movement.
2005 - Tour de l’Ile
Power reserve indicator
Leap year indicator
2nd time zone
Sonnerie level indication
Equation of time
The celebration of the brand’s 250th anniversary in 2005 was a strategic event in terms of products and communication and starting 1999 a team in charge of conception and development of special commemorative timepieces was set up.
To celebrate this exceptional anniversary the Vacheron Constantin team worked on the conception of a commemorative collection of 5 creations all referring in a way or another to the brand’s historical patrimony. These timepieces were to showcase 250 years of know how, technical mastery and creativity.
Made in 7 pieces between 2005 and 2007, a special unique black dial version was sold by Antiquorum at the VC 250th anniversary auction on April 3 2005 for CHF 1,876,250 making it the most expensive modern wrist watch to be auctioned!
Creating a timepiece with indications on both sides of the case was no easy feat, especially since the team wanted to maintain legibility and wearability.It took 4 years (2000-2004) for the constructors at VC to develop calibre 2750 (834 parts) requesting over 10,000 hours of R&D.
How do you create a super complicated watch that can remain elegant, refined and which can be worn comfortably on the wrist? This was the first obstacle the case designers confronted.
The creative process started on 2 axes, the first directly via CAD in 3D as to be able to assess as soon as possible an evaluation of the minimal dimensions of the case keeping in mind the size of the movement: 36mm x 11.25mm.
The second axis was sketches and drawings, especially everything that was related to the lugs and their particular shape. The lugs were then integrated into the 3D design.
The fact that the movement was 36mm in diameter was not an issue. However the 11.25mm thickness and the fact that the watch was to have indications on both sides almost made Vincent Kaufmann, the head designer, to pull out his last remaining hairs in frustration.
The first satisfying volume of the case in terms of equilibrium would have been largely over 50mm, and this is without counting the lugs! But this was impossible as the objective was to have a wearable watch. The team created different models using stereo lithography to finally reach a compromise considered as optimal: 47mm diameter and 17.8mm thickness.
This type of size can be found in modern watches which are either targeting the sports watch segment or those wanting to make a spectacular impression. For the Tour de l’Ile, Vacheron Constantin was to create a classical watch which – as much as possible – was to remain discreet!!!!
To reduce the impression of thickness, the designers came up with a curved case as to prevent the “tuna can” effect. The case is also divided in three distinctive parts: the knurled bezel and case back plus the main centrepiece.
The second difficulty was the implementation and form of the lugs. To have equilibrium they needed to occupy the major part of the case side without having straight lines which would have given an impression of weight. Soldered to the case and representing 1/4th of a Maltese cross and being both concave with ingoing angles they were particularly difficult to make and could only be hand finished.
Thanks to its construction which integrates all elements –movement and case – the watch does not look like a cake with different stacked layers. It is comfortable to wear and its proportions are harmonious. The Tour de l’Ile was the first watch from the anniversary pieces to be designed and all the others were directly inspired from it and integrated its aesthetic codes.
Other than the case construction another challenge had to be met: placing 7 corrector pushers, a crown as well as the repeater slide! The classical position on the case side was impossible due to the correctors. That’s why it was decided on placing the repeater slide on the bezel which needs to be turned to activate the repeater.
The WIS is often fascinated by the technological prowess of grand complication; the dial is a natural prolongation of this as well as being the “face” of the watch.
In the Tour de l’Ile 12 hands indicate the majority of the functions. The aesthetics needed to make these indications legible and uncluttered.
The top dial features the hours and minutes, the tourbillon cage, the power reserve indicator, the 2nd time zone, and the sonnerie indicator as well as the moonphase. The back dial features the calendar functions, the sun rise / sun set indications as well as the equation of time. 6 hands are necessary for these indications. The celestial chart representing the Northern Hemisphere is placed on the bottom part of the dial.
One of the first objectives of the team in charge of the dial was to create a sober aesthetics especially with regards to the tints and varnish used. Only 2 colors are present on the dial: silver of the dial and blue underlining the different complications. The hands are also blued steal. The time telling hands are in pink gold like the case.
In parallel to the creation of the final dials, the team created “replacement” dials as to test the functions which were complicated to adjust due to the little space available on the dial, especially the indications relating to the equation of time as well as sunset and sunrise. As such each Tour de l’Ile could be assembled, tested, dis-assembled and re-assembled with the final dials.
The guillocheur responsible for each dial actually refused to show the dials to VC before delivery and the creative team did have a stressful moment there! The interesting point is that each dial on the back of the Tour de l’Ile has a different guilloche motif.
The sky chart representing the sky as seen from the Northern Hemisphere featured on the back dial was added far down the movement development and was included...6 months before the unveiling of the watch!!
Initially, the tourbillon was to be visible from the back, however considering the thickness of the movement and the additional mechanisms the aesthetics were not satisfying. The engineers and constructors submitted the idea of filling the “hole” with a sky chart and they managed in a few weeks – in collaboration with the Geneva Observatory – to create this new complication.
2007 - Patrimony Traditionnelle Cal 2755
Leap year indicator
Power reserve indicator
Presented in 2007 the Patrimony Traditionnelle Caliber 2755 (how’s that as a dry name for such an amazing watch?) is currently Vacheron Constantins most complicated timepiece. However it’s just not “just” a perpetual calendar, tourbillon minute repeater but the greatest sounding repeater I have ever heard thanks to a centripetal speed-regulator in the striking-mechanism, an original device which eliminates the noise interference normally experienced with pallet systems (the bzzz often heard when the repeating mechanism is activated)
As with the ref 30020 and 30040 the case has been carefully designed and manufactured to give the minute repeater a remarkable resonance, which is optimised by the ingenious use of a stud linking the case to the striking mechanism. And, thanks to its high copper content, which gives it its colour, the pink gold case adds to the quality of resonance.
In 2010 the Cal 2755 was also launched in platinum with an opaline and a slate grey dial, the later having an even more contemporary look. Normally platinum is a metal which “absorbs” the chimes but the watchmakers at Vacheron Constantin have done a fantastic job and the chimes are almost as loud and pure as in the rose gold version.
A special version was also made in 2009 for Parisian retailer Dubail with a scrumptious chocolate brown dial.
The cal 2755 is assembled from A to Z by the same watchmaker who also tunes the gongs (by filing away on the base of the gongs) to achieve the perfect chime. As Chrystian Lefrançois, master watchmaker at Vacheron Constantin says “achieving the perfect chime is extremely difficult as you need to adjust the gong by filing the metal and at one point you know that you have reached the best possible sound and one file to much and you go from the best chime to the dull sound of a spoon hitting a pot!”
About less than one Patrimony Traditionnelle Cal 2755 come out of the ateliers of Vacheron Constantin per month, considering that it can take 3-4 months to fine tune and assemble.
For the opening of its first flagship boutiques in New York, Paris and London Vacheron Constantin also created a unique piece for each.
|Cal 2755 New York Boutique Ed||Cal 2755 Paris Boutique Ed||Cal 2755 London Boutique Ed|
Calibre 2755 book
2010 - Atelier Cabinotier Philosophia
In 2006 Vacheron Constantin set up a bespoke department called the Atelier Cabinotier, a first for any watch brand - this department offers bespoke and custom watches made to the client’s specifications, meaning from just a different dial to a watch with a proprietary movement.
Unfortunately the designs belonging to the clients few of these creations have been made public.
Luckily the owner of this watch has accepted to share.
The owner's original idea was to have a tourbillon minute repeater but with no hands! The tourbillon for the visual pleasure and the minute repeater to tell time. However as the project advanced it was decided to add only one hand which would advance in 24h cycles, a moonphase indicator was also added.
The base movement is that of the 2755 (minute repeater, tourbillon, perpetual calendar with power reserve indicator on the back plate) but modified for the new indications.
More information on the Philosophia
2011 - Atelier Cabinotier Vladimir
Indications Hours, minutes, second on tourbillon
Second time zone
Moon phase indication, age of the moon
Perpetual time equation
Week number indication
Inspired by the Tour de l’Ile this amazing watch is one of the world’s most complicated timepieces with 17 complications (891 components) which took four years to develop.
The Vladimir’s case is itself a work of art, the Chinese zodiac appear in bas-relief on the case sides the signs. The twelve figures – from the dragon through the rabbit and the rooster to the snake – were made to stand out slightly from the main body of 18-carat pink gold. It was a colossal task for the engravers – the twelve figures alone took more than six months – and required that a very special case first had to be made with extra-thick sides, from which the superfluous material was removed, carving roughly at first and then in very fine detail, the case was then polished very subtly, a task made all the more difficult by the fact that it absolutely must not destroy the engraver’s incredible work on the bas-reliefs.
For more information on the Vladimir
2013 - Patrimony Contemporaine Calibre1731 Ultra Thin minute repeater
The last born of Vacheron Constantin minute repeaters and the first “simple one in 20 years.
It was in 2009 that Vacheron Constantin decided to create a new minute repeater combining slenderness, a pure sound, aesthetic beauty, reliability and sturdiness which would not only be a heir to Cal 1755 but to also surpass it in terms of technical details.
Four years were necessary to create Cal 1731. While is slightly thicker than Cal 1755 – 3.90 compared with 3.28 mm – due to its 65-hour power reserve, it is nonetheless the thinnest on the market today. The cal 1731 also benefits from the research and development of cal 2755 and houses the signature piece centrepetal regulator
Various technical choices were made to ensure a crystal-clear and entirely tuneful tone. The gongs are for example connected to the case middle to as to amplify the sound, the case is made to be as one with the movement, within a clever composition incorporating such subtle parameters as the airflow between the mechanism and the case, designed to achieve optimal propagation of the sound. The case itself has been built without joints so that the elements can interact literally metal against metal and thus enhance the amplitude of the sound.
While preparing this article I had the great pleasure of listening to most of the repeaters featured here and what has impressed me the most (other than the designs which remain a question of taste) are the consistent clear, loud and crystal like chimes of these watches!
About vintages. Ths historical 4261 is maybe the most emblematic Vacheron, it is for me the most beautiful classic, nothing come close and I do love other brand and models. Even if I had millions to spend it would come first before Patek Worldtime 2523 for example (which is also amazing for sure). The design is poetry and elegance the proportions are perfect, the understatement of the presentation compared to the complication, the original yet simple dial. Everything is amazing.
Now the special mormon 6440 sold at Christies, is something unique and everytime I see photos, I just can't help thinking that it is perfection, so many details here hidden in the most rigourous simplicity.
About recent ones The simple ones are beauty a very nice hommage to the original one, understatement with plain dial or pure Vacheron art with the skeletonized version. THe perpetual calendar are another beautiful story.
THe new one is a beautiful child of this legendary line, a truly wonderful watch, after some months of thinking I have one concern. I think this kind of complication should have a dedicated case, I understand the "identity" need, but I think it is a mistake when we are talking minute repeater or tourbillon. It should not be the same Patrimony case, it "cheapens" the effect of this fabulous watch. That said his Patrimony contemporaine case is a beauty and I can't wait to see an EP version of this.
Thanks Alex for making us dream in this wonderful travel around the greatest works of Vacheron Constatnin imho.
The Modern pieces are amazing, however there is something about the classics that moves me to collect and strikes my passion for being a collector.