Few things are more enjoyable for this writer than digging into the history of a new watch. What comes very close is digging into the history of a fellow Lounger's watch. This picture was sent to me offline and had my immediate interest.
Yes, its a conversion and therefore by definition a frankenstein piece, but the movement itself merits our appreciation. With the owner's permission, I'd like to share this wonderful watch with you.
The details are amazing! "Made for Shreve Treat & Eacret San Francisco". George Shreve started in the jewelery trade in 1852 in San Francisco and incorporated Shreve & Co in 1894. They are well known to vintage watch collectors as having offered many of the finest Swiss brands under their own name. The business continues to this day. Shreve Treat & Eacret was an offshoot business started by the founder's son, also George, in 1912 along with Walter Treat and Godfrey Eacret. It ceased to operate during WWII.
This watch originated as an ebauche kit and not a complete watch, so a missing case doesn't invalidate its horological merit as much as if it had come from the factory already cased, at least in my opinion. There are also other features of this piece that elevate it beyond the usual fleabay franken.
"Pat May 24 1904" engraved on the balance bridge draws our attention to the wonderful and precise micrometer regulator mechanism patented by V&C's supplier Brandt & Hofmann. This company was also responsible for supplying some of V&C's secondary watches under the Pour Fabrique Vacheron & Constantin line. This regulator was especially popular in the American market during a time when Railroad Standard timepieces were in demand.
"377635" movement serial number pins the date of manufacture to 1918. Charles Vacheron noted in the Annales that American sales picked up tremendously beginning in 1917, so much that they started a label expressly for this market; Merimont. 1918 was also the year Albert Pellaton came onboard with V&C as technical director, although he was really to make his mark with IWC.
"21 Jewels 8 Adjustments" also marks the high quality demanded by the American market. Many American brands already offered this, and even 23 jewels, to demonstrate their devotion to precision and the requirements of Railroad Standards as advertised in this 1908 publication.
Others unscrupulously salted their movements with non-functional jewels to raise the count to sometimes ridiculous levels. "8 Adjustments" does not mean adjusted to eight positions for, aside from the standard six positions of dial up/down, pendant up/down, and pendant left/right were added temperature hot/cold, and isochronism or the rate of oscillation.
"Integral Balance" is a term that should excite all those passionate about the history of chronometry. This balance was the invention of Charles-Edouard Guillaume and was to revolutionize precision timekeeping. It was a progression from his first laminated brass/Anibal "Guillaume" balance wheel, achieved with the substitution of the newly-developed Invar laminated balance wheel and Elinvar balance spring. Watches with this balance mechanism were to dominate Observatory Trials henceforth and won its creator a Nobel Prize in Physics.
The owner of this watch was aware it had competed at the Kew Trials of 1918/19 but was stymied in finding further details. Here I was glad to help. Inquires were launched with both the Geneva Observatory and the Royal Observatory Greenwich, keeper of the old Kew records. Geneva responded that they had no record of this movement but, most unusually, Kew (actually the National Physical Laboratory at Teddington by this date) answered in the affirmative. This was the first case I've come across where a V&C Observatory watch was sent to Kew but not Geneva...a mystery!
Here we have some of the documents provided those fantastic friends of chronometry at Greenwich.
The ledgers show the watch was received on September 19 of 1918 by Insured Box from Vacheron directly, in a shipment of two watches. This addressed the question of the watch having been directly submitted to Kew by a private party, thusly circumventing the Geneva Observatory. Not the case!
Here we have the outgoing record, and the results for both V&C watches being recorded as an A Class Certificate with Especially Good results. Interesting to note the margin scribble which states "Returned in 1 box insured for 600 francs to Censor of Parcels on November 5th". During WWI and II, many countries including Great Britain applied postal censorship and routinely examined both letters and parcels for confidential information or contraband material. Parcels sent to neutral Switzerland were probably treated with even more suspicion.
And the results...
I know a few people who have great insight into these numbers, unfortunately I am not one of them. Our featured watch scored slightly better than its compatriot V&C, atlhough both obtained the coveted A cert with Especially Good notation. Whether this is born from chauvanism or not, I'm led to believe by the aforementioned chronometric gurus that Kew tests were somewhat less rigorous than Geneva's. We also know that V&C was in the habit of withdrawing movements from Geneva trials when they did not achieve a 1ere Classe designation, selling them as "demi-chronometers"; a term with no official meaning. Perhaps this explains the path taken by this watch which led to Kew?
Kew was nevertheless an important reference point for international bragging rights and the 1918/19 results were dutifully reported in the Swiss trade journals. You will find our watch 377635 towards the bottom. V&C was well represented and note that most had either the Guillaume or Integral Balance, with a couple of non-invar Crausaz hold-outs still making a good showing.
This was a most interesting exercise and I hope you've enjoyed following along. Cheers