Heirloom Vacheron Constantin minute repeater pocket watch

Allow me to introduce you to my family's Vacheron Constantin pocket watch, which has come down to me from my great grandfather. I am seeking advice about 1) how to properly describe the watch; and 2) how to restore and care for the watch. Please bear with my ignorance of horology - although I am considered my family's historian I am virtually ignorant of the history and construction of timepieces.

So, let's start with a few pictures:

Heirloom Vacheron Constantin minute repeater pocket watch




Heirloom Vacheron Constantin minute repeater pocket watch

Heirloom Vacheron Constantin minute repeater pocket watch

Heirloom Vacheron Constantin minute repeater pocket watch

You can find more pictures, at high resolution, here: High res pictures
NOTE: Once you click on a thumbnail to open one image you can scroll to the bottom of the page to find options for different sizes, including Original. Click on the image to return to the thumbnails.

Let me know if you want me to relate the somewhat interesting family history of the watch. It was inscribed in 1922 to Rudolf W. Van Stolk, my great grandfather. The monogram on the front case is R.W.V.S. The watch does not currently run, but I know it is a minute repeater because I can recall as a youngster hearing it "make music", and I have learned enough to recognize the hammers and gongs in the movement. Obviously it also has a calendar with phases of the moon. My father (who, like me, also knows next to nothing about the subject) always claimed it was the most complicated possible watch of the time. However, I now doubt that. I have seen two examples of similar-looking watches described in auction catalogs, one at the Sotheby's sale just this month in Geneva and the other sold by Antiquorum in April 2005. In both cases when I study the pictures carefully I notice that there is a large second hand that seems to be missing from mine, and also the movements appear to have an additional "layer" of complication on top of an otherwise similar movement. Perhaps mine is lacking a "stop watch" complication and is not therefore a "chronograph watch"? Are there other differences? The Antiquorum watch was made in 1900, the Sotheby's in 1916. I have learned, thanks to VC concierge Melanie's inquiries, that my watch was made in 1909. (What it was up to between 1909 and 1922 I do not know.) The serial numbers are 212733 for the case and 346670 for the movement. The case measures about 54mm. I don't know if it had some sort of "model name", how many jewels it has, or really how to properly describe it. It's box, which you can see in the linked photos, has something about Grand Prix, Milan, 1906. No idea what that has to do with the watch (?), though I've seen similar Grand Prix, Milan 1906 watch boxes while poking around on the net.

So... How am I doing so far? Let me know if you'd like pictures of the two similar watches, with their descriptions. Based on what you see here would anyone care to provide a proper description of my watch?

Part 2: What to do? Really what got me started with this research project is the sad but not surprising fact that the watch no longer runs - hasn't for the last 20 years or so. I would love to thrill my elderly father to show him the watch once again in its working glory, and I also feel that is how I should hand it down to my son (after I enjoy it for a while longer). As far as we know nothing is broken, and we suspect that mostly it needs thorough cleaning and lubrication. But what do I know? Of course VC suggests that I ship it to them in Geneva, but I have been warned to expect a cost of $10k to $20k, or more. I am sorry, because the watch probably deserves it, but that is a bit rich for my blood. I believe there are watchmakes in the U.S. who are capable of this work - even if replacement parts need to be manufactured. I realize that this might be a delicate subject on a forum that is afterall sponsored by VC (thank you, Alex), but any advice would be appreciated.

So there you have it. Let me know if you want any additional information (or family stories). I look forward to your thoughts and advice.

-Rick


4Js
12/01/2012 - 01:07
12/01/2012 - 04:30
12/01/2012 - 19:46
JB
12/02/2012 - 01:11
12/01/2012 - 23:29
12/02/2012 - 06:43
12/02/2012 - 11:28
12/03/2012 - 08:06
12/03/2012 - 12:08
JB
12/03/2012 - 17:56
A wonderful piece
12/01/2012 - 01:07
Whike I cannot help you as many others here have that expertise, I can tell I would do everything possible to get vacheron to service it and with your whole family enjoy this piece of family and Vacheon history. To my eyes the dial looks fantastic. The movement is also a beauty to behold. I appreciate your sharing this important part of your family history. I would like to be a fly on the wall when you and your father listen to this one again! Best, Joe
What a treat!
12/01/2012 - 04:30
Although your family heirloom predates the beginning of photographic records at V&C, we are fortunate that in 1914 it's sister movement 346669 came in for some reason and they took the opportunity to catalogue it.  This at least confirms the year you've been given, although this watch has a chronograph complication as well. You could properly describe your lovely watch as a hunter-cased astronomic minute repeater with 48-month perpetual calendar, phases and age of the moon.  The 22-ligne movement is based on a LeCoultre ebauche and likely has 29 jewels.  The "Chronometre" inscription means the watch passed timing-tests at the Geneva Observatory and was issued a Bulletin, which you can still obtain (I'd be happy to assist you off-line). All-in-all, it is a very special watch.  If you allow anyone other than Vacheron Constantin to restore it, you run the risk of improper workmanship, even damage.  Having said that, I know the cost of restoring a complicated piece such as this can be astronomical (no pun intended), maybe not recoverable if sold.  If you are happy to keep it as is, at least no harm is done.  If you want it running, please, please do it right heart.
Re: What a treat!
12/01/2012 - 07:54
Oh, I just realized that by "sister movement" you meant literally the previous serial number. Very cool.
Hi dean, the watch you posted is actually a simple calendar and not
12/03/2012 - 10:35
perpetual. It does have an alarm though which is quire rare!
An alarm function!
12/03/2012 - 16:50
That must relate to the smal central hand with index.  Very ingenious work smiley
A wonderful watch, a rare beautiful item!
12/01/2012 - 06:29
Its late so for now I will be brief and address only a few points. Date of manufature as you have discovered is 1909. Although many watches were cased and sold within 2 years of their completion, not all were. This movement may have languished for over a decade before being cased. It is rarer for NOT being a chronograh and being a chronometer. The variations are many but I have included a photo with what i believe is the same or very very similar movement and case and dial (although the fonts are different). The watch was made in 1929. The complete decription follows. There's a problem uploading the text scan. Here's part: V&C No 404159, case No. 255922, completed Aug. 1929 Very fine 18 ct. gold hunting case, moon phase, astronomical, keyless minute repeatin watch with perpetual calendar. Four body massive "demi-bassine". subsidiary dials. gold spade hands 19"" (line) rhodium plated, 32 jewels. Diam 56mm There's more but you get the idea. More to follow when I'm awake surprise Regards, Joseph
Comparisons
12/01/2012 - 19:46
Hi Joseph.  Here is a comparison of Astronomic minute-repeaters using the LeCoultre ebauche.  All are oriented with the cover on the left.  Clockwise, they are: a circa 1900 example, Rick's from 1909, and your find from 1929.  As expected, although there was a change of orientation, there remains a similarity in the shape and layout of components.  In the 1929 example, they took advantage of V&C's recently patented vernier micro-adjustable regulator.
Re: Comparisons
12/02/2012 - 01:11
That's right, Dean. It's a Breguet balance spring with microregulator. You can also see many more wights on the balance wheel. Very desireable! Best, Joseph
What a wealth of information!
12/01/2012 - 07:49
I just want you guys to know how much I appreciate your interest in my family's watch, and how grateful I am for your information. I have come to the right place and I am soaking it up! I had completely missed the significance of the "chronometre" aspect. Thank you, Tick-Talk, for your offer of help obtaining a "bulletin" from the Geneva Observatory. I will contact you soon off-line. Joseph: Yes, the photos you shared show a watch more similar to mine than any I have seen before. Wonderful!  This has prompted more questions: Upon doing some quick reading about "chronometers" I noticed a standard for chronometer-grade pocket watches developed by one Webb Ball in response to the need for highly precise railroad watches. Though this was initially an American standard the article I read said it was later joined by some Swiss watch manufucturers. In addition to obvious specs to ensure accuracy and precision the requirements also call for "bold legible Hindu-Arabic numerals".  So, are the Arabic numerals on my watch face related to its chronometre caliber? Do Roman numerals on an apparently more complicated chronograph watch indicate that it is not a chronometre? Or is this simply a stylistic difference with VC watches? Was a VC watch specifically manufactured as a chronometre, or is that status achieved by more careful adjustment followed by testing and certification? In other words, are there physical differences between a VC chronometre watch and a "non-chronometre" watch? (Please excuse me if these sound like dumb questions - I am simply an enthused newby.) And here is another question (hopefully not pressing my luck): smiley   I've noticed that the watch bow (another new word for me) on my watch is not the same 18-carat gold as the rest of the case. Is that usual? Other similar watches seem to have watch bows of the same color and sheen as the case. Isn't someone going to ask me for the family history of the watch?wink Thanks again, and keep it coming! -Rick
Re: What a wealth of information!
12/01/2012 - 16:03
Hi Rick, Here's a little more info. Sorry about the piecemeal nature. The chronometers of that era underwent testing at the Geneva and/or Kew-Teddington Observatories. The former still exists but I'm not sure about the latter. Here are a few links:http://www.unige.ch/sciences/astro/an/http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kew_Observatory Joseph (more to come)
Re: What a wealth of information!
12/01/2012 - 18:42
Well Rick, as you can see we are a bit excited by your watch wink.  I was equally enthusiastic when I first acquired an observatory chronometre and you may be interested in the resulting story: Observatory Chronometer: A Hard Working Watch. I can answer some of your questions briefly, but come back to us after you've reviewed the recommended readings: - The Geneva Observatory was conducting chronometer trials well before the American railroad standard was developed. - No, the style of fonts doesn't have any horological significance but yes, it was part of the railroad standard specifications for readability. - IMHO, all 1st quality V&C watches were capable of passing chronometer tests, but not all were submitted.  Some movements were indeed made to compete for a top prize in the annual competitions; reference the one in my story.  Others were submitted to enhance their sales potential.  The efforts of the technician in selecting components and assembling the piece, plus those of the regleur in adjusting the components, resulted in chronometer-level timing results.  I note yours doesn't have a Guillaume balance, which should have been specified if the piece was intended to compete for a Prize, but not if it was only intended to achieve a Bulletin de Marche; itself a great accomplishment with a complicated watch. - I'm also interested in what you learn about the bow.  It is obviously gold-plated but is it V&C?  I have yet to come across a plated V&C example but perhaps Alex can find some confirmation in the archives. Please share the significance of the cuvette inscription laugh.
Re: What a wealth of information!
12/02/2012 - 00:27
Regarding the "Milan 1906"... Many watch companies used to reproduce the medals their watches had one in various competions and expostions. They appeared on Certificates too. It was largely an advertizing gimick to promote the exalted reputation of their watches. There were almost certainly other medals on the inside of the box time has worn away. Do you by any chance have the certificate? As far as the watch itself is concerned...the dial is in remakable codition as is the crystal and case. The movement too looks to be in very good condition and as far as I can tell everything looks original. My guess is that it requires only cleaning and lubrication; but unfortunately that would require complete disassembly of the movement. I believe you should have it restored. Are there people besides VC who can do it. almost certainly.  But finding the right person may not be easy. With respect to the inscription it is regarding commissioners at a gelatin factory in Delft Holland? I'm not sure want that refers to...material or paints for Delft pottery or the material for explosives? blush I would be very interested in knowing more about the watch and its history vis a vis your family Regards, Joseph
Re: What a wealth of information!
12/02/2012 - 00:36
Hi Rick, Regarding the bow. It is certainly a different colour, but that doesn't necessarily mean that it is plated. It looks rose gold rather than yellow gold. A good jeweler can easily tell if it's plated. The original may have been damaged or broken at some time and quickly replced locally. (Just a guess) Joseph
Good to have you with us Rick:-) your watch according to company
12/01/2012 - 10:20
archives dates from 1922 (it is possible that the movement was made much earlier but cased in 1922) Can't give you more answers as JB and Tick Talk pretty much summed it up. However there is no aesthetical difference between chronometers and non chronometers ( you can check my article Chronometre Royal 100 years of Flamboyance in the Articles section for more info on Observatory trials) Unfortunately I don't know of any independent watchmakers in the US but just make sure whomever you chose he or she is top notch as not anyone can work on such a complicated watch especially a minute repeater. In any event please keep us posted
Wow - amazing watch
12/01/2012 - 23:29
Hi Rick WOW what an amazing watch and family heirloom. Can you tell us a little more about Rudolf W. Van Stolk and how he came to get this watch? Was it a gift, did he buy it and what it represented to him etc Thanks Hamish
The family history
12/02/2012 - 06:43
I continue to revel in your enthusiasm about my family watch! Yes, I will continue my technical questions once I've caught up on my homework wink. In the meanwhile I will present what I know about the watch's history in my family (I thought you'd never ask). In the grand scheme of things it might seem a rather ordinary story so I'll spice it up a bit with historical context. To begin at the present: My name is Richard Jacobus Van Stolk. I, along with many generations of my father's ancestors, was born in Delft, Holland, but was carried here to California by my father, Jacob, and his American bride in 1953 when I was a year old. The importance of family was instilled in me at a very early age, and despite the typical American propensity to spread families around the country I and my wife still live on a family complex next door to my elderly father (who BTW is also thrilled with your interest in our watch). My middle name, Jacobus, is my father's father's name. I have a daughter (23) and a son (25). I'll circle back to them at the end when I discuss the future of the watch. Now, back to the beginning... The personalized portion of the watch's inscription reads:    Commissarissen (commissioned by)    Lijm en Galatinefabriek (Glue and Gelatin Factory)    Delft    aan Mr. R. W. Van Stolk    30 Mei 1922 Of course Delft is world famous for its blue china (of which naturally my father has some pretty nice examples), and for art like that of Vermeer (of which we have none), but during the Industrial Revolution Delft also acquired its share of more pedestrian industries. One such was the Delft Glue and Gelatin factory, started in 1885. The factory made, well, glue and gelatin from animal bones (I warned you the story is not all that glamorous). Rudolf Willem van Stolk, my father's father's father, was CEO of the company for many years and he was presented with the watch on his retirement, apparently in May of 1922. He died in December of that same year at age 58, so he did not get to enjoy his fancy timepiece for long. The watch was passed on to Rudolf's eldest son, Jacobus, my grandfather, who also inherited the glorious job of managing the Glue and Gelatin Factory. My father was not the eldest son of Jacobus, in fact he was the third son, but he idolized his father. His first memory of the family watch was sitting on his father's knee, who instructed him to blow on the "magic watch", which then promptly rewarded him by making music (the minute repeater of course).  With the onslaught of WWII the story starts to get a bit more interesting. Here is a photograph of my grandfather Jacobus and his hapless employees dressed as militia soldiers being inspected by Prince Bernard in front of the Glue and Gelatin Factory in winter 1939, as the Dutch desperately tried to prepare for the imminent invasion by Germany: I am fortunate that the watch survived the war and its aftermath. Jacobus named his first son after his father Rudolf. The younger Rudolf was 20 when the Germans invaded in May 1940, and already in the Dutch army. He survived the very brief and hopeless fighting, then became heavily involved in the Dutch Underground, left Holland to fight in the war, had hair raising experiences in Belgium, France, Spain and Portugal before finally making it to England... well, you get the idea. The movie "Soldier of Orange" could have been written about my uncle Rudolf. Once Rudolf left Holland to fight in the war he was never to see his family again. He did survive the war, but was somehow damaged. Instead of going home he made his way to Singapore where he died tragically in early 1946 at age 27. Meanwhile on the homefront, the Dutch people suffered badly, especially in the last winter, the so-called "hunger winter". My grandfather Jacobus died that winter at age 50. I have a series of photos in which you can clearly see him wasting away between 1940 and 1944. Although the official cause of death was heart failure it is clear enough to me that he essentially starved to death, giving much of his own food to his children - very painful memories for my father, who was a young teenager during the war. O.K., back to the watch...  According to family tradition, young Rudolf, as the eldest son, should have received the watch from his father Jacobus. Apparently that did happen, although my father has no idea how or when, since surely the hot-headed 20-year-old Rudolf did not carry the watch with him to war - a war from which he never returned home. Recently I presented my father with the most likely theory: Shortly before Rudolf died in Singapore he married his pre-war girlfriend, named Tineke. During the war Tineke had become very close to the Van Stolk family, living with them for a time, and they loved her. After the war Tineke went to join Rudolf in Singapore, where they were married. After Rudolf's death Tineke married an Englishman in Singapore and never returned to live in Holland. However, it turns out that she had possession of the watch!  She was kind enough to send the watch back to Rudolf's mother (my grandmother), feeling that although technically she owned it, she had no right to it. My theory is that Rudolf's mother gave the watch to Tineke to bring to Rudolf in Singapore. We're finally getting to how the watch came to me. One might think that my grandmother would simply give the watch to the second son, my father's older brother Han. But she did not. Instead she kept it for a number of years. I think she was waiting to see if Han would have any sons. He did not. My dear "Granny" came to the U.S. to visit us almost every year of my youth. Sometime in that period she gave the watch to my father, with instructions to hold it for me. So when I turned 21 I became the watch's new owner, although I think I was close to 40 before I took physical possession of it. And now I am waiting. My son Nicholas knows that he is now technically the owner of the watch, but in accordance with family tradition I am waiting to see what grandchildren come along wink.  So, for those of you who have kept with it, there is the family story of the Van Stolk watch. Hope you enjoyed it. -Rick Van Stolk
A tremendous watch and a tremendous story.
12/02/2012 - 08:15
Both congratulations and thanks are due to you. From time to time around here someone will say "it's not about the watches, it's about the people." Stories like yours are what they mean. It is a delight to have you approach your possession in such a scholarly manner; also to learn of Tineke's integrity.
You sure have a fine way in captivating us!
12/02/2012 - 09:56
.
A fascinating history Rick
12/02/2012 - 17:05
Thank you for sharing it. The watch ha sa history of its own closely tied in with your family. That's the nature of a real heirloom. Congratulations. May it chime happy times for your entire family. Joseph
A haunting photograph
12/02/2012 - 17:40
Thank-you for sharing that photo!  Knowing the horrors soon to follow, and seeing the highly controversial Prince Bernhard striding in front of those hapless soldiers, is chilling.  After reading your well-crafted story, I took the opportunity to check into the Glue and Gelatin Factory of Delft and learned the business went through many hands until closing in 2000 following the mad-cow epidemic.  The buildings were renovated and repurposed as a meeting center and are much admired. Thank goodness the German army didn't complete their plans to establish a V2 launching center there in 1945, as the war ended just as they had finished construction of a perimeter wall.
Delft Glue and Gelatin factory
12/03/2012 - 06:51
Sorry, this post won't have anything about watches. I just had to drop you a line in response to your information about the glue and gelatin factory. I just left my father after bringing him up to date on your posts. Your tidbits about the factory sparked an hour of more war-time recollections from my father. He was amazed that you could so quickly learn about the final history of the factory, and further amazed when I showed him how clever "Mr. Google" is about this stuff. Here is another picture, showing anti-aircraft positions with the factory in the background, obviously taken that same day of Prince Bernard's visit. It doesn't quite tell the same human and family story for me but I find it to be a quite dramatic composition: (As family historian one of my projects was the digitization of 40 family photo albums going back into the 19th Century.) My father went on about the intense fighting on the factory grounds, which were used as a paratroop drop zone by the Germans. He was a bit puzzled about the V2 plans and the perimeter wall. He did vividly recall that the factory grounds had been used to launch V1 rockets and cringed at his memories of their horrible shrieking sound and not infrequent explosions as they malfunctioned and crashed nearby. He recounted (again) the reprisals against Delft citizens for the efforts by the Dutch underground to disrupt the rockets being fired from there.
Faces for the names
12/03/2012 - 07:51
Since you folks responded with such interest to my family story I thought I'd attach a few faces to the names. Gave me a good excuse to peruse my family photos again. Here is Rudolf Willem Van Stolk, the watch's original Van Stolk owner (I couldn't find one with him wearing the watch): This one is my father, Jacob (in the middle) with his parents just before the war. That's my grandfather Jacobus on the right, putting on a brave face. I'd image the watch is about the last thing on his mind: And here is the last photo of Jacobus, a scant four years later: Here is Jacobus' eldest son, Rudolf, in Singapore with his new bride, Tineke. I think Rudolf has the watch at this point: And finally, that's me on my dad's lap, steaming into New York harbor to begin our lives in the "new world". The watch will rejoin us some years later:
Wonderful! Thank-you for sharing :-)
12/03/2012 - 16:42
nt
+1 ;-)
12/03/2012 - 17:11
e
That is a wonderful story
12/08/2012 - 17:38
And congratulations on the beautiful timepiece and heirloom. - SJX
Thanks Rick
12/02/2012 - 11:28
What a captivating story. I hope the watch stays in your family forever......
About the box...
12/03/2012 - 08:06
Surely not as interesting as the watch itself, but I'm wondering what to do about the watch's box: The hinges are shot, the cover is held only by the tattered fabric. The outside (not pictured) is actually reasonably good. I suppose my options are: 1. Find a nice new generic pocket watch box. 2. Try to find a similar VC box. What are the chances? I see one sold on EBay a few months back but it was for a slightly smaller watch. 3. Restore the box. I didn't consider this at first, but now I wonder...  If the hinges were replaced, the fabric stabilized. Hmmm...  I might end up with a serviceable box, the one that came with the watch, looking its age, but maybe not too shabby? I don't know. Any thoughts?
Re: About the box...
12/03/2012 - 12:08
Hello Jacobus, Thank you for sharing with us the story of your family. My 2 cents advice: Always keep the original stuffs (like boxes, etc...)  even if they are in bad shape and you try to buy another one. Horological greetings, Berny
Re: About the box...
12/03/2012 - 17:56
Hi Rick, Unless you can find the exact same box in better condition, do nothing! anmd enven if you do find another, keep the original as is. Berny is correct. The watch box is an additional souvenir of the watch's history and sojourn. It will seve as a constant reminder of your history. Regards, Joseph
Congrats on the beautiful watch, Rick!
12/03/2012 - 23:04
Please have it restored for your own and your father's sake. What an abundance of information - heritage and history - and pictures. This is first class. Just what Vacheron stands for all the way!
This is a truly amazing watch
12/06/2012 - 08:19
That it is an Observatory Chronometer with multiple, high-end, compications - just makes it a special heirloom, irrespective of Brand. Thanks for the great story about your family and sharing this wonderful timepiece!
Congrats and keep it well through the generations!
12/06/2012 - 17:57
Congrats Rick! Keep this for generations to come! It is an amazing watch, extremely beautiful, classical and well crafted. Timeless design and simply awesome! robin wong
Re: Heirloom Vacheron Constantin minute repeater pocket watch
01/06/2013 - 08:49
Great story. I hope you fix it.