Just back from Switzerland...

I hadn't been to Switzerland for a quite a few years. In fact, this was my first trip since I began collecting watches, and it was therefore a particularly interesting and informative visit. Some of you are no doubt aware of a few of the points which I am about to make, but please bear with me, as I expect that they will benefit those who have not yet had the opportunity to visit Switzerland.

My trip was limited to three cities: Geneva, Zurich and Schaffhausen. The latter was very interesting, but I will not elaborate here, as most of my insights and impressions relate to IWC (for those who are interested, I will, at some point, also be posting on one or both of the well-known IWC forums). Geneva was my first stop, and, while I enjoyed my brief stay, I found it to be rather disappointing from a vintage collector's standpoint. There are remarkably few shops which carry vintage watches, and even fewer (only one that I am aware of) which specialize in them. The explanations which I received from knowledgeable Swiss collectors is that Geneva is principally an export (watch) market, and also that those with higher end vintage watches tend (understandably) to bring them to the well-known auction houses which are located there.

There was, however, one very nice exception to the rule, and that was the small, but impressive vintage collection which was on offer at the Vacheron & Constantin Boutique (7, Quai de l'Ile). I must say that Dominique Bernaz was very kind to me, both in terms of his (and his staff's) time spent showing me the vintage collection, and also relating to some help which he generously provided during the research stage of my recent acquisition.

As to the vintage collection which I had the pleasure of viewing, it included superb handwind variations (with plenty of guilloche), a few fine automatics, and two exquisite chronographs. The impression I received from Dominique is that he would like to expand the collection, and offer an even wider variety in the future. Now before anyone gets too excited, I must add that even taking into account the horrific weakness of the dollar, the watches offered were priced at the top of the market. To be fair, they have all been completely overhauled and brought into spectacular condition, and they include some extras such as a fancy presentation box, a special certificate of authenticity, etc. But for those collectors who, like myself, enjoy the hunt for something really nice which also represents reasonable (if not good) value, these watches probably aren't for you. I am very happy to have seen them, though, and am grateful to have received such fine service.

Having been disappointed with the selection of vintage watches available in Geneve, I kept my chin up, and was amply rewarded in Zurich. Watches aside, I found Zurich to be a charming and thoroughly enjoyable city, especially during the holiday season. But let's face facts: I didn't want to return from Switzerland without acquiring a nice vintage watch, so my first order of business was to find some fertile shops. I first went to the well-known store Beyer, on the main shopping boulevard, Banhoffstrasse. As some of you know, Beyer does sell high-end vintage watches, so I went in part to see them in person, and partly to (hopefully) get some leads to other shops which specialize in vintage watches. Beyer does have some beautiful vintage pieces, though mainly Patek and IWC. More importantly, the woman who helped me was kind enough to point out a nearby shop which carried only vintage wares.

Well, one shop led to another, and, I'm happy to report that Zurich was a sharp contrast to Geneva. There are quite a few vintage only watch shops in Zurich, as well as at least two high-end restorers who buy very fine examples and then bring them into as-new condition. I must have viewed many hundreds of watches while in Zurich, and, while my intent was to find at least one fine watch to acquire irrespective of brand, the one I happened to hone in on was a V&C. I found it on the first day, and it immediately caught my eye, nestled in a small group of high-end watches in the window of a shop which had probably 150 watches (most mid-range) on display. I spoke with the owner that first day, viewed the watch, including the movement, through a loupe, and returned to my hotel room to do some research.

Having never previously owned a vintage V&C handwind model, my knowledge of them was somewhat limited. But thanks to forums like this, and people like our moderator Alex, as well as the aforementioned Dominique, I was able to get a strong handle on all of the relevant issues in a short period of time. Having satisfied myself that the watch was indeed authentic and original, and having viewed it on two more occasions, I bought it on the day before my return to the U.S. I don't know the reference number (if anyone knows, please do share!), but it is 18k yellow gold, and is powered by a cal. P454/5C with 17 jewels and a swan-neck regulator. The aesthetics of the watch appeal to me a great deal, as I am a fan of simple dials, and arabics. The dial is truly in mint condition, and while the case – which I also quite like – has probably been polished to some degree, it remains in excellent condition. The movement appears to be near-mint, and has performed admirably thus far, though I will soon take it in for a basic service.

Is it small by today's standards? Absolutely. Does that bother me? Absolutely not! I do have the advantage, in this case, of having small wrists, so a 34mm watch (which this is) works well. The small bezel also has the effect of making the watch seem bigger than it really is on the wrist. As a footnote to the movement, one of the details which Dominique was kind enough to provide is that the 454/5C is actually the very same movement as the more common 454/5B. There are, according to him, no differences at all; they were each simply a part of different series.

Hopefully I haven't bored you to tears, and for those who haven't scrolled prematurely, here are a couple of images. I will, down the road, provide more and better versions.


Tony C.

Just back from Switzerland...

Just back from Switzerland...

Thanks for sharing your experience Tony and congrats on your watch. I
12/05/2007 - 18:38

have also wonderd about the lack of vintage and second hand watch shops in Geneva and was always told that the auction houses held the market tight!

I have been to Zurich a few times but only on business and never had the time to check out the watch shops which I have heard are amazing. Did you go to the Beyer Museum?

If you (or others) are interested in hearing what Dominique Bernaz has to say about the sale of vintage VC's at the Maison click on the link below


Wear you watch in best of health

Congratulations Tony!
12/05/2007 - 18:51

I am surprised to hear the fact that there are not many vintage watches shops in Geneva...

Anyway, I am happy to hear that you didn't come back empty-handed from your trip, and I hope you got a good deal!

It is a beautiful watch, I really feels pure and simple!

Wear it in good health!

Lovely watch and great story! thanks NT
12/05/2007 - 19:31


Re: Just back from Switzerland...
12/05/2007 - 22:54

Very nice story and experience, Tony.

But after attending several times the Geneva auctions, I must say to have a vintage shop in Geneva to compete against these big boys would be some nightmare!!!

Congratulations on your sublime piece!
12/06/2007 - 03:01

Thanks for sharing your interesting story. Having never visited Geneva though, I can simply imagine from what you've mentioned how disappointed we would be in case of having only one vintage watch shops! No doubt that here in Tokyo, there are many more!

Thank you for the kind comments, everyone!
12/07/2007 - 02:54

I appreciate it, and will post some better pictures at some point.


Tony C.