Miscellaneous Ramblings - the Imperator

One would have to be a disinterested follower of the marque not to know something of the Chronomètre Royal.  Conceived in 1907 as a durable and precise pocket watch for the sporting gentleman, the name survives today on the Chronomètre Royal 1907 wrist watch.

Perhaps less are familiar with the progenitor of the legendary “CR”; a model known as the Imperator.  According to Antiquorum; The name “Imperator” was never used officially, but only appeared on internal Vacheron & Constantin documents.  Its production lasted from 1898 to 1919.  The Imperator was designed as a robust “impermeable” watch, 98% of which were hunting-cased…The cases of these watches are of heavy-gauge gold with reinforced hinges, enlarged flanges, and an enlarged winding stem with a felt gasket in the pendant…These watches were also fitted with a special “T” balance to allow for maximum temperature compensation within a larger range than normal bimetallic balances.

The distinctive aspects of the Imperator model are somewhat subtle as it would seem quite difficult to ascertain the robust nature of its case from a visual inspection.  On the other hand, positive confirmation can be had from a partial disassembly; the felt gasket and enlarged winding stem being certain clues.

Miscellaneous Ramblings - the Imperator

Miscellaneous Ramblings - the Imperator

Antiquorum’s database has record of only three Imperators sold; two hunting-cased and one open-face watch.  For the hunters, the movements are both described as RA 20’’’; one with 18 jewels in a 57mm case and the other with 17 jewels in a 53mm case.

Miscellaneous Ramblings - the Imperator

The more unusual open-face Imperator has an RA 21’’’ movement with 19 jewels in an extra-large 59mm case.  All have a “cut bimetallic compensation balance”, however the characteristics of the mysterious “T” balance are not provided and a visual inspection of their catalog photo does not provide an obvious answer.

So, with this background, I am now able to reveal the motivation for today’s subject:

Miscellaneous Ramblings - the Imperator

This image of a Vacheron & Constantin Certificate of Origin was a random online discovery which caught my attention recently.  The description translates as follows:

We certify that the watch No. 227002 53 mm diameter, 18 karat gold case, Savonnette (hunting-style), Imperator, polished, Chronometer movement No. 371056, pendant winding, lever escapement, eighteen jewels, compensation balance, overcoil hairspring (Breguet-type), was entirely manufactured in our workshops, regulated at temperature and in different positions.

Judging by the case number, this piece would appear to have been completed circa 1913.  Unfortunately, the technical description of the movement does not illuminate the “T” balance, leaving me to wonder if this feature was an editorial fiction.  What the document does illustrate, thus bringing me to the point of this rambling post, is the use of the term “Imperator” as part of the Certificate provided to the owner.  In other words, “Imperator” was not strictly an internal reference as suggested by Antiquorum, but a specific model like the Chronomètre Royal.

HAGWE smiley

Great post (as usual) Dean. Interestingly this subject was brought up internally and
06/02/2014 - 22:15

I confirm that the Imperator was never an official denomination

Appreciate this info, Alex
06/03/2014 - 02:07

I really am puzzled now frown.  Can you find out why it would be written on the Certificate of Origin?  "Deep Stream", for example, isn't recorded on documents because it is only a nickname.  OTOH, the description Savonnette, Imperator was written on this certificate to convey the case design which suggests it was a term known to both staff and customers...

Also, is there any info on the special "T" balance that Antiquorum refers too?  Thanks for your patience, Alex smiley.

I've always wanted an Imperator!
06/04/2014 - 02:38

I think it would go great, sitting next to a CR PW 

Besides the 250th Anniversary, Antiquorum Auction,   I've never seen one up for sale.  Even though there is no indication on the watch that indicates "Imperator"...I haven't noticed any that are close enough to the known description by Anitiquorum to warrant further investigation.

 

The original Certificate you found is is a terrific discovery!

 

BR, Dan 

some trivia on the name
06/04/2014 - 20:25

Imperator was an ancient Roman title that became the modern word Emperor.  Still, the latin form augustus imperator was used by the Holy Roman and Austrian emperors into the 19th century!  Peter the Great and Napoleon both used the title Imperator, as did British monarchy with rex imperator.  Alas, active use ended with King George VI.  

Considering V&C's penchant for royalty (for more on that subject, click here: https://www.thehourlounge.com/en/vacheron-constantin-discussions/proud-possession-royalty-600766) the adoption of Imperator, unofficially or not, fits perfectly with their history and interests as did Chronometre Royal to follow.

interesting! thaks Dean but that would make the Imperator a lesser watch than the
06/05/2014 - 10:06

Chronometre Royal no? as the King is above the emperor cheeky

teaser ;-)
06/05/2014 - 16:59

of course we all know the real king; Alex Bling Bling devil

Interesting observations Dean. There are some other lines of thinking to pursue as well.
06/05/2014 - 15:57

I am sure that this is, by no means, a definitive source (http://www.livius.org/ia-in/imperator/imperator.html), however it corroborates some of what I recall from my Latin lessons a million years ago.  The word itself, in its origins is more "military ruler" and started off meaning something more akin to general or commander.  It later morphed into something closer to military ruler and only later was adopted by Julius Caeser to assert that his power militarily was as absolute as his political power.  In it's origins, it was certainly more like "general".

This makes me curious which of the meanings that VC had in mind when they conveyed this title to the watches.  Are these something that comes in to the lineage of the Chronometre Royal or is it more of a descriptor in line with the Officers Watches?

Perhaps it is simpler.  I don't know if the origin of the designation has been uncovered, but could it be as simple as originating with one of the more well known customers that was, in fact, an Imperator - Napolean Bonaparte?

Idle curiosity, but perhaps interesting.

 

Good theories
06/05/2014 - 17:09

I think you are on the right track with this and any enquiry into vintage horology - to put yourself into the mindset of the period.  What is assumed today is not always, or often, the same as yesterday.  Having consumed several books on the history of Europe at the turn of the 20th century, I am still shocked yet fascinated by the preoccupation with war as the political solution.  In 1898, when V&C's Imperator first appeared, I'm sure the military connotations of that title was fully appreciated.  Thanks for contributing smiley

Why stop at the end of the 19th century, Dean?re
06/06/2014 - 10:04

I certainly agree with you hypothesis.

There are plenty of examples of your comment in the first half of the 20th century with even greater costs than ever conceived in the previous one.

 

 

 

Re: Miscellaneous Ramblings - the Imperator
06/08/2014 - 03:59
Hello Alex, thank you for posting a subject so close to my thoughts... About 2 months ago I ran across a Royal chronometer in silver open faced with original box as well as papers with a spare main spring, pretty mint 22"' certain calls 20j. This is not my regular shall we say "dinner".....as the V. C. royal is a pretty common watch. However, the combination of size, box & papers, and condition overcame my resistance! upon receiving the watch from South America. I started reading more about the Royal and looking at auction records. Hence, I discovered the Imperator....there is not much information out there, on how to determine a common Royal from an Imperaptor other than Antiquorum's 2 sales, a hunting cased Imperator going for 20,000.00 CHF and the open faced Imperator selling at 60,000 CHF? So what's this about? I called a couple friends dealing with ultra high end pockets and they were clueless ? The auction listing states an Imperator has a enlarged winding stem with felt gasket. A footnote on the bottom of the page states for a note ....see page 98. That's great page 98..... I found the catalog via EBay in Hong Kong only 300.00 ! Well research has its price and knowledge is power. Page 98 of Antiquorum's sale in 2005 titled "The Quarter Millennium of Vacheron Constantin" is most excellent resource. Page 98 details the specifications of an Imperator..... My thoughts and contribution to your post, are that the watch and it's build determine an imperator. Not the verbiage on the certificat de Origine......imperator from what I have been told, was a loosely used inter company term which described a watch with a combination of certain different build characteristics. A few years ago Patek sent me a cert. calling my split second chronograph 15J .....paperwork can be misleading !!! I do agree that not all Imperators have a T balance wheel....... The hunting cased imperator sold by Antiquorum with a Certificate of Authenticity by Heritage, is pictured with a standard Royal balance wheel!
Re: Miscellaneous Ramblings - the Imperator
06/08/2014 - 04:17
Hello Alex, thank you for posting a subject so close to my thoughts... About 2 months ago I ran across a Royal chronometer in silver open faced with original box as well as papers with a spare main spring, pretty mint 22"' certain calls 20j. This is not my regular shall we say "dinner".....as the V. C. royal is a pretty common watch. However, the combination of size, box & papers, and condition overcame my resistance. Upon receiving the watch from South America, I started reading more about the Royal and looking at auction records. Hence, I discovered the Imperator....there is not much information out there on how to determine a common Royal from an Imperaptor, other than Antiquorum's 2 sales, They show a hunting cased Imperator selling in 2005 for 20,000.00 CHF and the open faced Imperator selling at 60,000 CHF. So what's this about? I called a couple friends dealing with ultra high end pockets and they were clueless. The auction listing states that an Imperator has an enlarged winding stem with felt gasket. A footnote on the bottom of the page states...... for a note see page 98. That's great page 98..... I found the Auction catalog via EBay located in Hong Kong only 300.00!!! Well... research has its price and knowledge is power. Antiquorum's sale titled "The Quarter Millennium of Vacheron Constantin" is a most excellent resource. Page 98 details the specifications of an Imperator. My thoughts and contribution to your post, are that the watch and it's build should determine an imperator rather than the verbiage on the Certificat de Origine. "Imperator" from what I understand was a loosely used inter company term, which described a watch with a combination of certain different build characteristics which differ from the standard Royal......I'm pretty sure of myself when I say that not all imperators were sold with papers stating that the watch was an imperator.. A few years ago Patek sent me a cert. calling my split second chronograph 15J .....paperwork can be misleading !!! I do agree that not all Imperators have a T balance wheel....... The hunting cased imperator sold by Antiquorum with a Certificate of Authenticity by Heritage, is pictured with a standard Royal balance wheel!
Miscellaneous Ramblings
06/08/2014 - 19:12

Thank-you for joining in the spirit of Miscellaneous Ramblings. smiley  Perhaps I misunderstand your posts, but the Imperator preceeded the Chronometre Royal, not the other way 'round.  I'm glad the Quarter Millennium catalog has provided you with knowledge and inspiration - is is an essential beginning for the passionate student of V&C.

And I like your terminology "verbiage on the Certificat de Origine", but not quite a reasonable comparison IMHO.  If you think about it, one was written at the time of manufacture with the production records in front of the author, while the later Extract from the Archives you received from Patek (at least, that is what I assume you are referring to by "cert"), if anything like similar docs from VC, relies on a few lines recorded in a surviving ledger.  I too have found errors in these.  Historians generally assign primacy to contemporaneous documentation, but perhaps you would encourage a re-think?

I'd greatly appreciate clarification re your last sentence on the "T balance wheel".  As I don't understand what this feature actually is, can you please share your knowledge?

Re: Miscellaneous Ramblings
06/09/2014 - 21:32

Hello Tick-Talk,  Thank your for the welcome...I have learned something already!,  as I was under the impression that the Imperator  was a sub class of the Royal with special build features ....If I understand you correctly there were Imperators preceeding Royals?  I must have made this assumption as  all of the Imperator movements that I have viewed,  contained  the standard Chronometer Royal & Vacheron Constatin punch marks. I would love to know about the pre Royal Imperators.

I am also curious about the 3 styles of dial on the Royal?    The two Imperators that were sold  by Antiquorum did not have Chronometer Royal. on the dial.  Most of the Royals in my discovery were signed Chronometer Royal and a few  signed Royal Chronometre....would you or anyone else be able to explain this or the signifance of each dial? ...One might assume that Imperators were sent from the factory with special dials.  The South American Royal (with silver open face  Imperator case and Imperator winding stem) has a dial which reads Royal Chronometre.

.I agree with your assesment of my comparison thoughts not being made on a level playing field.....I would love to know more about the Certifiicat de Origine which started this post ....is there an Imperator movement also available for viewing  or a link  so that I might bring my knowlede up to speed? To be perfectly candid, I was not aware that the Certficat d' Origine was a product of the factory.  I have assumed that the retailer  would fill  out  this document when selling the watch. I still cannot agree with you that the Imperator was a specific model but am most interested in the knowlede that has given  you this mindset!  Please remember that  I have a horse in the race!

As far as the T Balance...I am afraid that I have never seen a V.C. with such a balance.  My thoughts are that we are speaking of middle time error.  That the T balance is in reference to a balance similar to the many Guillaume balances.  I can say that I have a V.C. pocket of around 1919 that is close to an observatory build.  21J jewels in large screwed settings....either a diamond end sone or white sapphire end stone or covering stone. This watch has,  what I refer to as a common VC balance. That would be a balance arm that is Y shaped as it ends on the wheel,  right  next to the cut, with a screw centerd in the Y just above a hole in the Y  .This is.the same style balance that I mentioned in my post.... as being on the Imperator sold by Antiquorum.

 

I will look for a T shaped V.C. balance and let u know if I run across one!!!  ......In an attempt  to clarify my thoughts,  I'm thinking the T shape balance is called such,  because of a fat arm intersecting with the balance wheel.  Lets ask VC,  they will know!!! I have handeled two  PP obsevatory watches  (2 serial numbers, platinum and gold screws, diamond end stone and mercury wing guillaume balance arms) and handeled a third PP with all of these mentioned features but a common PP ballance wheel (still with  a diamond end stone).......who knows why or how this could happen but the research is fun.

.I won't say more on balances...  in my opinion Guillaume solved the last remaining really  significant  timekeeping issue.... just as Breguet and Bonniken solved vertical position error, and as Arnold & Ernshaw resolved the regulation of the escaape wheel ....this subjest deserves a seperate page or two. 

 

I should add however,  that my opinion of a Guillaume balance wheel would be one with the arms far from the cut, containing  a couple timing screws between the rather fat arm and the cut.

You might note,  that I picked the right post for my initial  reply.....  as I do occasionaly ramble on .....best to all, John

Thank-you for this contemplative reply :-)
06/10/2014 - 16:12

I hope this post reminds Alex to pester the Heritage Dept for any details on the mysterious T-balance.  But until then we can always have fun speculating wink.  It may be the "T" refers to that characteristic where the balance wheel overhangs the arm by a minimum of 5 degrees of arc, as with Guillaume's familiar design, which BTW was shared with other temperature compensating balances of the time.  In fact, I'm going to suggest that in 1898 when the first Imperator was manufactured that V&C may have used Crausaz's design (search his name on this site for additional info).

T shape and right angle holy Y-shape balance
06/11/2014 - 00:15

You are of course welcome Tick-Talk ... thank you for defining my thoughts. There are in the 250 year Vacheron/Antiquorum sale. A number of time trial/chronometer movements pictured with this same fat arm and overhang combination

I was thinking that the standard or common balance should then  be called a right angle holy Y-shape :-)) 

I would like to ask a  question....If a watch has an  Imperator winding stem with provision for a felt  gasket which fits  into the Imperator style stem tube.  Located  on a  V.C. case built  to imperator standards (heavy duty hinges & larger than normal case lips)......would this watch in your opinion be an Imperator?  If not,  what do you consider the defining factors of an Imperator build?

Thanks in advance,

J

 

 

 

 

I would say "yes", it would be an Imperator
06/11/2014 - 02:58

I wonder if VC were to be given the case and movement numbers for such a watch, whether their internal records would have anything to confirm this informal name.  Or if the watch was sent to Geneva for a CofA, where VC would inspect the watch itself?

Thaks for your very interesting posts on this topic, and welcome to THL!

BR, Dan

Re: An Imperator in build only!!!
06/12/2014 - 17:14

Hi Dan,  Thank you for the reponse to my query and the welcome aboard to THL. 

I have indeed sent photos to Heritage with many questions....Unfortunately there is no mention in the records "to be found" that this watch is an Imperator ....While I do understand the legal and operational constrictions that the Heritage must operate under.  IMHO it is a shame that in this instance a  rare pocket having no official Imperator designation....cannot be Authenticated because there is no official record of its unofficial status (Imperator build) to be found in the archives....They have relayed to me that it was South Americn delivered (which I knew from purchasing from South America) and that they have record of its build date 1913...but that is reallly all they can do for me....On the other hand Antiquorum has viewed the watch as well as the Imperator stem and they have stated they would  be pleased to sell it for me as an Imperator...so all is not lost on the documentation of this watch....It would however seem to be pointless to sell the watch,   in order to establish provenance. 

Speaking of the Imperator as a collectable ...I really do not understand its vaue?  I recently purchased a true milestone watch ...rare as can be  for 1/2 the value of an Imperator.  Notice I am changing the subject!!!! The watch I am  speaking of can be found on Heritage auction site listed as English Admiralty Chronometer Karrrusel Center Second Deck watch, spring detent,  with six minute rotation.  When in fact it is an Annular Tourbillon made by Andrew Taylor (he produced less that 20) with a 10 minute rotation. A sister watch submitted to Kew in about 1902 or 1903 broke all of the Kew records for any watch submitted to date.....now that is a rare time piece.Ohhh I forgot to mention the watch has Admiralty service records on a Carrier and Destroyer!!!!!!

Any way any insight to Imperators or knowledge of Imperators that I might be able to gleam from other Loungers would be greatly appreciated....especially Tick-Tack as he has had much to say on the Imperator  and its status....

Best, 

John

 

Maybe I can answer for Tick-Tack
06/13/2014 - 16:56

wink  I've re-read your posts to be sure, but this is the first mention you've made of your piece having "the Imperator stem".  Please state clearly, does your Chronometre Royal has the enlarged stem with felt gasket?  Post pictures so we can confirm and address this revelation enlightened.  This, and the info about the Heritage Dept, certainly explains your earlier comments questioning the accuracy of Certificates of Origin.  If you submit the piece for a Certificate of Authenticity, I promise you will get a complete answer to your riddle.

To be honest I don't like this type of discussion, with clues gradually leaking out.  Too clever for me!

My apoligies for the mis-type tick-talk
06/13/2014 - 21:09

Hello Tick-Talk....I did re-read my post and discovered the incorret spelling of  tick-talk. I was hoping for a respone before my apology. Thank you for the response.

As far as cleverness.... Being a stranger in a strange land and having never posted here before, while  not knowing the players.   I must retain the sole right, to move in a slow and progressive manner.  I might also add that your question to me regarding my thoughts on the T-ballance. Might  be viewed in the same light...my first thought was that your were looking for my chops, or said another way.  Does he have game?.....and hence my response  at that time.  I did state clearly very early on,   that I had a horse in the race and that my open face silver royal had imperator case and stem.....

 I did not come to this site  to provoke a controversy between you and I or anyone for that matter!!!!  I have much respect for you and also the Tick-Talk who posts regularly on NAWCC..... those post and your posts here are very informative.  I hope that we can get past this and speak of our true love mechanical movements and thier place in history.

As far as your suggestion  that I post a picture of my Imperator or its winding stem. My thoughts are that this appears an  informal site...I was wondering .how you would feel if I asked the same of you?   .....More to the point (even though this is off point as to my posts)  Herritage has been sent a picture of the winding  stem via thier Concierge in New York .Mr. Daniel Adams. Mr. Etienne Lemenager of Antiquorum has seen a photo. The fact of the matter is,  pictures or no pictures,  an Imperator will not  be COA'd  as an Imperator without a note in the archives being located.  Stating  that the watch was built to Imperator specifications.....who am I to argue with V.C. 

I understand that Heritage has thier rules. I appreciate that fact that they are providing information that they feel is prudent to release,  while acting as vital part of a large corporation which exists in a litigious society.  My famous quote on this to Mr. Adams  upon hearing the verdict wass:  Who built my Imperator ???  V. C. in 1913  or Heritage in 2014 .....how can a bell be un-rung? ........ I do have hopes one day a record will be found....after all I found the watch!

Please accept this responce as a peace offering as it is written as such.... if you have the time to respond to the questions that I have asked of you,  in my past posts regarding the Imperator.  I would be most appreciative.  The same would go for any other comments....other than,  I admit now,  that  my typing is usually performed  by others and often suffers ;-)))

 

PS... I was not clear with my last post, as  there were two Andrew Taylor Annular Tourbillons,  first and second place winners in  Kew A cerrtification for 1902... both submitted by H. Golay....The Carrierr was Illustrious and the Destroyer was Torrid and a few other warships... Info supplied by our dear friend Mr. Peter Linstead-Smith

 

Hope you have a great weekend....John

 

 

 

John, I don't think we will come together on this
06/13/2014 - 22:39

I will send you a pm and we will see where it goes from there...mail

I understand and thanks
06/14/2014 - 01:07
I do understand ....I hope you enjoyed the photo's of my "Royal" with imperator winding stem & case.....One day when I am better able to shoot n post .....I will share with everyone at THL ....best John
Thanks for bringing up this theme, Dean.
06/24/2014 - 14:44

I have like Dan been looking for an Imperator watch would come on sale. Except the three watches in the mentioned auctions there isn't any sign of any Imperator watch that have been sold or is for sale.

I have tried to find some information about the Imperator in Vacheron Constantin books and magazines.

The Imperator is mentioned in the following books / magazine.

1: Page 98-99-112-113 chapter 7 (The Chronometre Royal and the Imperator) in "The Quarter Millennium of Vacheron Constantin". See the text here in Dean's article at the top.

2: Page 113 in the article (Back to the Future) from a Watch Time edition called "Vacheron Constantin special" Here is the section in the article that refers to the Imperator.

“Sophisticated gentlemen in the early 20th century vehemently refused to wear their personal time-pieces on the wrist. Such delicate mechanism, they insisted, were much better protected in a trouser, west or jacket pocket. The gents really were so unreasonable after all, so it comes as little surprise to learn that the Chronometre Royal is a superlative pocket watch that was usually contained in a noble gold case. In a few rare instances, vacheron Constantin also used silver as the case's material. Inside these precious metal cases, outstanding movements performed with utmost reliability. Important technological details distinguished them from the run-of-the-mill calibers: swan's neck fine adjustment for the tail of the index, Phillips curvature for the terminal end of the balance spring, sapphire endstones for the pivots of the balance staff, a solid gold chaton and a total of 18 jewels. Vacheron Constantin registered the prestigious name "Chronometre Royal under the patent number 22193 on May 28, 1907.

The name wasn't entirely new. It went along with the unofficial of another line of watches that Vacheron Constantin had manufactured between 1898-1919 under the in-house designation “Imperator.” That model was a water-resistant pocket watch, almost always in a hunter case, and it was manufactured for athletically inclined customers, military men or other persons whose professions took them outside their own four walls. Sold in Europa, Uruguay and Argentina, these sturdy time-pieces had heavy gold cases with reinforced hinges and large pendants. A bulky crown with a felt insulator in its neck provided additional protection against penetration by dust or moisture, and a special bimetal balance maximized temperature compensation”

In the following books/magasines there isn't any mentioning about the Imperator in the relevant sections:

1: Page 85-136, (1890-1938 Modern Times), page 201-215 (The Watches of Vacheron Constantin: Art and Craftsmanship since 1755) and page 252-3, (Chronometers and the Chronometer Royal) in "Secrets of Vacheron Constantin".

2: "The World of Vacheron Constantin Geneve"

3:  Page 42-51, (Chronometry) in "Treasures of Vacheron Constantin"

4: Page 68 (Saga of Vacheron Constantin: The heroic period) and page 102-108 (Chronometre Royal) in "The Art Of Vacheron Constantin"

After this more thoroughly research I'm beginning to understand my lack of success acquiring an example of the Imperator.

We have the following information from the two articles about the desgin of the Imperator:

1: 98% are hunters watches / almost always in a hunter case.

2: a special “T” balance to allow for maximum temperature compensation within a larger range than normal bimetallic balances / a special bimetal balance maximized temperature compensation.

3: An enlarged winding stem with a felt gasket in the pendant / a felt insulator in its neck provided additional protection against penetration by dust or moisture.

4: A robust “impermeable” watch / a water-resistant pocket watch.

5: The cases of these watches are of heavy-gauge gold with reinforced hinges, enlarged flanges, and an enlarged winding stem / these sturdy time-pieces had heavy gold cases with reinforced hinges and large pendants.

6: The name “Imperator” was never used officially, but only appeared on internal Vacheron & Constantin documents / the in-house designation “Imperator.”

This is what I have been able to obtain of information regarding the Imperator. Not to close down this thread but more as a supplement to the other things that have been written. 

I have two questions to Alex.

1: Is there any CR watches that also have the name "Imperator" marked in the archives to your knowledge?

2: The before mentioned T-balance is there any news?

Cheers Kent

PS. This is the link to Watch Time edition called "Vacheron Constantin special"

http://files.luxurymag.org/MAGAZINES/14/176.pdf