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.
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.
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:
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.