JohnLy's post about his beautiful triple date model (click link below to read) got me thinking of my story with a similar model a rather funny one looking back but definately the pits back then!
Who hasn’t ever dreamt of THE impossible find?
Who has never been to the flea market in hope of coming face to face with a 1940s Vacheron Constantin minute repeater of which the seller knows nothing of and agrees to sell for the price of a pint of beer at your local pub?
Please bear with me while I narrate my quest for the 4240.
Let’s rewind back to 1998 where I bought my first vintage Vacheron Constantin, it was an automatic rose gold model with opaline dial dating from the 60s which I later sold and kick myself everyday for having done so ever since. 1998 is the year I was bitten by the VC bug and even more by the vintage bug.
Ever since, I have been trying to pick up vintage VCs to complete my (never ending) collection.
One piece I had been looking for was the ref 4240. A few aesthetic details attracted me to this watch: triple date without moonphase and the absolutely stunning pear shaped lugs. One must remember that in the 40s (when this watch was produced) the wristwatch had just become an ordinary accessory and the brands were starting to test new designs and shapes and Vacheron Constantin were one of the more avant-garde brands with some really zanzy lug designs!
Vacheron watches from that era were mostly with teardrop lugs and a triple date without moonphase was something of a rarity since the taste at the time (seems like the market taste for moonphases has not really changed in the past 60 years) collectors preferred having a moonphase display if the watch also had calendar functions.
The hunt for a 4240 took many years. I was not avidly seeking one but always had an eye and ear open.
In December 2002 a garage sale was organized in my neighborhood. I had been to one before sometime back and apart from some old LP records I had never found anything of interest but the search for THE impossible lead me to go see what I could find.
One Sunday morning I wrapped myself up in coat and scarf and headed in the cold weather to the area where the sale was taking place. Needless to say that very few people were there due to the lousy climatic conditions.
I stopped at every stall which looked as if something of interest could be found: some torn paperbacks, video tapes of a long forgotten film (which probably never hit the theaters), posters of Iron Maiden or CDs were my food until I stumbled on a booth (more like a table on the sidewalk) held by a very charming young woman in her 20s.
I would be lying if I told you that the watches and jewelry on the table were the only reason I stopped to look. Among a few broken down Le Coultres and Lip watches I saw IT: THE impossible deal: a VC watch and what looked like a triple date no moonphase watch.
I asked the woman behind the table if I could look at the watch. With an absolutely gorgeous heartwarming smile she handed me the timepiece. Now my hands were trembling and heart beating fast and this time because of the watch: the 4240 I had been searching for.
I tried not to show that I was interested in the VC and spent sometime looking at the others. Off handedly I asked her why she was selling her watches and she replied that her parents were changing neighborhoods and were selling some of their old “stuff” (that’s the word she used: I could almost hear Jean Marc Vacheron turning in his grave!) but she had no idea what was what since she was only helping out.
I picked up the VC once again, the month disc was crooked, when wound I could hear a grinding noise and the dial was probably done by a 3 year old child with no artistic talents whatsoever: absolutely horrendous! Furthermore, the crown was not the original one but replaced by a Büren crown. I opened the case back and the case and movement were both signed. I still wanted the watch, if I was to get a good deal I would take it to a watchmaker and have it cleaned.
I asked her what she wanted, she gave me a pretty low price (I’m talking ridiculously low), I tried to haggle a bit just for the fun of it, but she told me the watch was 100% gold and very precious and knocked off a little to make a fast deal.
I paid, put the watch in my pocket danced a little jig right there and then and hummed the music of Indiana Jones and the Lost Grail all the way back home!
That evening I was really excited, the watch was not in great shape but what the hell, all she needed was some loving and taking care of and she would soon be purring happily on my wrist.
But this is where all the fun begins…if you’re a masochist!
I have an excellent friend who is a vintage watch dealer but also has one of the better known watch repair ateliers in town, well guess what? I didn’t take it to him, don’t ask me why, but to someone else I vaguely knew.
I dropped the watch the next day asking for a complete overhaul and if possible to have the dial redone. The clerk told me that it would be no problem since he has an excellent dial restorer in Hong Kong who performs miracles but one should be patient. No problem with that sonny, I was as patient as a hibernating bear. I wanted my beloved 4240 to be perfect.
A few weeks later I passed by to check on my new baby and see how things were advancing. I was told that the watch had been cleaned and the date disc was now functioning perfectly. The dial had been sent to Hong Kong but had not yet arrived.
I call a week later inquiring about the dial. Still not arrived.
I called another week after. No dial
I called almost every week for 2 months and still no dial!! When asked if the dial had been sent by registered post the answer was no but if it would make me feel better, 7 other dials had been sent before mine and they had not been received either!!
I was as close to a nervous breakdown as you can get. My 4240 was now an opendial watch!! Needless to say that by March (over 3 months after the purchase) we called it quits and I picked up my watch, walked out of the shop never to return again.
I debated on calling Vacheron and humiliate myself with the story or try to figure out if I could have a new dial made. I finally decided on going directly to the source and called up the head of VC in my town and after the traditional greetings I explained the situation and our conversation went like this:
VC: Why did you not bring the watch to us in the first place?
Me: mumble mumble mumble
VC: You know that we are the only ateliers outside of Geneva who can work on vintage pieces?
Me: OH really mumble mumble mumble?
VC: How the hell did you manage to loose a dial in the first place?
Me: Oh Lord please have the earth open right now so I can fall in.
Anyway, after our discussion I took the 4240 to the VC ateliers and see what could be done. I re explained the situation to the head of the after sales department who with a smirk (which I probably only imagined but I could almost hear the watchmakers in the back laughing out loud too!!) told me that he was aware of the situation and would see what he could do. Finding an original dial was close to impossible and making a new one would cost a lot and he was not sure if VC would actually accept.
I left him the watch and he told me he would call me if he had any news.
I called him regularly to check on the situation and invariably got the same answer: “nothing yet, but its not good news if it takes so long”! About two months after having taken the watch to VC I called the after sales department and got this answer which was music to my ears : “you may be lucky, we have found an original dial but need to have it sent to us to check if it fits the watch”. I could not believe my ears!! God is a WIS and he is on my side
A week after I get a phone call from VC saying that the dial had arrived and it fit the watch!! In fact Vacheron had checked with all their agents and dealers around the world and it just happened that an old watchmaker from Amsterdam had this dial in his stock!! Lucky me.
There was only one catch: the movement was in a sorry state, it had been fiddled around by what seemed to me more of a butcher than a watchmaker and many of the components needed to be remade since VC did not have the spare parts. Two problems: it would take an extra 4 months to redo everything (this was in May) and it would be quite costly.
With a feeble voice I asked how much and the quote I got almost knocked me off!!! Over twice what I had originally paid for the watch!! I got a detailed explanation of all the new parts that needed to be redone, I accepted the quote and patiently awaited September.
In September I got a call from the head of VC after sales department: “Mr. G , your watch is almost ready, we need to change the seconds hand which is not original and it will take an extra month, furthermore the head of the ateliers would like to change the day/month discs since their color do not quite match the color of the date indication, they are not quite the same red!” hey who cares? At this stage I didn’t even remember what the watch looked like!
Finally on Friday 7 November, 2003 at 10.00, 11 months after having purchased the watch I pushed the doors leading me to the entrance of the Vacheron Constantin ateliers to pick up my precious.
The 4240 indicates the day and month through 2 apertures in the top center of the dial, the date is printed on the periphery of the dial and indicated by a red tip pointer. Seconds are at 6
The dial is two tone, with 5 applied Arabic numerals at 10, 12, 2, 4, 8 and 6 pyramid shaped indexed in between
I think I got quite lucky since this dial layout was more often found in the ref 4241 which is the same with tear drop lugs. The 4240 usually came with Roman numerals and baton indexes.
The snap on back is decorated with perlage on the interior:
The movement that ticks inside is the caliber 485, which beats at the leisurely rate of 18000 VPH and beautifully decorated with Geneva stripes
This whole adventure has taught me a few things that I would like to share with you:
1) Never buy something just because the seller looks like a model from Elite
2) Find a good watchmaker and stick to him, in the long run it will cost you less
3) A good deal doesn’t exist
4) A good deal doesn’t exist especially if the sale takes place under conditions described in 1
I wonder what I will find in this year’s December garage sale?