A Tiny Treasure

Now that I have this circa 1831 V&C verge and fusee movement in hand, its time for a more in-depth review.  What first attracts attention is the beautifully pierced and engraved Continental-style balance cock with company name "VACHERON&C"

A Tiny Treasure

This style of piercing appears between 1820 and 1840 according to the examples I've found, but more on this later.  Also visible from the top plate is the polished steel coqueret or bearing used for the balance pivot in this un-jewelled movement.  Barely visible through the piercing is a flat steel balance spring and solid brass three-arm balance wheel.  The silver regulator dial is nicely engraved AVANCE RETARD, and features a serpentine blued steel arm.  There are four pins holding the plate firmly to four cylindrical pillars.  The movement measures 30mm and only 8mm in height, not including dial and hands.

More eye candy can be viewed from the side, where a fantastically small chain winds around the spring barrel.  Less than half a millimeter in width, I've been told they were assembled by teenagers due to their keen eyesight!

A Tiny Treasure 

I didn't really understand the workings of this piece, which is best described as a verge escapement with chain and fusee, and sought more details.  The verge escapement is the oldest mechanical escapement, in use for some 400 years.  It is characterized by a verge rod with two steel pallets that are rocked back and forth by a crown wheel, thus providing impulses to the balance.

A Tiny Treasure

The crown wheel is driven by the going train.  This is where the fusee comes in; it acts to regulate the power of the mainspring.  As the mainspring unwinds, it slowly draws the tiny chain from the stepped fusee.  The chain is pulled off the fusee from the narrow to widest end, thus multiplying the torque to even out the power as the mainspring runs down (reminds me of a bicycle derailleur).

A Tiny Treasure

The dial is 32mm in diameter, silver with guilloche decoration and Roman numerals “en reserve”.  The steel Breguet hands are flame-blued.  I haven't yet secured a key but from all appearances the movement should still run.

A Tiny Treasure
 
Claudius Saunier’s Treatise on Modern Horology in theory and practice, 2nd ed. 1887, had something to say about the verge escapement which was then in its final days (he actually considered omitting it from this 2nd edition but relented due to the number still in use):

Old watches were capable of maintaining their rate for about three years.  Modern ones, while favourably constructed as regards thickness, go with difficulty for eighteen months or two years, and at the end of this period their pallets are nearly always much worn.  Such watches usually go very well during the first few months, and very badly during the remaining period.

I believe this tendancy to wear rapidly and lose time is the reason why so few are to be found even in vintage circles.  These mechanical limitations became more acute as movements became smaller towards the latter half of the 19th century.  In response V&C, along with other manufactures, simply replaced them during service with newer designs; first the cylinder then lever escapement.

Not to denegrate the verge escapement with fusee though; given sufficient elbow room the movement was capable of phenomenal accuracy and remained in use with marine chronometers until the quartz revolution.

A Tiny Treasure
A fantastic find, the fusée and chain mechanism is really
10/26/2012 - 00:54
interesting even if wear and tear is rapid. No case?
Only the movement
10/26/2012 - 02:40
Sorry, should have made it clear, I only have the movement.  Probablty a cast-off from the scrap dealer frown
Nice post Dean. The last photograph is something
10/26/2012 - 01:12
out of Jules Verne or maybe Cloud Atlas! Please let us see it in its entirety, when you have a chance. Best to you, Tim
Great job, Dean.
10/30/2012 - 17:28
Thanks for taking so much time with your research for the enlightenment of your fellow collectors of V(&)C  (notice historically correct shortening for that time). I have a couple of questions: 1: Could you please take a picture of the movement from the other side ( back)? 2: Have you any idea about what year the latest timepieces by V&C with Verge and Fusee movement was produced? 3: I’m looking forward to your next word on this subject: “This style of piercing appears between 1820 and 1840 according to the examples I've found, but more on this later.”    I have listed one picture of my V&C watch from 1830 and there is certainly a similarity between the dials and hands.  I think it’s a bit fun to compare the dials. A couple of weeks ago I took some pictures of another family member’s watch collection. I must say that it looks to me as though Ebauche was already then a reality. The piece shown is a Larpent & Jürgensen watch from 1798. Maybe you can use the pictures for comparing? It seems like all you are missing is the case. I believe that in a few years pocketwatches will be a rarity. Murder is being commited on a grand scale at the moment. Really, really sad with all the slaughtering going on because of the gold prices. I hope that you one day will find a watch with all the parts intact. Yours sincerely Kent
Nice movement Kent
10/30/2012 - 18:51
Kent, its hard to be absolutely certain what period V&C featured the pierced balance cock with VACHERON&C because the verge escapement was replaced quite frequently due to the extreme wear noted and the updated movements lost this feature. The range of up to 1840 was gleaned from auction listings of original-condition watches, however, with so few examples to cite there could be a few years error.  Also, I'm not referencing the Abraham Vacheron Girod pieces, as they never used the VACHERON&C decoration on their verge and fusee movements, either originally or as a second-quality line.  FWIW, cheap verge and fusee pocket watches remained popular with the working class until circa 1900 but they were unnaturally large to function properly. Sorry I'm unable to reveal the front side without removing the dial; not something I have the tools (or the nerve) to do!  I've discussed with my watchmaker having the movement mounted in a custom display as a working model.  If this comes to pass, he will take photos when disassembled and I will certainly share them.  Ethically, I would be afraid to re-case the movement and create a Franken. Thank-you for sharing that 1798 movement; the similarities are striking and certainly reinforces the relative pace of mechanical innovation.  Case and dial decoration really took center-stage.  The contrast between these verge and fusee movements and the Leschot calibre gives some small sense of the revolutionary leap that occurred in durability and accuracy.  I ran the Leschot watch last week for 30 hours on a single winding and it lost only one minute...not bad for a 150 year-old movement yes.
Thanks for your reply, Dean.
11/01/2012 - 10:41
Was just hoping that you had a picture of the front of the movement but I can certainly follow that you don’t want to risk destroying the dial / movement when separating the parts. It sounds like a good idea to have the movement mounted in a custom display. I do find the verge fusee movement very beautiful. Regarding precision, it seems like a good performance from your  Leschot movement. I’m in no way surprised. My pre Leschot movement from 1830 is as far as I recall running with the same kind of precision. I will have to check but I do recall it to be in that area. Were you wearing the watch or in what position did you check it? About precision: I guess you have the book by George Daniels and Cecil Clutton (watches). There is a chapter called “performance of early watches”. Yours sincerely Kent