Anyone with even a casual interest in contemporary Vacheron Constantin will recognize that thin is back in vogue. In November of 2009 the factory announced the release of two new wrist watches in the Les Historiques range. The Historique 1955 features a wonderfully re-worked in-house calibre 1003/3 extra-flat manual movement while the Historique 1965 revives another Vacheron icon; the extra-flat calibre 1120 automatic movement.
Vacheron Constantin actually launched their campaign of slimness a month earlier with the introduction of the Excellence Platine Patrimony Contemporaine pocket watch. Measuring a brief 43mm across, its slender platinum case captures a re-purposed calibre 4400 hand-wound movement of 2.8mm height, which can be admired through a sapphire case back.
Today’s trio of classically elegant timepieces are rightly celebrated for their commitment to thinness. To really appreciate the return of this historic Vacheron value, one must examine the progenitors of these modern marvels.
The Origin of Thin
Vacheron & Constantin introduced the complication of ultra-thin pocket watch movements in the 1920s and 30s. The press release accompanying the new Historiques models recounts the history of Vacheron’s slim designs, including the 1931 record-setting 17’’’ 5/12 movement which measured less than 1mm in depth! With this marvel, a mere 4mm case thickness was achieved.
By necessity the ultra-thin models had to forego their seconds indications and thus some practicality was lost. The bread-and-butter calibre for the factory’s thin pocket watches was the smaller diameter R.A. 16’’’ 162 which, at 2.63mm thick, included subsidiary seconds. This movement was favoured by Verger Frères for their Art Deco masterpieces of the 1920s and remained in use until the merger with Jaeger-LeCoultre ended production of in-house movements. There was much to love about this extra-thin 16-ligne movement. Fully jewelled and adjusted, with its distinctive Vacheron architecture, it was all that connoisseurs had come to expect from the noble house of Vacheron & Constantin.
So now we come to the object of this story: to introduce a modest little pocket watch manufactured during the Great Depression; a watch of sophistication and promise from a time when both commodities were in short supply. To me, this piece also represents the end of an epoch; before the loss of the treasured relationship with Verger Frères and the insertion of Jaeger-LeCoultre’s influence.
Of course the merger was a necessary and brilliant strategy, but one should pause for a moment to acknowledge the passing of the baton from old guard to new. In reality, though, what was old is new again! Practicality flourishes during times of economic uncertainty and the Great Depression stimulated the modernist ethic towards more intelligent designs with greater clarity of purpose. Bereft of unnecessary elements, yet brimming with old-world craftsmanship appreciated by those in-the-know, the featured timepiece could be a poster child of the era.
Stand-by for Part III tomorrow.