One day in February this year, I was browsing the e-bay listings under ‘Vacheron Constantin’ and came across a listing from a seller in Italy. At first glance, it was nothing special: he was selling two VC watches, two dark grainy photographs of two tatty, unattractive watches. But one of the watches caught my eye – for all its awfulness, it did vaguely ressemble a vintage VC triple date with its date windows, calendar markings etc.
The photograph of the movement helpfully showed the caliber number V485A and after much toggling back and forth between Alex’s excellent article ‘Quantum Leap: History of Vacheron Constantin Calendar Watches (Part 2)’; tick-talk’s Vacheron Wristwatch Reference List and the dark, foreboding photographs of the seller, I concluded that this watch could well be a 4240 or 4241.
What was really worrying me by now was the price – it was too cheap! Shady Joe’s guide was screaming at me:
“if it’s too good to be true then it ain’t….true!”
But… the seller was respectable, there wasn’t really any other VC that it could be (I think) …. and so, after much to-ing and fro-ing, I jumped (albeit with a PayPal safety net underneath me!).
After a nervous wait, the watch arrived a few days later and thankfully it was a lovely looking (and clearly genuine) object. Wretched photography definitely has a place in modern (and vintage!) horology.
Straight down to the local watchmaker to open the back and confirm the authenticity of the watch as well as obtaining the movement and case numbers for the VC Concierge. Old Harry is in his late seventies and appreciates haute horology:
“Yes, this is the real deal, the real deal” he purred.
“Quality, pure quality. This is the Rolls Royce of movements. Not like that XXX and YYY (insert two well-known brand names) tat that I have to work with every day”
he said loudly to a longish queue of customers that was now forming which unfortunately included a well-known local collector of brand XXX.
Armed with the requisite assurances, I left in a hurry (somewhat red-faced) and fired off an e-mail to the wonderful Melanie (at VC Concierge). 24 hours later, I received the welcome news that the case and movement numbers matched up to a VC 4241 issued in 1946.
I was not blind, however, to the fact that there was work to be done. The watch was running fast (3-4 minutes a day) and a service/movement restoration would be required. There was no ‘Swiss’ at the bottom of the dial which clearly indicated that the dial had been refinished and required restorative work by VC – in short, the watch would soon be on its way to Geneva via VC in London.
However, it would be four months before I was next in London en route to the port of Harwich for the start of a two week family cruise to Scandanavia and the Baltics. And so it was, on 1 July, I handed over the watch to another Melanie (this one from VC Client Marketing) in an early morning, clandestine meeting in a deserted corner of the bar of my London hotel.
As promised, the estimate from Geneva was waiting for me upon my return from holidays two weeks later. It was a pleasant surprise – the only necessary ‘interventions’ were a Movement Restoration Old Collection and the replacement of crown and hands which were worn and no longer secure. A very modest price and well below expectations.
The biggest surprise was not what was in the estimate report but what was missing. Although, the estimate offered a restoration as “the dials and discs of your timepiece have marked over time due to wear and tear”, there was no indication that the dial was anything other than original. From previous experience, VC is not ‘behind the door’ in letting a client know that the dial is refinished – the estimate report for my 4178 (see below) in 2013 had stated bluntly that:
“The dial has been badly restored” [Ouch]
I went back to VC and very politely asked “Are you sure?”. After all, I have sat at the [online] feet of Alex, Dan, tick-talk and others for a couple of years drawing deeply on their collective wisdom – there is no ‘SWISS’ at the bottom of the dial! Also, the calendar at 12 o’clock starts with a ‘1’ and not a ‘31’ which I have never seen on any other VC triple date. However, VC responded that the dial was indeed the original one and the restoration was being offered for aesthetic reasons – marks due to wear and tear.
I had been so convinced that the dial was a refinish that I had not bothered to take any photographs of the watch prior to sending it to VC. Slightly embarrassed, I explained to Melanie that I could not remember what the watch looked like and in particular if the ‘marks’ were particularly noticeable and warranted a ‘restoration’.
VC very kindly sent me a photograph of my 4241 dial along with a new dial for comparison (see below). Although VC highlighted a mild deformity in the hole at the centre, this was in VC’s opinion purely aesthetic and would not impact on the proper functioning of the watch.
4241 - my dial
4241 - new dial
My dilemma is that I now have a choice between leaving the original dial alone and accepting some marks and imperfections, or having VC restore the dials and discs to ‘as new’ condition. In a strange way, I just want ‘to do right by the watch’ but I am confused as to what the ‘right thing’ to do is.
While I recognise that this is ultimately my decision, I would appreciate any thoughts or advice from Hour Lounge members.
Finally, and most importantly, I would like to thank the two Melanies (VC client marketing in London and VC Concierge) for their exemplary service.