VC Vintage Triple Date - A strange tale and an interesting dilemma

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]

 

4178

TESSST

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

TESSST

TESSST

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.

 

 

David

Re: VC Vintage Triple Date - A strange tale and an interesting dilemma
08/14/2014 - 13:34

Dear David,

firstly congratulations for this post and history. You have a nice model for sure.

Both dials are nice and pure VC. What a good work done by VC restoration department.

I know it is really a personal choice to vote for one or the other.

This model whatever your final choice (or first choice as you could ask for a change later ;-), will be YOURS.

So, now this watch enters in your own History and Family. I would choose for the new one IMHO.

Best wishes and share your wristshot.

Liger.

 

VC Vintage Triple Date - A strange tale and an interesting dilemma
08/15/2014 - 20:03

Liger

Thank you for your advice and good wishes.

I will certainly post a wrist shot when it returns (next year!).

Regards

David

the hole deformity should be explored more
08/16/2014 - 13:23

to understand the reason why. 

Is it due to internal movement of the calibre or multiple operations by different watchmakers (obviously not VC department)?

If it is the case a complete revision and a new dial seems to be a right decision. I will just ask for a scale with Day "1 " at 12 hours (instead of "31") like the original scale.

Best regards,

Liger

I love a dilemma with two great outcomes!
08/14/2014 - 16:29

With much respect to liger's reasoned response and with complete agreement that it is your watch and a part of your family's history, I would personally leave it.  As disclosure, I do prefer a vintage piece to look "a bit vintage"'what really does it for me in this case is the uniqueness of the dial. Presumably, Vacheron would move the numbers to their current location and I cannot recall the conclusion about whether or not the ampersand would be lost, so I would leave it until it seriously requires resotoration. 

Again, there is no wrong answer here and it is yours to do what you wish, but I figured I would offer the counter position to liger's above. Enjoy your lovely new acquisition in good health. 

Re: I love a dilemma with two great outcomes!
08/14/2014 - 16:31

Apologies for my lack of thoroughness. Upon review of the new piece above, it is clear that the new dial would, indeed, retain the ampersand (and move the date numbers). Still, I would leave it. 

I love a dilemma with two great outcomes!
08/15/2014 - 20:24

Thank you for your considered response.  It is always good to get two differing perspectives and you and Liger (as well as Alex and Dan) have provided much food for thought.

I am assuming that any restoration of a vintage piece would involve the retention of the ampersand and the original layout of the dial although that is certainly worth checking with VC.  It is not an easy decision but I will let you know what I decide to do in due course.

Kind regards

David

a thoroughly enjoyable read ! felt as if I were with you all the way from your
08/14/2014 - 17:12

computer on ebay to your shaddy meeting in a bar devil

However before stepping in I need to understand one thing, are VC refurbishing your dial or replacing it with a new one as "cadran neuf" means new dial?

On another note here's an old story I had written about my triple date...a true disaster story

http://www.thehourlounge.com/en/vacheron-constantin-discussions/my-vintage-triple-date-4240-disaster-story-547358

 

Re: a thoroughly enjoyable read ! felt as if I were with you all the way from your
08/14/2014 - 17:33

Alex

VC is offering a restoration of the dial 'to the best possible' not a new dial.  

I think that the purpose of the photograph of the new dial was two fold:

- it was to help me to assess the condition of my dial against perfection and

- it was to show me a new dial should I wish them to source one.  I was subsequently informed that "the watch is indeed a very old vintage piece and the dial cannot be found on the market any more".  In other words, they tried but there is none to be found.

I would guess that restoration means restoring my dial with the existing layout to close to new dial standard?

Coincidentally, I thought of your 'disaster story' when I was asking VC for photographs of the watch as I had forgotten to take any! Mumble, mumble, mumble!

David

hmmm this is a really tough choice. The original dial is
08/14/2014 - 17:59

fine other than with the enlarged center hole for the hands and normally I would say leave it alone BUT somehow I prefer what VC is offering their redial gives more oomp to the dial with a two tone effect

Thanks Alex
08/15/2014 - 22:03

There was a post in 2013 from Maberlin showing a restoration by VC of his 4241 and it was striking - definitely plenty of oomph in that dial.

One doubt that has been raised in my mind as a result of this thread is exactly what VC means by 'restoration'.  Would they retain the existing dial layout or does it depend on the stencils that they have available from that period? Can I assume that the ampersand remains no matter what? 

David

Restoration cam mean 2 things....
08/16/2014 - 13:04

They either just clean up your dial a bit or redo it using the original stencils for it to look like the dial in the picture they sent you

Great Story David, I loved reading it!
08/15/2014 - 06:11

I've picked up a few pieces on Ebay - it can be harrowing, but there are some nice finds if you are careful.

I would prefer to keep the original dial.  You can use it for awhile and see how you react to the color contrast and center hole.  If it really bothers you, you can always send it back to VC for them to restore the dial.  But if you decide to restore it first, you can't have them undo a restoration if you decide later that you would prefer to have the original.

I recently had a dial restored by VC because it was peeling.  They did a great job of it and kept the "&", but they did not include the accent mark in "GENEVE" which I was a little disappointed about (VC now does not use the accent mark).

Also, having the "1" at the top is cool as it is not that common.

But no matter what you choose, the watch looks fabulous, CONGRATS!

BR, Dan

Great Story David, I loved reading it!
08/15/2014 - 21:02

Dan

Thank you for your response and kind comments.

Sadly, for every nice find on ebay, there is at least one nasty surprise - I very nearly made a complete fool of myself over a '43038' last year but the less said about that the better!

I had not really considered the two stage approach - it is certainly worth thinking about. Thanks.

I knew that VC had stopped using the accent mark on its new watches but I was unaware that they were not using it when restoring vintage VCs.  Disappointing, yes but I could probably live with that: on the other hand, the absence of an ampersand would be a deal breaker!

Lots to think about!!

Kind regards

David

Chapter 1 is a thriller, can't wait
08/19/2014 - 16:43

for the next installment when your watch returns heart.  You will also notice slight rubbing along the bottom of your original dial from the case itself.  Perhaps the dial was previously cleaned and, if the SWISS label was marked up or damaged, it may been removed unintentionally or otherwise.  It brightened my day to read your concluding comment, "the absence of an ampersand would be a deal breaker" yes.

Chapter 1 is a thriller, can't wait
08/22/2014 - 09:41

Thanks for your kind comments. I can't wait for the next installment either! But, it will be a long wait.

Interesting theory about the missing 'Swiss'. Did VC actually issue any watches without a 'Swiss' on the dial?  I recall one seller arguing with me that it was not uncommon for VC watches in the 40's and 50's to have no 'Swiss' (or anything) at the bottom of the dial but I assumed that this was because he was passing off a couple of badly refinished dials as 'untouched and completely original'. 

the evidence
08/22/2014 - 15:14

is that they were pretty consistent in using SWISS on dials from 1938, at least if one goes by VC's reference photo catalog.  SWISS MADE was introduced in 1972.

Having been in a similar situation
08/20/2014 - 18:54

I chose to have the dial of my 4241 refinished by VC.  The difference in appearance was amazing as the old dial was quite dull and faded, and the refinished dial has a wonderful lustre.  I was and still am very happy with the result, and having been restored by the original manufacture, I consider it completley authentic.

 

TESSST

Re: Having been in a similar situation
08/22/2014 - 09:51

Thanks for posting.  That is beautiful and makes the restoration option very attractive!

David

Engaging story
08/21/2014 - 17:05

I really enjoyed to read, congratulations on your terrific piece. The dial is intriguing to study, I still don't get to reach a conclusive opinion.

Do you have a picture of the back of the dial? It could be resolutive to understand whether it's original or not - respectfully speaking - regardless what VC says.

 

 

Re: Engaging story
08/22/2014 - 10:02

Thank you for your kind comments.

Unfortunately, I have no other photographs of the watch or dial other than the one posted above.blush