Harmonic Display — The 2016 Harmony Timepieces Of Vacheron Constantin

I once knew someone who remarked in my hearing that Vacheron Constantin was dull, conventional and living in the past. I’m no longer on speaking terms with this person, not just because of this specific piece of criticism, but because I have better things to do with my time than hang out with people who don’t apply logic to their thoughts.

A brand like Vacheron Constantin is not a brand that one loves lightly, because it kinda demands that level of immersion and sympathy with its blend of heritage and modern values. Don’t come to Vacheron Constantin expecting Instagram-perfect lifestyles, high-octane celebrity endorsements or collaborations with televised sports — you’re wasting your time. A connection with Vacheron Constantin means a deeper affinity, a truer harmony. (I hope you see what I did there.)

Looking at the Vacheron Constantin collection for the first time, you might be forgiven for getting a little glassy eyed — it’s true that purely in terms of design outline, they tend towards the classic end of the spectrum. Round watches, tonneau watches, cushion-shaped watches, yes okay fine. But just spend a little more effort getting close to these watches and there is literally no upper limit to the sensate gratification you get in return.

Take the Harmony collection, which was presented in 2015 on the occasion of Vacheron Constantin’s 260th anniversary. As far as cushion-shaped watches go, it’s sturdier than the cult-favourite Historiques American 1921, because it is a watch that is definitively for the modern era. Its inspiration is from an archival piece dated 1928, but its stacked curves and more generous proportions, its larger contrast between its thinnest and widest points, make it a far shapelier animal than its direct antecedent. You might describe the 1928 chronograph as beautiful, though blunt (a characterisation that loosely fits many designs of the era). The 2015 watch is sharp, but never aggressive — it swells out just the right amount at all the right places — and above all it has poise.

The new Harmony Complete Calendar reintroduces to the Vacheron Constantin repertoire a vintage-inflected display, better known to collectors as the “triple date”, that’s been missing from the collection for a while. The other complications (chronograph, tourbillon chronograph, rattrapante chronograph, dual time) had dials that were tirelessly finessed until they achieved the optimal balance of classicism and modernity. Having firmly established the collection in the 21st century, however, the Complete Calendar is pretty confident in taking us back a handful of decades for its design references.

This form of complete calendar display, with adjacent day-month apertures just below the 12 o’clock position, pointer date and moonphase, favours smaller dials — the apertures tend to look a little marooned in the middle of large dials, and then the other proportions are hard to get right. (Larger dials can far more comfortably accommodate subdials, which is why this is the favoured style for component-heavy perpetual calendars.) Smaller dials tend to recall vintage proportions, so everything ties together real well here.

Of particular interest (to me, because I’m that kind of nerd) is the style of numerals and letters that make up the calendar indications — the date numerals, the age of the moon, the day and the month. These are formed with reference to archival timepieces, whose dials were painted by hand with the aid of stencils, and with regularity and legibility as top priorities. The contrast of san-serif fonts at the secondary level with the curvaceous flair of the hour numerals is nothing short of delicious. (I am prepared to arm wrestle anyone who disagrees. I will so totally lose, but this is how much I care about proving this point.)

In order to help the wearer pick the information out quickly, the date, day and month are further differentiated by a deep burgundy colour. The date hand bears a burgundy crescent at its tip. Not red, but burgundy, to subtly recall the age-related discolouration that pigmented inks undergo — yet another aesthetic nod to the watches of a bygone era.

Moonphase displays are not usually among my favourite complications, simply because they’re annoying to set and not many people bother to set them correctly. (Perhaps this is more reflective of my annoyance with people who don’t set their watches properly, but anyway, let’s move on.) The Harmony Complete Calendar implements a precise moonphase that is accurate to one day in 122 years. Compare this with the vast majority of moonphase watches out there, which produce one day of error in about two years and eight months. Assuming you hand this watch down and each generation wears it for about 40 years, the Harmony Complete Calendar only needs to be set once in three generations (provided you wear it often enough to keep it running continuously, of course). Pretty cool, huh?

The case of the Complete Calendar measures 40mm at its narrowest and 49.3mm at its widest, like the Harmony Dual Time, but if you for one second imagine that Vacheron Constantin would cut a few corners in their development process by reusing an existing case, I’m here to tell you that the Complete Calendar is 0.43mm thinner — and you know what that means. With a case as geometrically complex and precisely balanced as the Harmony, each different set of case dimensions requires substantial work to perform at similar aesthetic levels.

You can’t just take one design and stretch (or compress) it along various axes in order to get the size you want. It doesn’t work like that — the result would look frankly painful. Scale and proportion have a non-linear relationship. Mediaeval artists used to do this thing with depictions of children, notably the infant Jesus, and essentially paint them as reduced-scale adults. It looked weird as hell, you guys.

Besides the Complete Calendar, the Harmony collection is also seeing new versions of its Tourbillon Chronograph (previously in platinum and now in rose gold), Chronograph, Chronograph 37mm (now in an unset case, which I’ve been longing for — yes!) and Dual Time (new rose-gold and white-gold models in diamond-set and unset versions). The new models are also distinguished from the anniversary timepieces by their anthracite hour markers and warmer opaline dials.

This expansion is pleasing to me for a number of reasons, chief among them that I think it makes perfect sense for the Harmony to be a fully populated collection. In every possible definition of the word, “harmony” is only meaningful in context of a multitude. I mean, think about it. It’s only logical.

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