Ok what’s clear is that the world has gone vintage watch crazy. But what we’ve also learned about collecting these unicorns from sages like Aurel Bacs is, “Never chase the best price but instead chase the best, original condition watch with the best patrimony.”
Meaning that budding collectors can immediately sidestep the once precarious shoals of dubiously creative vintage dealers by buying watches that are correct and original beyond a shadow of a doubt. And to me one of the best ways to do this is to buy a watch that has been reconditioned and restored by the manufacture itself.
Brands are responding to this need with Rolex for the first-time making public, the fact that it has a vintage restoration atelier. Other brands like the brilliantly led Cartier are purchasing vintage watches, painstakingly restoring them, and establishing, or re-establishing, their lineage and patrimony.
Cartier’s first offer of these vintage watches, here in Singapore, sold out in less than 24 hours, such was the demand. But of all the various brands in the haute horlogerie stratosphere, it is Vacheron Constantin that pioneered this concept of curating a collection of its own immaculately restored watches and first brought this to Singapore back in March of 2018.
Says the man in charge of this project, my dear friend Christian Selmoni, “From the start we were sourcing the very best examples of our most iconic watches from auctions around the world. Then we take these watches and completely strip down the movements and restore them to the same condition and performance, as when they were first created. For watches like minute repeaters or high precision watches like our Chronometer Royal line, which are regulated to the precision of observatory trail watches, I feel that our refurbishing is of critical importance. If you purchase a 70-year-old minute repeater, how else would you know that the sound you hear is truly optimal unless the watch and movement have completely disassembled, cleaned, repaired if needed and restored by our greatest high complication experts? Of course, it is impossible to account for the full value for a process like this, because then these vintage watches would otherwise bear astronomical prices. We undertake this process understanding that profit is not the primary consideration. For us it us about the living legacy of Vacheron Constantin and demonstrating to the world that any watch you purchase from us will endure forever, and can be taken care of by us forever.”
What is clear from the fabulous array of horological finery that’s just landed in Singapore is that Vacheron Constantin is not holding back. The collection that has been personally selected by Selmoni is one of the most epic assemblies of drop dead gorgeous, grail status Vacheron Constantin watches including three Chronometer Royals, a pocket watch from 1910, a Reference 4907 with its amazing thick lugs from 1954, a Reference 6111 with the famous Maltese Cross lugs from 1956. Says Gael Porte Managing Director for Vacheron Constantin for South-East Asia, “What I love about this collection of watches is it shows the incredible creativity of Vacheron Constantin in shaped cases, in lug design and dial design. I would argue that Vacheron is the most creative of the haute horlogerie maisons in this regard and was pushing the concept of wristwatch design forward, especially in the ‘50s, at a level that no other watch brand was. I like to think that this is something that is very much alive in the masion today and expressed wonderfully with our Heritage collection such as, the American 1921 but also in our modern watches such as the sporty and elegant Overseas family.”
Porte is not wrong. One of the most enjoyable aspects of getting to handle these vintage watches is becoming truly smitten by their creativity. In particular the wonderful Cioccolatone Reference 6440Q center seconds with date watch with its ultra-cool dial, and the truly magnificent Reference 4659 Crab Lug watch dating to 1952 had me seriously considering pulling the trigger. The 4659 may well be my new all time gentleman’s dress watch obsession it really is that stunning and totally original. After the pleasure of handling each of these timepieces I was left with a great respect, admiration and affection for Vacheron Constantin’s designs from the 50’s and 60’s. Indeed this period from this manufacture might be as Porte explains, unbeatable in its audacity and originality expressed in some truly sublime timepieces. Just to put you on alert if you are interested in any of these watches head down to xxxx soon as I am desperately close to buying the 6440Q or the 4659.
1951: Reference 4261 Minute Repeater with Tear-Drop Lugs
What’s cool about the reference 4261 is that it showcases Vacheron at its height of mid-century design creativity. The case of the watch is made in three parts with a Basinee case back, which literally translates from French to be a washtub or basin. This means that the caseback is protrudes outwards to provide additional space for the movement, in this case, a reworked Victorin Piguet based minute repeater.
Look at the ultra-thin double stepped bezel, audacious isn’t it? The mid-case has magnificent Tear-Drop shaped lugs attached to it. I should pause here to note that Vacheron Constantin has probably the greatest creativity in lug design since the inception of the wristwatch. Some of its most iconic lugs include the Crab Claw, the Cornes de vache (cow horn), the flame and, as you see here, the Tear-Drop.
It has always been my opinion that this incredibly important junction between the case and attachment to the wrist through strap or bracelet, has offered a canvas for sublime expression, and in this arena, Vacheron is the King. The final touch to the case is a stunning oversized crown with large oval shaped bead. So with all this design exuberance going on, it is nice that the 4261 has a more restrained dial to create a kind of dynamic tension with the excitement of the case. It is silvered and consists of three main area, the center, the track running under the applied indexes and the minute track with applied dot markers. The center of the dial and minute track feature a subtle vertical brushed finish while the hour indexes are applied onto of a track formed with circular guilloche.
The indexes for the hours are a combination of 12, 3, 6 and 9 in Roman numerals and trapezoidal markers for the rest. Of course, no minute repeater can be assessed without playing it. The song of the this watch dating to 1951 is clear and deep with a well-regulated strike pattern.
1949: Reference 4414 Heure Universelle Pocket Watch
Clearly created for a man of wealth and taste — to borrow from the Rolling Stones — the Heure Universelle, or World Time pocket watch, is extremely intriguing to me. Why? Well first of all it is a pocket watch in an era when wristwatches had become predominant. So who ordered it? Was it a gentleman who just liked the larger format of the pocket watch, because it allowed him to read the time on all 41 cities that he had emblazoned? Did he select each of these cities because they had a special significance to him?
In any event the format of this watch and its underlying complication was invented by Louis Cottier. This consists of a dial with local time in the center and then a 24-hour disc that rotates around the perimeter of the dial in a counterclockwise pattern aligning with the 24 different time zones around the dial represented by the corresponding cities. It is clear that the owner of this watch wanted more than one city representing certain zones. Also as in this configuration the city disc is fixed it is also clear his home town was either Geneva, Oslo or Rome. The design of the watch is just beautiful. Indexes consist a tremendously charming and whimsical combination of Arabic 12 and 6, trapezoids for 3 and 9 and stunning small stars for the rest. To me the shape of the bow in this sharp temple like form is also wonderful and surprisingly modern.
1967: Cioccolatone Reference 6440Q
The Cioccolatone is my all-time favorite Vacheron Constantin non-chronograph watch. It is just such a stunning, elegant and original shape. Its form is referred to in French, as Carre Galbe which means, curved cquare. It was introduced during the halcyon era of the 1950s and such is its stylistic elan that I always imagine someone like The Talented Mr Ripley’s, Dickie Greenleaf wearing the watch.
It’s nickname “Cioccolatone” was bestowed upon it by the Italians, who compared it to the popular chocolate squares that has a similar shape. The size was also remarkable for the time at 34-36 mm but without lugs it has serious presence on the wrist. The first references of the watch were 4821 and 4822 (center seconds) both of which were manual winding.
Then these were replaced by self-winding models, the 4737 and eventually reference 6440 and 6440Q (which featured a date). This particular 6440Q offered by Vacheron has a highly appealing dial that consists of rectangular markers that are placed horizontally at 5 and 7, 11 and 1 and vertically at 2,4,8 and 10 creating a charming sense of juxtaposition. I’ll just pause to mention that to me the greatest grail watch that I would one day like to own is a Ciccolatone Triple Calendar on metal bracelet, reference 4764 like this breath-taking pink gold example that was sold at Antiquorum (Hotel Noga Hilton, Geneva, Oct 11, 2003).
1910: Chronomètre Royal Pocket Watch
What I really respect about the watches that are on offer here, in Singapore is that Vacheron Constantin didn’t hold back in terms of creating a real best of the best curation of timepieces. So we can’t talk about Vacheron Constantin without discussing the legendary Chronomètre Royal. Even better, on offer are examples of all three of the most iconic Chronomètre Royal watches made, a pocket watch version dating to 1910, a manual wind straight lug version dating to 1954 and a ravishing Maltese lug version self-winding of the watch dating to 1956.
Let’s start at the very beginning with the pocket watch version of the Chronomètre Royal. Created in 1907, the Chronometer Royal was like no other timepiece on the market in that was executed to the most extraordinary level of precision and reliability. The model caught attention around the world but in particular in South America, and especially Brazil. In Rio, a retailer named Campos would organize a lottery system in which subscribers would stand the chance to win one of these magnificent timepieces. Such was the popularity of the Chronomètre Royal, more than 3,000 watches were sold in a mere 4 years in South America.
Here on offer is one of those iconic watches. A Chronomètre Royal pocket watch in all its glory featuring a 18k yellow gold case, grand feu enamel dial that still looks remarkably vibrant for its 111 years if existence. Indexes are black lacquered with a small seconds indicator at 6 o’clock. What is impressive is that the movement used inside this timepiece is still posting chronometer like results, which I consider rather astonishing and a real testament to Vacheron’s quality.
1954: Chronomètre Royal Reference 4907
The second Chronomètre Royal watch is equally iconic. Born five decades later the reference 4907 is every bit the worthy inheritor of the name Chronomètre Royal. This particular example dates to 1954. In the same way that the pocket watches were meant to ascend to a singular level of chronometric performance, the objective of these wristwatches was to bring wristwatch performance to the highest level imaginable. The Chronomètre Royal reference 4907 was introduced in 1953 and featured Vacheron Constantin’s highest-level movements in sub second form with the Calibre 1007 BS and center seconds format with the Calibre 1008 BS.
If you’re wondering, BS in this context refers to “Balance Stop”, or the hacking function of these watches. Basically, Vacheron’s own ad from 1957 said it all about this incredible timepiece, “Created for demanding clientele by the same experts at Vacheron Constantin who have produced the victorious chronometers at observatory trails.”
What’s cool about purchasing a 4907 that has been officially refurbished and restored by Vacheron Constantin is the fact that the amazing movements in this case a center seconds 1008BS has been stripped down and rebuilt and regulated with the same exacting quality as the experts assembling it for the first time in 1954 did. The Reference 4907 is a rare watch in that it was only produced for 9 years from 1953 to 1962 before it was replaced with a new model with an automatic movement and a totally redesigned case.
But the story of precision is only part of the appeal of the 4907. The watch is also a masterpiece of design. It features a round case with the famous long thick lugs that flare slightly towards the strap. This creates a watch that is both organic and sensual but also aggressive and powerful. Not enough it said about how wonderful Vacheron’s dial designs are. Their iconography is utterly distinct and unique and to me evinces a creativity that is absent from the other watchmaking greats, which in the 50s were making watches with very standard, by the book pocket watch derived dials. Look at the beauty of the aggressive sword hands and the indexes in particular, the faceted elongated hexagonal markers, here totally original in style, decidedly Latin and sexy but somehow also sublimely classic. If you are looking for a timepiece that epitomize quality of finish, chronometric performance and original design from the 50s that has been lovingly restored to perfection well, here you go.
1956: Chronomètre Royal Reference 6111
As much as I am smitten by the Reference 4907, I am also deeply enamored with the “other” Chronomètre Royal, the Reference 6111. This watch was created as an alternative to the massive lugs and more aggressively styled 4907, yet also manages to be immensely creative in its design. The starting feature here is the “Maltese” cross shaped lugs.
This watch which dates to 1956 also features the legendary Calibre 1008 BS that was created to compete in observatory trials. One of the most beautiful sights in all of horology is to witness the beauty of this caliber with its large balance wheel and swan neck regulator, a bridge for the center seconds train and its massive lever to stop the balance wheel for the hacking function. The finish on these movements can only be described at transcendent.
Then there is the design of the case, which is beautiful and original. The lugs in particular are a masterpiece of faceted sculpture which are inspired by the idea of dividing a Maltese Cross into four parts. I cannot stress enough how Vacheron is a kind of unsung hero when it comes to incredibly original and appealing watch design and this is a great example. Like the 4907 I would only buy a Chronomètre Royal if it has been restored by Vacheron Constantin because you can be assured of its chronometric performance which let’s face it is its raison d’être.
1952: Crab Claw Lug Reference 4659
I love this watch. It is genuinely just epic. Interestingly I think the world in general didn’t quite get watches like this a few years back but to me with a rising interest in beautifully shaped watches, the reference 4659 is poised to start attracting a lot of attention. To me this watch epitomizes the incredible creativity going on at Vacheron Constantin during the 50s and 60s.
Don’t forget that the famous Cornes de vache chronograph, the Reference 6087 with its cow horn lugs came from 1955. But of all the watches that emerged from this period the Crab Claw Lug 4659 is both the most unusual and one of the most appealing.
To me, the design is just stunning and, on the wrist, it epitomizes the chicness I associate with the leading aesthetes of the era. It is the type of watch I would imagine Gianni Agnelli or Baby Pignatari wear as they romanced haute monde demoiselles in New York’s Stork Club. When I look at this watch I hear Chet Baker playing Rondette in Paris. I think of sitting on the terrace of the Gritti Palace in Venice, clad in Caraceni or Cifonelli, a Negroni in hand.
It represents every part of the post WWII exuberance and optimism that I love and that continues to inspire me. One thing to note is that I would only purchase a watch like this only if it’s been correctly restored by Vacheron because I know the case has been left largely unmolested and only cleaned up to get the polished planes of the faceted Crab lugs on point.
My concern when purchasing a watch like this anywhere else is that the lugs would have been incorrectly polished, or even worse restored using laser welding or some other dark art.
PS: I finally broke down and called Vacheron to find out the price of this masterpiece only to discover it had been sold on day one of the Les Collectionneurs exhibition in Singapore. I want to congratulate the new owner as this individual truly has epic taste.
1948: Altesse Reference 3681 30mm in diameter
Ok the last watch I’ve chosen to focus on is a funny one. It is Reference 3681 and is called the “Altesse.” It is a small watch, at 30mm in diameter, and has a stylized gadrooned bezel. Basically, I just like to use the word gadrooned. It has a glossy black Duco dial but what is interesting is that when I researched this reference, most of the watches seemed to feature to stylized disc hands. I really liked that whoever commissioned this watch requested sword hands instead which makes it both rare and attractive.
Vacheron Constantin ION Orchard Boutique
Date 1 – 17 March 2021
Hours 10:00 AM – 9.30 PM Daily
Address 2 Orchard Turn #02-07 Singapore 238801
Vacheron Constantin Marina Bay Sands Boutique
Date 18 – 31 March 2021
Hours 11:00AM – 10:00PM Daily
Address The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands, 2 Bayfront Avenue #B2M-238 Singapore 018972
More information: vacheron-constantin.com