I was recently in Switzerland to visit some atelier manufactures in the watch making region near Neuchatel. This was both fascinating and impressive and I will be writing separately about this in due course.

During my trip I added some extra days, and on one of these returned to Geneva from Neuchatel to visit a couple of places of interest. One was the Patek Philippe museum, and the other the Vacheron Constantin boutique.

I had already made contact with the boutique when I knew I was going to Geneva. My contact there, Svetlana, had been receptive to my twin needs. Firstly, to obtain more detailed information on a vintage Turn-o-graph I had bought at Bonhams last November, and secondly, to find out more first hand on some new and/or iconic watches.

The day was pretty hot and by the time I reached the boutique from the station I was a little warm. I was kindly offered a variety of beverages – soft and alcoholic, but as it was somewhat before 12 noon, opted for sparkling water!

Svetlana explained that she had communicated with Mr Selmoni (head of heritage) regarding my historic needs. She had now been put in touch with another person in that department, Diego Azconegui, based at Plan-les-Ouates. He would email me shortly over this, so, for the moment, that aspect could be parked.

I asked Svetlana if I could view and photograph perhaps three watches – newer and traditional models. After some thought I opted for; Overseas Self-Winding in pink gold and brown leather strap – time and date, Fiftysix in stainless steel with new blue dial and bracelet – time and date, and lastly Patrimony in pink gold with leather strap – time/retrograde date/moon phase.

Overseas – time/date

Impressive looking watch

By any measure this is an imposing looking watch. The case shape, 41mm size, and bezel with crenellated cutouts, all serve to make a bold statement. The pink gold is of course more reserved than say yellow, and the integrated chocolate brown alligator strap with deployant buckle compliments this well. The silvery dial has a slightly brushed finish and the hands and hour batons are gold edged but quite simple in design. The date window at 3 o’clock is of a sensible and therefore legible size.  A minute outer track edges the dial. The crown is a nice shape and of a useful size.
On the reverse, the automatic calibre 5100 movement can be seen via the exhibition window. This boasts some 48hrs power reserve and runs at 4hz (28,800 v.p.h).  Water resistance is at 150m and anti-magnetic protection is noted – although with a glass back I am not sure how the latter plays out. There is little decoration – save for Cotes de Geneve stripes on the movement. There is a large 22k rotor embellished with what appears to be the sun with rays, and of course the makers name with iconic Maltese Cross.

Other options include stainless steel models with black and blue dials on bracelets. Plus, there are additional complications including; perpetual calendar, chronograph, world time and dual time. There are also some 37mm versions set with diamonds.

For me, the watch wears quite large. I have average sized wrists but it is a little too big for me as the whole case filled my wrist and the integrated strap just went vertically down. This is not aided aesthetically by the very angular case edges and bezel cutaways – maybe a few too many 90 degree angles! Such aspects notwithstanding, an impressive and beautifully made watch and many will and should like it.

Price: CHF 38,000 (£31,100)
Rating 4/5

Fiftysix – time/date

This new version with stainless steel bracelet works well.

This watch comes in a 40mm traditionally shaped case in either stainless steel or pink gold. The case sides twist slightly from the lugs – in particular on the crown side and this is interestingly organic and probably not easy to engineer. The slightly tapering crown is attractive and partly recessed into the case side.

The watch I am studying is a new version in stainless steel with a blue dial. It has a quite simple and clean overall appearance. The dial has nicely raised alternate hour batons and fair sized numbers, and an outer minute track. The main hands are, again, quite plain – straight and edged in metal and luminous, with a thin but quite legible second hand. The date window at 3 o’clock could perhaps be a little more generous to aid the older eye.

The reverse has a viewing glass revealing the automatic 1326 calibre, with again 4hz v.p.h. and 48hrs power reserve. Water resistance is to 30m.

Of note, and new for this model, is the stainless steel bracelet. This totally transforms the watch, with the smaller sized links nudging the effect towards the dressier side. It is also nice to see real attention to detail, with the watch end of the bracelet curving to exactly match the case.

I must confess to really liking this watch. It is honest with no pretensions. For me, the size is fine as it is a slimmish watch, plus the bracelet immediately folds from the case. The stainless steel with the blue dial looks classy and could be worn equally happily during the day or for a night out. All this, plus the quality of manufacture, represents a compelling package at a kind of budget buy – well, for a Vacheron!

Price: CHF 13,300 (£10,900)
Rating: 4.5/5

Patrimony – Moon Phase and Retrograde Date

The perfect dress watch?

This watch comes in a 42.5mm case, rounded in shape with a plain bezel and modestly sized crown. White and pink gold options are available, with white, blue or black dials. A traditional alligator brown or black strap on a pin buckle (ardillon apparently) is offered.

The version I have in front of me is in pink gold with a white dial. The latter presents the information in very interesting ways. The top 180 degrees is dominated by the retrograde date, indicated by a black pointer hand. Small gold hour batons are outbourne of this, but in the lower 180 degrees longer batons are applied. At 6 o’clock is the Moon phase display in quite bold colour shades. Numbers note the age of this lunar sphere.

On the reverse is a window revealing the automatic 2460 R31L calibre. This, once again, has 4hz v.p.h. and 40 hrs power reserve. Water resistance is to 30m.

I would say that this watch really is the dress option as most aspects scream this. The only slight query here is the size, which is pretty big for this genre. That said, it does not wear that large as it is not very tall at some 9.7mm. I like this watch! It looks super sophisticated and classy in the gold and on a brown strap. The complication presentations are also interesting extra features. The quality of course is not in doubt but the overall package comes at a price!

Price: CHF 44,600 (£36,500)
Rating: 4/5

Overall Conclusions

Vacheron Constantin are one of the oldest (possibly the oldest) and most respected brands in existence and run a close second to Patek Philippe. They make some beautiful and well considered timepieces and for a connoisseur, at least one example should be owned! On occasions though the designs can be a little avant garde and may test some sensibilities, but, that said, visual appearances can be very subjective. What became clear to me though is that physically viewing is critical. Seeing a photograph and reading the specifications in an article can be somewhat removed from the actuality of wearing.

Lastly, during our chatting Svetlana had noted that I had a weakness for decent cigars. As such, when I was leaving she kindly gave me a few VC labelled smokes from a nearby humidor box. I sampled one later that day and it was lovely – surely Cuban but the maker’s origin I know not. I gave the second one to a watch/cigar friend the next day and have retained the last one for a future hour of bliss. The rating decision for this aspect was really quite simple – 5/5!

Full marks!

Words: Karl Dennis

Photos: Karl Dennis