Founded in 1755, Vacheron Constantin – the oldest maison boasting uninterrupted production – made chiming watches its specialty ever since its early years. The chronicles of the Geneva-based manufacture show that the brand created its first minute-repeater in 1810. The success of this watch led the brand to reuse this magnificent complication and combine it with others to show the world its ability to always go a step further. Among the many references in this line, we find the one created for King Fuad of Egypt in 1929, and the one for his son, King Farouk, in 1935.
It wasn’t until 1930 that the brand presented its first repeater-wristwatch. At a time when ultra-thin watches were in vogue, the Vacheron Constantin reference 4261 really possessed everything to please the aficionados of that era. The company then ploughed on relentlessly in its quest for outstanding achievements until 1992, when it released the caliber 1755, a minute-repeater movement only 3.28 millimeters high. That same year, following the success of the exceptional 1755 caliber, Vacheron Constantin released the 1731 caliber. It is a very thin movement and its reference number commemorates the birth of the maison’s founder, Jean-Marc Vacheron. Today, the brand is a member of the Richemont Group.
Innovation at the heart of tradition
Purists will undoubtedly argue that the caliber presented this year is higher (3.9 millimeters) than the 3.28-millimeter caliber released in 1992. Watchmakers will retort that this stoutness is linked to the sizeable increase in the watch’s power reserve to 65 hours, which is almost double that of the original from the 1990s. It seems a pity, then, that the 1731 caliber could not benefit from the new barrel spring used in the platinum Breguet Tourbillon 5377, which was pre-released in 2013. The silicon spring allows for a 90-hour power reserve and is not much more voluminous than one made of traditional materials.
But even if the mechanical architecture of this minute-repeater remains similar to the previous ones, its construction does divulge its share of novelties. Watchmakers and assemblers have both worked on the material to allow a view of the inertia governor, which regulates the hammers’ striking frequency on the gongs thanks to the weights set in motion by centrifugal forces. Vacheron Constantin developed the watch in 2007. Its original and outstanding design draws the eye, particularly when the watch is turned upside revealing the movement in the pink gold case through a sapphire crystal back. Needless to say, this caliber, as well as the case, boast all the codes of traditional watchmaking and meets the requirements for the Geneva Seal, which has been granted, of course, and is visible on one of the bridges.
When the best remains invisible
However, the most attractive part of the movement is in fact hidden from the beholder. The sober and silvery opaline dial with hand-appliqué pink gold indexes conceals the repeater framework. We were lucky to obtain a few photos of the components and movements.
Stealing a glance reveals the cams, springs, levers, snails and racks that allow the actuation and sequencing of the strikes. All this enables one to “read” the exact time in music once the trigger on the side of the middle case has been cocked. This is a classic timepiece, so much so that it’s not even water-resistant. The owner must make sure it is not exposed to a single drop of water and is kept in a dry and dust-free place.
Another worthy aspect of the watch is its size. The 265 components assembled form a disc of exactly 14 lines in diameter – 32.8 millimeters – for a total height of 3.90 millimeters. To put it in proportion, that is hardly bigger than a tune, Switzerland’s famous five-franc coin. If we take a closer look at the watch we can see the minute star wheel in the center with its ”surprise,” a brilliant touch. We can either distinguish everything or nothing in the entanglement of springs and levers, in the hour, quarter-hour and minute racks of the repeater. The mechanism is a veritable ballet of springs, levers and cams. In the midst of this outwardly chaotic jumble, thanks to some very fancy openworking, we see the pallet wheel and the pallet stones. Opposite, facilitating the watch’s regulation, is the inertia governor. Take note of one of its components: it was conveniently cut in the shape of the Maltese Cross, the brand’s trademark.
This superb, 41-millimeter – a reasonable size, indeed – pink gold watch features an unusual blend of rare sobriety and incredible sophistication. It is flawless, obviously. The sober timepiece can be worn without the slightest bluster on an alligator strap. It embodies all the design values essential to this Geneva-based manufacture. The exuberance of the brand is reserved for the insides, while the outside displays sheer understatement.