Age and beauty

Watch­mak­ing in the ’50s turned up some of the most mem­o­rable de­signs ever con­ceived, and Vacheron Con­stantin’s all-new FiftySix is a trib­ute to that glo­ri­ous era.

Esquire (Singapore) - - CONTENTS -

Vacheron Con­stantin

Most of us can only imag­ine what it’s like to be liv­ing in the ’50s. This rock ‘n’ roll pe­riod fol­low­ing the Sec­ond World War had been an amaz­ing decade charged with pos­i­tiv­ity, re­newal, fash­ion, style, pop cul­ture and above all, change. Chris­tian Dior de­fined his New Look, Elvis Pres­ley rose to fame, tele­vi­sion rev­o­lu­tionised the scene, the For­mula One Grand Prix kicked off… Ba­si­cally a good half of ev­ery­thing Billy Joel sang in We Didn’t Start The Fire hap­pened in the ’50s.

Tech­nol­ogy and ad­vance­ments in man­u­fac­tur­ing opened up the lat­est trends and lux­ury to ev­ery­one who wanted it, and not just to wealthy mem­bers of so­ci­ety. In the watch­mak­ing arena, sev­eral key events helped shape the way time­pieces are made, sold and per­ceived.

One of them was of course the First and Sec­ond World Wars, when sol­diers and avi­a­tors started to wear watches and other in­stru­ments strapped to their wrists and oc­ca­sion­ally thighs. So by the ’50s, pocket watches were all but com­pletely phased out and the gen­eral pub­lic be­gan to ac­cept wrist­watches as the norm.

THEY DON’T MAKE’ EM LIKE THEY USED TO Im­prove­ments in man­u­fac­tur­ing tech­niques also al­lowed watch­mak­ing firms to pro­duce bet­ter and more re­li­able time­pieces, so most watches made in the ’50s evoked a sense of height­ened pre­ci­sion and chronom­e­try. Brands were less pre­oc­cu­pied with celebrity en­dorse­ment in those days.

Print ad­ver­tise­ments from all the top watch­mak­ing houses in this era fo­cused on the mes­sage of qual­ity and per­for­mance, show­ing pic­tures of sci­en­tists, en­gi­neers and other pro­fes­sion­als in­stead of ac­tors and ac­tresses. Re­mem­ber, too, that this was be­fore the time of quartz tech­nol­ogy and elec­tron­ics, so peo­ple de­pended on their watches for things like time and date.

As air travel be­came ac­ces­si­ble to larger seg­ments of the pop­u­la­tion, time­pieces took on ad­di­tional du­ties. Con­tem­po­rary fea­tures such as the GMT com­pli­ca­tion, the world timer, the alarm func­tion and var­i­ous cal­en­dar dis­plays were pre­ferred over tra­di­tional high com­pli­ca­tions such as the tour­bil­lon, minute re­peater and per­pet­ual cal­en­dar.

In terms of de­sign, clar­ity was the or­der of the day. Vin­tage ’50s watches that we see to­day are al­most al­ways round be­cause that was the pre­vail­ing trend of the pe­riod. Watches in those days also veered to­wards the small side in com­par­i­son to mod­ern-day stan­dards. A gentle­man’s time­piece sel­dom ex­ceeded 36mm, with 35mm or 34mm be­ing the more com­monly ac­cepted size.

FLASH BACK TO THE ’50 S There were many prom­i­nent watch com­pa­nies ac­tive dur­ing the ’50s and Vacheron Con­stantin was one of them. In­deed, be­ing the world’s old­est watch man­u­fac­ture with 263 years of his­tory and count­ing, this Geneva-born com­pany prob­a­bly also has the world’s most well-stocked archive of an­tique and vin­tage watches. Its Les Col­lec­tion­neurs range of re­stored and cer­ti­fied vin­tage watches, for in­stance, proves this in­cred­i­ble pedi­gree and reaf­firms that it can ser­vice and re­pair any watch it has made over more than two cen­turies.

One piece in par­tic­u­lar stood out in 2018. This watch, known sim­ply as Ref 6073, bears all of the usual stylis­tic hall­marks of a watch made around the ’50s. It had a plain round case made in yel­low gold, trape­zoidal faceted hour ap­pliques rather than nu­mer­als, sharp dauphine-style hands for the hours, min­utes and sec­onds, and an eggshell white dial of­fer­ing noth­ing more than the name of the man­u­fac­ture in print, along with its em­blem— the Mal­tese cross—in gold. Yet this de­cep­tively as­cetic time­piece also hides a sec­ond Mal­tese cross in plain sight.

It is said that Vacheron Con­stantin chose the Mal­tese cross, which is also known as the Amalfi cross, as its of­fi­cial em­blem in 1877 be­cause a sim­i­larly shaped bar­rel com­po­nent is used for all its move­ments. So this eight-pointed cross not only sym­bol­ises the man­u­fac­ture but is also an es­sen­tial el­e­ment of watch­mak­ing.

First in­tro­duced in 1956, Ref 6073 ap­pears to be no dif­fer­ent from any other clas­si­cal ’50s style gent’s watch, but take a closer look at its four lugs and you’ll no­tice that each one is a branch of the Mal­tese cross and together they form the sa­cred em­blem. While it’s not too tech­ni­cal or com­plex to pro­duce, this is just an­other ex­am­ple of Vacheron Con­stantin’s de­sign in­ge­nu­ity.

Ref 6073 was also fondly re­mem­bered as be­ing one of the first Vacheron Con­stantin watches to be equipped with a self-wind­ing move­ment. Cal­i­bre 1019/1 was made to be re­li­able and pre­cise at a time when the ma­jor­ity of me­chan­i­cal move­ments were still man­u­ally wound. De­liv­ered with a multi-sided case­back, it was also one of the ear­li­est wa­ter-re­sis­tant watches made by the man­u­fac­ture.

This re­mark­able yet non­de­script time­piece thus be­came the source of in­spi­ra­tion for Vacheron Con­stantin’s lat­est ele­gant gent’s watch col­lec­tion launched in 2018, aptly and suc­cinctly named FiftySix.

OLD BE­COMES NEW AGAIN A mod­ern in­ter­pre­ta­tion of Ref 6073, FiftySix re­freshes Vacheron Con­stantin’s cur­rent prod­uct line-up with a fresh and young per­spec­tive. In­deed, this is the first time in its his­tory that the man­u­fac­ture is of­fer­ing a clas­sic col­lec­tion in stain­less steel as well as gold. But this by no means sug­gests the col­lec­tion has gone economical—far from it. In fact, even steel time­pieces get the full treat­ment at Vacheron Con­stantin, as evinced by the use of white gold hands and ap­pliques in what must be the most de­lib­er­ate show­case of stealth wealth since the 1972 Aude­mars Piguet Royal Oak.

The unique lug de­sign has been re­tained, but rather than repli­cat­ing the two-point branch aes­thetic of the his­tor­i­cal piece, the man­u­fac­ture has opted for a sub­tler take. The re­sult is a smoother, more tapered and el­e­gantly cham­fered set of lugs that comes with an ad­di­tional joint connected to the case.

Apart from the lugs, Vacheron Con­stantin also con­tin­ued to use a box-shaped crys­tal, which is a sure sign of vin­tage in­spi­ra­tion. Ris­ing well above the bezel, it af­fords a slim­mer case mid­dle that makes the watch ex­tra com­fort­able on the wrist. But in­stead of Plex­i­glas or min­eral glass, the FiftySix col­lec­tion up­graded this com­po­nent with scratch-re­sis­tant sap­phire crys­tal.

Watches in the ’50s were of­ten made with a sec­tor-type dial where chap­ter rings sec­tion dif­fer­ent parts for dif­fer­ent func­tions, and FiftySix is no ex­cep­tion. Al­ter­nat­ing Ara­bic nu­mer­als and ba­ton-type hour mark­ers en­cir­cle the main chap­ter, while a chemin-de-fer minute track lends old-school ap­peal, not to men­tion a touch of so­phis­ti­ca­tion. Show­ing how much de­tail Vacheron Con­stantin puts into the watches, each dial uses a va­ri­ety of dif­fer­ent tones and fin­ishes such as snail­ing, ver­ti­cal brush­ing and soft pol­ish­ing.

There are el­e­ments of FiftySix, how­ever, that place the col­lec­tion res­o­lutely in the present. Fore­most, for pur­poses of prac­ti­cal­ity, the case size has been in­creased to a very man­age­able 40mm from 35mm in the Ref 6073. Ar­guably, 40mm is the max­i­mum size for a clas­si­cal gent’s watch. Se­condly, FiftySix pre­serves the fluid lines of the case by us­ing a crown that’s slightly re­cessed into the case.

Ref 6073 was one of the first Vacheron Con­stantin watches to be made with a self-wind­ing move­ment, and so it only makes sense for the man­u­fac­ture to equip the FiftySix col­lec­tion with au­ton­o­mous wind­ing as well. Not only that, the os­cil­lat­ing weight used in th­ese watches have a com­pletely new de­sign, made of 22-carat gold with an open­worked con­struc­tion bear­ing the Mal­tese cross mo­tif in a frosted-snailed fin­ish. This would go on to be a sig­na­ture fea­ture in ev­ery piece within the col­lec­tion.

Clos­est in spirit to the his­tor­i­cal model, the FiftySix SelfWind­ing houses a new move­ment which is po­si­tioned as a mod­ern­day de­scen­dent of the Cal­i­bre 1019/1. Cal­i­bre 1326 comes with 48 hours of power re­serve and ex­hibits all the usual dec­o­ra­tive and chrono­met­ric fea­tures of a clas­si­cal Vacheron Con­stantin move­ment, ex­cept that it is not Geneva Seal-cer­ti­fied. This is be­cause Cal­i­bre 1326 was pro­duced at a cen­tral move­ment mak­ing fa­cil­ity named Man­u­fac­ture Val Fleurier, which is owned by the par­ent com­pany of Vacheron Con­stantin, the Richemont Group, rather than at Vacheron Con­stantin’s own man­u­fac­ture in Geneva.

Next up is the FiftySix Day-Date with a power re­serve in­di­ca­tor. This watch, pow­ered by the Cal­i­bre 2475 SC/2, dis­plays the day and date via two sub­di­als fin­ished with a snailed ef­fect that adds a nice vis­ual depth to the dial. Its ap­prox­i­mately 40hour power re­serve is dis­played by a dis­creet gauge at six o’clock and a stop-sec­onds de­vice (also known as hack­ing sec­onds) pauses the sec­onds hand when­ever time is be­ing ad­justed, al­low­ing the wearer to prop­erly syn­chro­nise time with up-tothe-sec­ond ac­cu­racy.

Fi­nally, the FiftySix Com­plete Cal­en­dar with pre­ci­sion moon phase takes us back to a pop­u­lar trend in the ’50s, the triple­cal­en­dar func­tion. As more peo­ple started wear­ing watches and re­ly­ing on them for daily in­for­ma­tion, high com­pli­ca­tions like the per­pet­ual cal­en­dar be­came ex­ces­sive and un­nec­es­sar­ily ex­pen­sive, so triple-cal­en­dars served the same pur­pose on a more prac­ti­cal level. In­di­cat­ing the day, date and month ef­fort­lessly us­ing the in-house self-wind­ing move­ment, Cal­i­bre 2460 QCL/1, it also of­fers a high pre­ci­sion moon phase dis­play which re­quires ad­just­ment just once ev­ery 122 years. In com­par­i­son, a ba­sic moon phase has to be ad­justed once ev­ery three years.

In some ways con­sid­ered a rad­i­cal depar­ture from Vacheron Con­stantin’s usual mi­lieu of haut de gamme watch­mak­ing, FiftySix her­alds a new vi­sion of the man­u­fac­ture, one that is un­ques­tion­ably more in­clu­sive and con­tem­po­rary.

More new mod­els are due to hit the scene very soon, so check es­ for the lat­est in­tel.

Above: for­mer US pres­i­dent Harry Tru­man is one of the many no­table peo­ple who have worn Vacheron Con­stantin watches.

Above: for­mer US pres­i­dent Harry Tru­man is one of the many no­table peo­ple who have worn Vacheron Con­stantin watches.

Ref 6073.

FiftySix Com­plete Cal­en­dar.

FiftySix Day-Date.

FiftySix Self-Wind­ing.

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