THE SPIRIT OF FIFTYSIX
| We talk with Vacheron Constantin’s Christian Selmoni about the retro-contemporary Fiftysix collection.
— With more than 260 years of watchmaking history to draw from, Vacheron Constantin needed to reach back only a little more than half a century to find the inspiration for its latest timepiece family, unveiled in Geneva at SIHH 2018. e Vacheron Constantin Fiftysix collection is inspired by a vintage model from 1956, the Reference 6073, giving the line’s three distinctive models an elegantly modern twist.
e Fiftysix features a case design inspired by the Maltese cross, long identified as a symbol of the brand, with each of the curved lugs representing one branch of this 15th-century badge of honor. Additional elements are the box-type crystal rising well above the bezel that is made of modern, scratch-resistant sapphire; the use of self-winding movements in all of the collection’s models, including one entirely new proprietary caliber; and the sector-type dials, with alternating Arabic numerals and baton hour markers in their chapter rings, enhanced with two separate, subtle tones to their finishing.
In a historic first for Vacheron, the maison is offering all Fiftysix watches in both gold and steel case variations, though the brand points out that even the latter models will not be lacking in luxurious character, using white gold for their hands and appliqués and creating an exceptional finish. One of the many notable departures from the 1956 model: all Fiftysix watches have a recessed crown for a more elegant and contemporary case profile.
e Vacheron Constantin Fiftysix collection consists of three models and six references, all in 40-mm cases in either stainless steel or 18k 5N rose gold – the Fiftysix Selfwinding, a three-hand model with date at 3 o’clock; the Fiftysix Day-date and the Fifty-six Complete Calendar.
e aforementioned new movement, Caliber 1326 (based on the Cartier 1904), makes its debut in the Fiftysix Self-winding, equipped with a 48-hour power reserve and stop seconds for easy resetting. Like all the movements in the collection, it boasts an all-new openworked rotor made of 22k gold with a frosted and snailed finish that evokes the shape of the Maltese cross, much like the cases do. Also, like the other movements, it’s visible through a sapphire caseback, allowing the owner to admire not just the rotor but the array of other haute horlogerie finishes, including côtes de Genève, circular graining and snailing. (Because the movement is not exclusively produced in Geneva, the 1326 logically does not meet the Hallmark of Geneva criteria, as do most of the brand’s other movements.)
e watch’s dial has a double opaline sunburst effect, gray on the steel version and silver-toned on the rose-gold one, and features luminescent coating on the baton-type hands and hour markers. e Mississippi alligator strap, with its half Maltese cross-shaped buckle, is brown on the rosegold model and dark gray on the steel one. Each has a calfskin inner shell and tone-on-tone stitching.
Moving up a few notches in complications, the Fiftysix Day-date is powered by the Vacheron Caliber 2475 SC/2 stamped with the Hallmark of Geneva, here with the addition of the openworked Maltese cross- inspired rotor, which is fitted with a ceramic ball-bearing rotation system that requires no lubrication and thus helps to optimize the movement’s long-term accuracy. e dials’ double opaline sun-
burst effect contrasts with the two snailed counters – one for the day of the week at 9 o’clock, the other for the date at 3 o’clock. A hand-type power-reserve display joins these two indicators at 6 o‘clock. e rose-gold model has a silver-toned dial, the steel model, a gray-toned one. e alligator straps are brown on the gold watch, dark gray on the steel version.
e most complicated model in the collection is the Fiftysix Complete Calendar, whose movement is the Hallmark of Geneva-stamped in-house Caliber 2460 QCL/1, the same movement used in another of Vacheron’s SIHH debuts, the platinum-cased Traditionnelle Complete Calendar. e elegantly arranged dial displays the month and day of the week in two rectangular apertures at 12 o’clock, the date using a central blued pointer hand on a 31-day scale, and the moon-phase in a semicircular window at 6 o’clock. e moon-phase in this watch is notable in that it requires adjustment only once every 122 years, as opposed to the three-year intervals demanded by most standard moonphases. Gold is used here for the Arabic numerals, the hour markers and the hands, as well as for the moon disk – and, of course, for the case and buckle of the rose-gold version of the watch. As in the other two Fiftysix models, the steel reference is paired with a gray dial and strap, the gold with a silvered dial and brown strap.
Prices for the Fiftysix collection: the Self-winding is $11,900 in steel, $19,900 in rose gold; the Day-date, $17,900 in steel, $33,400 in rose gold; and the Complete Calendar, $23,500 in steel and $36,800 in rose gold.
Watchtime met with Christian Selmoni, director of style and heritage at Vacheron Constantin, to talk about the new Fiftysix collection. WT: Where does the new line fit?
CS: e Vacheron Constantin men’s collections are on the classic side of things, like the Patrimony and the Traditionelle. In addition, we have the Overseas, which is more in the sports/elegant segment, and we felt that there is room for a new design expression, which would be a little bit between the two. We thought that it would be interesting to think about and to develop a collection that would be a more casual approach to an elegant timepiece, and so this is how we started to think about the Fiftysix. e second reason why we created the Fiftysix is that we wanted to create a new entry door to the world of Vacheron Constantin. An entry door by the style, which is, let’s say, retro-contemporary, and also by the price positioning, which will take us to a discussion, which we will have later, about the materials and the movement.
at really was the idea at the very beginning, to add a new collection with a new perspective, which has this particular positioning, which is new for us, between the sports/elegant and the classical segment of products. For us it was a very narrow path in terms of design. We knew that we could incorporate some typical Vacheron Constantin design elements in the timepiece, but we really had to find the balance between classicism and modernity, between vintage and contemporary, and not lose both aspects. is is really the key point of this design, and we think that we came up with something that has a lot of ingredients for success. Of course, we are going to launch this collection next September, so it’s a bit early to talk about success, but we have great expectations for this line.
The integrated crown has been developed to be a kind of design code of the Fiftysix.
WT: Can you tell us more about the Reference 6073 that inspired the Fiftysix?
CS: Obviously, we are the oldest watchmaking maison. We haven’t stopped activity since 1755, and so we have this great heritage. When we are considering launching a new line, I think, for us, it really makes sense to be linked with our heritage. When we talk about classic elegance, it can be based on a vintage timepiece, and I think the era of the ’50s is a great place to revisit. is decade has seen some of the most interesting designs in elegant timepieces, and we had this idea of revisiting a classic of this era, which is the Reference 6073. is model has one thing that was particularly interesting, the fact that the lugs are a direct inspiration from a quarter of the Maltese cross. It was really this aspect that we wanted to underline. I have to say that the Reference 6073 has been an inspiration for the Fiftysix; it’s not a redesign that is based on this reference. Our idea was much more to connect or to infuse this vintage ’50s spirit into the collection, rather than to redo or redesign the Reference 6073.
at’s why the dial is slightly different from this particular timepiece. We have Arabic numerals, but again, we have been playing with the ’50s spirit by creating a dial that took some elements from the ’50s. So the Fiftysix is a mix of influences, mostly from the Reference 6073, but it also adds some different aspects of the watches of the ’50s. It’s really the key point of the design, to create this retro-contemporary look. And because we know that there is a great trend for vintage, which is far above, far beyond, watchmaking. is is a trend that is surrounding us every day. is is something that we really wanted to connect to. at’s the story behind, I would say, the main design of the Fiftysix, and it’s also bringing us to those who would be our clients for the Fiftysix. As we wanted to create a new entry door for Vacheron Constantin, we also wanted to address a new clientele and also, depending on the market, a younger clientele. is is particularly true in the western countries, since in Asia we already have a younger clientele. I think in western markets, it really made sense for us. at’s why we have also decided to use steel as a material for
the watch, and to offer an entry model that doesn’t have [a movement with] the Geneva Seal.
WT: So, the Fiftysix is based on the spirit of the era and the models that were launched in the era, and not on a particular model?
CS: When we want to revisit a timepiece from the past, we go for the Historiques collection. In the Historiques collection we have plenty of room to do some exciting watches coming from our heritage. In that case, we are much more faithful to the original model, if I may say, because we really want to create that link between today and yesterday. In the case of the Fiftysix, however, we really wanted to take our inspiration from this era, and to choose one particular model as an example of this era. is is really a key point in the Fiftysix collection.
WT: The Reference 6073 was one of the first Vacheron Constantin models to reintroduce an in-house movement in the period it was launched, and now this collection is the first one to introduce both stainless steel and gold at the same time?
CS: We have some similar aspects in both timepieces, especially the fact that the Reference 6073 was fitted with the very first generation of Vacheron Constantin automatic movements, and also center seconds, date and luminous markers as well.
I think, for us, one of the challenges that we had during the design and development of the Fiftysix was really the use of steel in a more elegant timepiece. is is why we made a huge effort in terms of the finishing of the timepieces. What is really nice with this timepiece is the amount of care that went into the details. From that point of view, for me, there is no question about the fact that this is really a true Vacheron Constantin.
WT: How can a younger target audience connect with a design from the ’50s?
CS: I think that when we speak about design in general, we have numerous examples of designs from the ’50s that are still, today, very popular. I think we are really surrounded by the design of the ’50s, and really it has been a huge influence. I think all the modern, say the modern cars of today, a lot of them, their design was rooted in the ’50s – and the ’60s, too – but many from the ’50s.
WT: How much time did you have for development of this new line?
CS: A little bit more than one year and a half, which doesn’t leave a lot of time for the design validation, in a nutshell. But we were not creating something from scratch. We’re really at home when we can create watches that are inspired by the past. is is a recipe that we know, but it tends to be very challenging in terms of design. We had to find a good balance between past and present, and the reason why we have been successful in this timeline of only one year and a half is mostly due to the fact that we could get validations quickly. Everybody who was involved in the project, from the designers up to the CEO, was pretty conscious that we had to rush with this project. We have organized, when necessary, meetings for validations, step after step. We didn’t change the way we are working. However, the validation steps have been much quicker. One thing or so, which is, I think, very important to mention in that respect, is the fact that we in the design department have a digital designer who is specialized in digital renderings. anks to 3-D digital renderings, we were really able to have an almost real representation of the final timepiece, including reflections of light on the surface of the case. anks to this, we had the possibility to move quicker.
WT: How was the design process affected if you had less time than usual?
CS: I think in many organizations as well, if you consider it, it’s always possible to work and rework and rework. At a certain point, I think that things must come to the final design. We have managed to gain some time on the way and find some cuts along the way in order to gain some time for the launch of the Fiftysix. In other words, we didn’t do any compromises. We didn’t launch something in which we were not 100 percent happy. I think it’s a very important point. We really had enough time to create mock-ups, including metal mock-ups, and so this is really the result of our efforts.
WT: The automatic version uses a movement without the Geneva Seal. Why’s that?
CS: We did not really ask ourselves the question, “Do we have to?” As we wanted to position the line very clearly, being a different way to enter into the world of Vacheron Constantin, also by the price positioning, we had to find a way to have one model that could be the possibility to enter our world. We came to the conclusion that we had to use a different movement for this automatic version. is is why we have decided to use a base, which is not an in-house base. However, it’s still a manufacture movement, modified to our requirements, in terms of finishing. e fact that we have been able to share this movement really allowed us to create a very interesting offer, which is the automatic model in steel.
Excellence, in terms of watchmaking, in terms of movement manufacturing, was the initial idea. e Geneva Seal is an existing label, a label for exceptional timepieces, and we decided to follow the criteria of the Geneva Seal for our movement development because it was really very close to what we are looking for in terms of excellence in watchmaking. And I
think we have demonstrated that we are able to do this from simple to the highest complication. Let’s mention the Reference 57260. I think that it demonstrates the mastery of Vacheron Constantin to be able to reach that level. In the Fiftysix, we feel that it really made sense to address a new client and offer a timepiece that has really fantastic finishing, both from the case, dial, hands, etc., and also from the movement point of view. With all that, the fact that it is not stamped by the Geneva Seal was not such a problem. So this is why we launched it, and it really makes sense for this collection.
One thing that I can add to the discussion about the movement is why we didn’t use the Overseas automatic movement. e answer would be that the dimensions of the Overseas movement, in terms of dimensions and thickness, were not an option for the Fiftysix. In terms of design, it wouldn’t allow us to create an automatic timepiece as thin and elegant as we have here, which is really something that we can also underline. We had to find a way to make it elegant, and so it means thin, as well. e older family of Overseas movements has been developed really to fit into the Overseas and to fit into a sporty line.
WT: What was the biggest challenge for you when working on the design of the Fiftysix?
CS: I think that for the designers, the challenge was that we wanted to create a collection of new timepieces, meaning that the design of the watch had to be, I would say, perfect, from a simple watch to a more complicated timepiece. at’s the major constraint, when you create a new collection, you really have to think about the proportions. Will it work for a complication? Will it work on that kind of complication? Will it work for a simple watch?
e integrated crown has been, yes, has been developed to be a kind of design code of the Fiftysix. is is something that I think is made with subtlety. You don’t immediately see it, but it is something that is a design code of the Fiftysix.
It goes also into this notion of creating a classic yet contemporary timepiece; elegant, not sporty; steel, so that it really is this mix we wanted to create with the Fiftysix. Not a fully classical timepiece, and not a sporty timepiece, but something that will be in the middle. at’s why we’ve thought about this integrated crown.
WT: Will there ever be a bracelet option?
CS: It could be something really interesting. It’s a very good question, indeed. Obviously, when you create a new timepiece in steel, you’ll be asked, “How about a steel bracelet?” e answer is, “Let’s see,” but that will be a very interesting option to the Fiftysix.
WT: What is your personal favorite of the new collection?
CS: Very sincerely, the automatic, the simple model, because I think for most of the watches I really love, a lot of them are simple watches because simple watches are the most difficult to design. I think this one was particularly interesting, and I like the proportions of the timepiece. I like, on the steel one, this combination of gray tones. e dial is very sophisticated. It has, depending on how the light is catching the surface of the dial, it can be dark gray or light gray, so I really like it. —
The Maltese cross emblem influenced the design of collection’s cases, buckles, rotors and lugs.
Vacheron Constantin’s new Caliber 1326 features an openworked rotor with a Maltese cross motif.
Christian Selmoni, director of style and heritage at Vacheron Constantin
The Fiftysix Day-date in rose gold (Ref. 4400E/000R-B436)
The Fiftysix Selfwinding in steel (Ref. 4600E/000A-B442)
The Fiftysix Selfwinding in rose gold (Ref. 4600E/000R-B441)
The Fiftysix Day-date in stainless steel (Ref. 4400E/000A-B437)
The Fiftysix Complete Calendar in rose gold (Ref. 4000E/000R-B438)
The Fiftysix Complete Calendar in steel (Ref. 4000E/000A-B439)