Vacheron Constantin FiftySix Self-Winding, Day-Date, And Complete Calendar: So Fresh They Snap!
At the 2018 SIHH in January, Vacheron Constantin, one of the world’s oldest watch manufactures, surprised observers by introducing a whole new line to its staid permanent collection: the aim of the new FiftySix is to appeal to a younger clientele with a retro contemporary style in line with current vintage-spirit trends in the watch industry.
The FiftySix was greeted at the time of its introduction with generally positive comments, but I still decided to let the three new watches sink in a bit (and get to retail) before putting my thoughts down on paper. It’s not that the FiftySix is so wildly different from the brand’s traditional lines such as the Traditionnelle and the Overseas, but it is new, and new at a manufacturer with the standing of Vacheron Constantin deserves serious contemplation.
The idea of the FiftySix is so new that the press materials proudly herald their positioning, reading “ . . . instills a modern momentum capable of opening up the world of fine watchmaking to every enthusiast.”
One of the major ways the brand backs this up is by offering the collection in both red gold and stainless steel cases – for the first time in Vacheron Constantin’s history these two most popular metals are available in the same collection at the same time. Yes, that’s new too.
I am not saying this newness a bad thing. In fact, I think it’s a good thing as every brand needs to evolve to survive: 263 years is a very long time for any one brand to continue to manufacture consistently, so Vacheron Constantin – founded in Geneva in 1755 – certainly can look back on an unparalleled depth of knowledge and expertise honed over nearly three centuries.
And it shows in bringing out new lines such as the FiftySix.
Vacheron Constantin FiftySix: vintage inspiration
The origin of the FiftySix’s design, however, is old: it is kind of a reinterpretation of Reference 6073, which the Geneva-based brand launched in – you guessed it – 1956.
The 1950s was a particularly creative era of design for Vacheron Constantin thanks to the prominent contrast between dial classicism and bold case design. Reference 6073 combined the traditional with the innovative in a particularly appealing way for its time.
Another classic element of 1950s Vacheron Constantin was the round case, however bold (or not) they were at the time, the round cases had to be expertly designed in order to stand out. And this particular case was unusual in that it was water resistant with a multi-layer case back.
Reference 6073 was also one of the first Vacheron Constantin watches to be powered by an automatic movement: Caliber 1019/1.
The FiftySix line has several characteristics visible in Reference 6073 (and Vacheron Constantin watches of the 1950s altogether), including the Maltese cross, the brand’s unmissable symbol found on the FiftySix’s dial and rotor – and also lightly echoed in the shape of the lugs.
Another bridge between the past and the present is the box-style sapphire crystal, a harmonious nod to the Plexiglas or mineral glass crystals of yore. Modern technology now allows for this attractive element to be manufactured in scratch-resistant sapphire crystal.
And even though the inspirational Reference 6073 did not have a sector-style dial, the new FiftySix collection does have it. You may recall that the Master Control watches Jaeger-LeCoultre introduced at SIHH 2017, which did not continue as a full sub-collection of the Master line, were also styled in this attractive vintage manner.
Finally, the FiftySix collection’s case diverges some from its real-metal inspiration as its designers opted to recess the crown a bit, making it less obvious design-wise and less prone to poking the wrist.
Vacheron Constantin FiftySix: two new complicated watches
The most complicated of the three new watches is the FiftySix Complete Calendar. As Martin Green recently explained in Vintage Eberhard & Co. Les Quantièmes: A Complete Calendar At A (Relatively) Affordable Price, this is a calendar style that sort of fell out of vogue in the last two decade of watch history. For one to reappear right here within a contemporary collection also reinforces the vintage vibe of the new line.
The term “complete calendar” simply means a normal – not perpetual and not annual – calendar with displays that go over and above the date, “complete” referring to a comprehensive range of displays. Here we have the date, weekday, month, and moon phase. Pretty complete, I’d say.
This complete calendar also boasts a precision moon phase indication, which will only be off by one full day every 122 years (should it remain wound for that long). A standard moon phase indication needs correcting once every three years if it remains wound for that long.
And the sector-type dial is dominated by the moon phase with its 18-karat gold moons against a deep blue night sky, which stretches across the bottom third of the dial and is balanced out by the rectangular windows for the day and month across from it.
The FiftySix Day-Date is no less attractive with its bicompax subdials displaying the day and date, while the power reserve indication placed between 6 and 7 o’clock forms an unexpected element to enliven the dial.
The sweep second hand hacks when the crown is pulled out to ensure precision setting.
Flipping these watches over reveals the amazing details of the new calibers developed especially for this collection, the eye searching out the details. One of these is the new open-worked design of the 22-karat gold rotor, which features the brand’s Maltese cross emblem. The rotor also makes its rounds on ceramic ball bearings that require no lubrication, enhancing longevity.
Ceramic ball bearings also allude to the 1956 Reference 6073 as its Caliber 1019/1 automatic winding rotor ran on ruby rollers instead of the typical steel ball bearings. Even then the brand was looking for sensible technical solutions in the service of longevity.
Vacheron Constantin FiftySix: the entry-level “Self-Winding” model
Think away the fairly unromantic “Self-Winding” name for a moment (that’s likely a hurdle) and look at the watch itself: you will discover it is right in line with both Vacheron Constantin’s past and the desired current trend for vintage styling with contemporary details. The good looking Self-Winding will undoubtedly be a popular powerhouse of the FiftySix collection.
This watch also marks the new entry level for Vacheron Constantin, inviting the prospect of new consumers and enthusiasts with its much lower stainless steel price tag than the rest of the brand’s collection.
But, of course, the ability for such a watch from this legendary maker to become such an entry-level piece comes at a small price.
I am all for the intelligent way that Vacheron Constantin generally plans the use of its movements. The approach of conscientiously using and re-using reliable classics makes a lot of sense to me, and these movements’ fine finishing in line with the strict rules of the Geneva Seal that the brand then applies makes them beautiful and desirable beyond reason in addition to superbly functional.
But what made me stop for a moment is that this entry-level model is powered by a base movement used for the first time in a Vacheron Constantin watch: automatic Caliber 1326, which is produced by parent company Richemont’s ValFleurier technical center and based on the architecture of the Cartier 1904 movement. Cartier is a sibling brand to Vacheron Constantin in the Richemont Group.
Caliber 1326 is finished, assembled, and regulated by Vacheron Constantin’s own watchmakers. And it does not have the Seal of Geneva.
Cartier Caliber MC 1904 was introduced in 2010 and forms the base of a number of Richemont brand movements – including Piaget Caliber 1110P and a very wide variety of Cartier calibers. It was strategically designed from the get-go to be very flexibly used this way.
To my thinking, this fits into the philosophy of the house of Vacheron Constantin, which has used and re-used its many technical classics as needed. But for a dyed-in-the-wool fan of the highest end of horology – where Vacheron Constantin’s reputation rests – this might present a philosophical quandary. Especially since the movement does not have the Seal of Geneva, a pillar of pride for the brand.
However, when you take into consideration that the Self-Winding is meant to represent a doorway to the brand and not the end station, it is worth asking oneself whether any of that is really important.
What is important is that after eight years of being utilized in countless watches, this movement is surely out of its teething stage and on to the mature reliability it needs.
All in all, this is a very round new addition to the Vacheron Constantin collection, one that is bound to introduce the legendary brand to a new generation of watch buyers and enthusiasts. And welcome aboard!
For more information, please visit www.vacheron-constantin.com/en/watches/fiftysix.
Quick Facts Vacheron Constantin FiftySix Self-Winding
Case: 40 x 9.6 mm, stainless steel or red gold
Movement: automatic Caliber 1326 produced by Richemont’s ValFleurier and based on the architecture of the Cartier 1904, power reserve 48 hours
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; date
Price: $11,700/€11,500 (stainless steel); $19,000/€19,100 (red gold)
Quick Facts Vacheron Constantin FiftySix Day-Date
Case: 40 x 11.6 mm, stainless steel or red gold
Movement: automatic Caliber 2475 SC/2, power reserve 40 hours; Seal of Geneva
Functions: hours, minutes, hacking seconds; date, weekday, power reserve indication
Price: $17,900/€17,000 (stainless steel); $33,400/€31,800 (red gold)
Quick Facts Vacheron Constantin FiftySix Complete Calendar
Case: 40 x 11.6 mm, stainless steel or red gold
Movement: automatic Caliber 2460 QCL/1, power reserve 40 hours; Seal of Geneva
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; date, weekday, month, moon phase
Price: $23,500/€22,400 (stainless steel); $36,800/€35,000 (red gold)
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Also published on Medium.