Behind The Lens: Unique Piece Classic Date By Vianney Halter
Every newly acquired watch is special to its new owner, regardless of price, rarity, or maker. But I have to admit that there is a special thrill in the opportunity to own a unique piece from a very small independent atelier, especially when it includes some of your own design input.
Regular readers may recall my pal “Enzo,” a watch and car enthusiast who featured prominently in my article about the similarities and differences between car and watch buffs, Collecting Watches And Cars: What’s The Same And What’s Different?
Enzo boasts (if such a term can be applied to such a modest fellow) a stellar collection of independent watches, to which he recently added a real object of desire: a unique Classic from Vianney Halter that includes a date indication.
When I asked Enzo about his motivation in adding a unique piece by Vianney to his collection, he told me, “I’m interested in what history will determine to be the ‘greatest’ watchmakers of our time. Names like Philippe Dufour, Andreas Strehler, Kari Voutilainen, and Roger Smith come to mind. But, of course, no such list could be complete without Halter. As if being an incredibly skilled watchmaker was not enough, he is also a visionary.
“When it comes to collecting, I’ve always enjoyed the contrast between old and new. In the automotive world, Singer’s modern interpretation of the classic 911s is a great example. In watchmaking, Halter combines visionary design with the finest tradition of Swiss matchmaking. So, I was excited to add one of his watches to my collection.
“But, his watch that I most desired, the Classic, was a limited edition that had already finished production. Nevertheless, I contacted Vianney and expressed my interest in his work. Our conversation was far reaching and concluded with Vianney indicating that he could make a ‘piece unique’ Classic for me that would not violate the original production limitation as it would feature a date window at 6 o’clock.
“Not only that, but the date itself would feature the (kind of) odd/even color code that is traditional for calendars and that I had enjoyed on my desk calendar for decades. Needless to say, I jumped at the chance.”
Behind the lens: a photographic tour of the Vianney Halter Classic Date
And I jumped at the chance to take Enzo’s watch on loan for a couple of lengthy sessions in the light tent!
I’ve long felt that Halter doesn’t get enough credit for the quality that goes into the production and finishing of his cases. As with all of his other models, the Classic Date does not disappoint with its polished angles, crisp bevels, and – of course – trademark steampunk details that include cantilevered lugs with half-moon attachments, the bezel that recalls a steamship porthole, and of course the generous use of rivets throughout the design.
One other case feature of Halter’s watches that I’ve always loved is the curved, polished flange that links case to dial, both intensifying the show of light on the dial and providing funhouse reflections of the hour and minute tracks in its mirror-like surface.
The Classic’s crown deserves a mention as well: it’s fabricated from a pink gold tube that is then drilled to receive 24 tiny rivets inserted through its wall from inside, and then placed over the central cylinder of the crown assembly.
I admire makers who are able to develop a number of different references while maintaining a consistent and instantly recognizable design language; and with the hallmarks of his “Futur Antérieur” (roughly, the future as seen from the past) approach it’s clearly evident that the Classic comes from the same family as, for instance, my Vianney Halter Antiqua perpetual calendar.
I suspect that Enzo has already spent many hours contemplating the dial of his Classic as it’s a true beauty. In traditional Halter style, the dial is engraved with indices and logos that are then filled with enamel. In this case a striking blue that is a departure from the standard black color used in prior Classics, which harmonizes well with the blued hands and the color used for the odd-numbered dates in the “roulette” date indication.
It’s not a simple task for any designer to add a date window to a watch, particularly when working with an established dial layout that was originally created without one. I think that Halter, in consultation with Enzo, has done an excellent job with this one. The width of the window gives us a hint on each side of the alternating date colors without showing full multiple dates as with other similar designs; the blued triangle draws the eye to today’s date; and the highly-polished bevels and sharp corners add visual interest to the other brushed, frosted, and polished surfaces on the dial.
The interruption of the hours’ “railroad track” between 5 and 7 o’clock is, in my opinion, another good choice, especially as the date indicator triangle doubles nicely as an index for 6. And the hand design and execution, from the heat bluing to the meaty minute and hour hands to the tiny point on the second hand counterweight, are worth spending time to consider at length.
For some reason, when I look at the image above I’m seeing a smiling face that’s winking its right eye at us, which to me is consistent both with the spirit of the watch and with Vianney himself. Then again, maybe I’ve been staring at watch photos a little too long!
On the reverse side of the Classic Date, we’re greeted with the familiar look of Halter’s original production of 250 standard Classic pieces, of course including the patented “mystery rotor” with its synthetic sapphire crystal disk connecting hub and rim and providing a clear view of the underlying movement.
One obvious difference from other examples: the “Piéce Unique” and “Classic Date” inscriptions on the rim of the automatic winding weight, the latter in the position normally occupied by the Vianney Halter logo.
The VH100 movement, a significantly modified Lémania 8810, is pleasingly finished; while it lacks any sharp interior angles, it does feature crisp, broad, and well-aligned stripes and gleaming polished sinks.
Shooting the Vianney Halter Classic Date
I’ve now settled into a routine of using the Hasselblad X1D mark II and matching XCD 120 macro lens for my light tent work, and one challenge that presents is that in the absence of a tilt-lens capability almost all photos need to be made from multi-image stacks. But the resolving power of the lens is so good that for me it’s worth the extra effort.
The Classic proved to be a fairly easy subject to photograph; in particular, the brushed bezels are simpler to light and shoot without unwanted reflections than are polished surfaces, and the rivets, lug shapes, and dial details provide a great deal of visual interest.
I did have a few challenges with the bright reflections from the dial and in getting the lighting just right to show the striping and other movement details to best advantage, but a second pass in the tent yielded the desired results.
Final thoughts from Enzo and I on the Vianney Halter Classic Date
In my view it’s great to see collectors working with independents on patronage projects like Enzo’s Classic Date, and I’m also encouraged to see Halter both executing these sorts of commissions and creating small new series like his Classic Anniversary, a limited edition of 20 pieces.
By sheer coincidence, just today I saw a newly delivered Anniversary on a friend’s wrist: just for fun, here’s a quick shot for comparison.
Back to the Classic Date! Parting words from Enzo:
“I really enjoyed working with Vianney through the design and production process and I’m thrilled to have my unique piece Classic Date. The highlight of the experience was certainly meeting Vianney in person at the 2019 SIHH to take delivery of the watch.
What Vianney may lack in marketing and social media he more than makes up for in skill, vision, and historical importance. And, he’s also a great guy!”
For more information, please visit www.vianney-halter.com/the-watches.
Quick Facts Vianney Halter Unique Piece Classic Date
Case: 36 mm pink gold case with brushed bezels and polished case band; front and rear sapphire crystals; 40 ornamental rivets (12 on front bezel, 4 on lugs, 24 on crown); polished curved flange
Dial and hands: multilevel dial; engraved, enamel-filled indices and logos; heat-blued hands; recessed date window at 6 o’clock with polished bevels
Movement: automatic Caliber VH 100 (modified Lémania 8810) with mystery sapphire crystal rotor; 4 Hz/28,800 vph frequency; 40-hour power reserve (specifications for Lémania 8810)
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; date
Limitation: unique piece
Price: not disclosed
Production year: 2019