The purchase of an object d'art watch:
A vintage Vacheron-Constantin

The story of the purchase of a watch made in the best ages of Swiss watchmaking

Click on small images to view large ones!

1. A long way to go...
It was on July 14th, 2003 when I finally, after all these years, startet to write down my PhD thesis! What a date, after having survived several years as a PhD student in molecular biology! At that time I did not know that it would take me another year to complete the work, but anyway, the fact that most of the preparatory and the experimental work was accomplished would warrant a significant purchase!
But there was something more, and most important: more watch related: The opportunity to write the world's first article on the most complicated wristwatch in the world, Lord Arran's Ultra-Complication, a collaboration between Louis Elysée Piguet, Franck Muller and the Zurich based master watchmaker Paul Gerber. A once-in-your-life chance!
I decided to celebrate these two important events in my life with the purchase of a most significant, timelessly beautiful watch built upon the standards of ultimate watchmaking art.

Not an easy task for a student with limited funds! Several of the current offerings came to my mind, but quickly vanished. Not what I was looking for! It thought of someting time-proven, of ultimate quality, in technical, aesthetical and finishing terms. A difficult task, especially on a budget. But then, after remembering that there was a certain vintage Vacheron Constantin...

... a 'Ducati with upright shaft (the German term is much more poetic: 'Königswelle'! One could translate this with King's cam lobe...) and Desmodromic', as my good watchmaker friend, a master watchmaker, former employee of IWC and Lange & Soehne (he co-developed the IWC Doppelchronograph, the JLC Reverso Tourbillon and the A. Lange & Soehne 'Pour Le Merite'), described it: a throughbred watch with an equivalent movement inside, time-only without date: yes, this very subtile, destinctive and extremely refined watch would be worth to remember me on these two significant events during my entire life!

I knew that this watch was in his private possession for two or so years, but unfortunately: 'Not for sale!'!! What should I do? I was prepared to spend a significant amount of money for it, I was even prepared to the fact that this purchase would mean: no more watches for the next one or two years... And now the object of my desire is unreachable!
But at least this time in my life the luck was on my side! My friend felt that I was r-e-a-l-l-y in deep love with this watch, and he also understood that I knew what kind of watch this example is: it is not only a watch form a top swiss house, but it is also watch worth a top house! Sandro sympathised with me and my situation, and he sold me this most beautiful Vacheron Constantin subject to the following strict conditions: I'm not allowed to sell it, and if I should ever be in need to sell it, then only to my girlfriend Isabelle!
I quickly agreed, and my friend was really surprised how fast he would have to live without the Vacheron Constantin! Proudly he handed the masterpiece in my hands...

The Vacheron-Constantin feels perfect on my wrist, and one would not believe that she only has a diameter of 35mm!

2. The fine watch:
The Vacheron Constantin carries the designation Ref. 6268, features a beautifully sculptured 18kt rose gold case and is, according to the Extrait d'Archives which was kindly supplied by the Maison Vacheron Constantin, made in 1958. For its age, it is in a remarkable condition, especially the dial and the hands, which show some staining, but nothing which
could not be removed during a service. Please also note the slightly raised contours of the 'Vacheron & Constantin' inscription on the dial (small images below, left). These are the result of a specific technique of enamelling the inscription, preventing the fading of the script over time, but at the same time also quite time-consuming and expensive to craft. Vacheron Constantin used it in several watches, Patek Philippe as well, but to a lesser extend.
The case has a slim case band with an architectonic rim, further emphasising the flatness of this watch (small images below, middle left). The true height is only revealed upon a view on the back, demonstrating that the movement inside cannot be of ultra-flat construction (thanks god it is not, but it rather is a perfect stage to showcase watchmaking art; small images below, middle right).
On the inner side of the case, a fine matter finishing, the goldsmith hallmarks as well as the Reference number and the case numbers are found (here digitally edited; small images below, right).

Inside ticks a Vacheron-Constantin Calibre P454B (12 1/2", 5mm height, 18.000bph, screwed balance, hairspring with Breguet overcoil, swan's neck regulator), with the cap jewel set in black polished steel plate. This example here is the rare 18 jewel version (this is the first example and one of only two I have seen of a 18 jewel P454/B, even Vacheron-Constantin's dealer catalogues only mention the 17 jewel versions), handwound of course and with Parashock shock absorber:
The movement is constructed in an appealing bridged design, leaving much surfaces left to submit to a marvellous hand finishing. Particularly the area around the escapement gives a mouth-watering effect on a true watch conaisseur. The perfectly polished swan's neck micro-regulator (large image and small images below, left) is complemented with beautiful finishing of the adjacent bridges and remarkably precise engravings (small images below, middle left). Note that you can even see detailed reflections on the Geneva stud carrier and mirrowed engravings on the balance wheel (small images, middle and middle right). Just scrutinise the regulator: The polishing work done is astonishing!
Originally, the swan's neck was missing. After I contacted Vacheron Constantin, they quickly offerd to send me one - for free (small images below , right)! This is what I would call dedication to the customer!
We want to risk a closer look at the remarkable hand finishing done here. The litmus test ist the black polished steel plate on the cap jewel. The mirror effect, the fit to the pallet cock and also the anglage are flawless. Of special dramaturgy is the tension between the black polished steel and the anglages surfaces on the opposite bridge (large image and small images below, left). It goes without further explanation that also parallel edges such as the ones of the minute wheel bridge and the central seconds cock on its top are absolutely coherently decorated (small images, right):
The excellent decoration does not stop where collectors look first. All edges are exceptionally anglaged and polished, the rims of the wheels are anglaged as well, and the jewel bearings feature polished countersinks (large image and small images below, left), Examine the elaborate shape of the teeth of the ratchet wheel! Like wise, the Côtes Genevoises have just the tiny breath which makes them appear like snow drifts (small images below, left). The engravings, as already mentioned, are machined with high precision and nicely filled with gold (small images, right):
Even with its minuscule cosmetical imperfections, such as a little bit of dirt and some rust film (clearly indicating a need for a service!) this watch is a witness of the great era of Swiss watchmaking. It carries everything a fine watch could feature, and several aspects, escpecially related to handwork, which are either astronomically expensive or plainly not available any longer these days. I feel honoured and proud to own this piece. Of course I have to thank many people who helped me in my decision!

P.S.: This is the first watch that my girlfriend liked on the first view! :-)
The images are taken with a Nikon Coolpix 950 (workshop photos) and an Olympus E-1 digital SLR with a 50mm Zuiko ZD Macro lens, a remote flash and a self-made perspex lighthouse.

Magnus Bosse © July 2003 Last update 06 December 2006

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