Dress watches are where my passion for horology began. As a young kid I would sit on my grandparents’ couch, staring at my grandfather’s gold Longines, with its glossy black dial, thin case, and tiny diamond at 12 o’clock. To me, it represented the pinnacle of adulthood – elegance, experience, knowledge, and all.
But the world looks very different now than it did when our grandparents grew up, and that totem of adulthood might look a little different as well. Few watchmakers, let alone true manufactures, have a history of producing dress watches so emblematic of the time in which they were made as Vacheron Constantin. Whether it’s their rectangular watches from the 1920s and 30s, the now archetypal tear-drop lug cases of the 1940s and 50s, or the restrained, round ultra-thins of the 60s, they maintain a certain DNA while balancing timelessness and sense of place.
Thanks to the good people of Vacheron Constantin North America, I had the opportunity to spend a week wearing one of their distinctly 21st century dress replica watches, the 41mm Patrimony Traditionnelle Self-Winding in rose gold. This outstanding timepiece is a perfect fit for the man who wants to nod to the past while standing firmly in the present. And although this watch features no complications (not even a seconds hand), there is a lot going on here to understand. I’ll take you through it below.
Inside the Patrimony Traditionnelle Self-Winding is Vacheron Constintin’s ultra-thin calibre 1120. We have spoken about this famous movement before (when introducing you to Vacheron’s Patrimony Contemporaine Auto Excellence Platine) but it has an important place in watchmaking history and warrants some further discussion.
The VC 1120 goes by many names. Audemars Piguet calls it the 2120, Patek Philippe calls it the 28-255, and Jaeger-LeCoultre calls it the 920. While Jaeger-LeCoultre has never finished or cased the movement for its own swiss replica watches, it did originally design and manufacture the 920 in the mid 1960s, as the thinnest full-rotor automatic movement in the world. When AP sold its minority share of JLC to Richemont 12 years ago, they retained the rights of manufacture and ownership of the JLC caliber 920, and currently own it singularly.
The original 920 was only 2.45mm thick (as is the 1120 in this watch), though a date module (as used in the Royal Oak from the very beginning) brings it up to 3.05mm. It also had a Gyromax balance from day one, as well as an anti-shock system. The winding rotor’s mass is concentrated on the outer rim, which sits just outside the perimeter of the rest of the movement. This lets the rotor sit more flush to the movement, making the whole package slimmer than it could otherwise be while retaining the full-rotor winding system. Ruby rollers support the outer edge, otherwise the weight would pull the rotor down on top of the movement.
The 920 (by whatever name) is the only calibre to be used by the trinity of Vacheron Constantin, Audemars Piguet, and Patek Philippe, and it has only been used by those three manufactures. Both the Royal Oak (1972’s Ref 5402) and the Nautilus (1976’s Ref 3700/1A) were launched with 920-based movements, though while the Royal Oak Jumbo (15202) still houses a 2120 to this day, Patek Philippe switched the Nautilus over to their in-house designed 335SC when the reference 3800 launched.
It really is a testament to this movement’s design that it was chosen by three of the finest manufactures around and is still being used in flagship pieces (among others) by two of them today – AP’s Royal Oak Jumbo, and Vacheron’s Auto Excellence Platine and Les Historiques 1968. The 2120 is also used both by AP and Vacheron as the base movement for a handful of complicated replica watches – the self-winding, ultra-thin nature is a perfect backbone on which to build.
The 920 / 2120 / 1120 is a highly sought-after movement by collectors, and while Vacheron’s use of this movement has been limited in the past, the introduction of it into the classical, elegant, and extremely popular Patrimony Traditionnelle line is surely to be met with fan-fare.
Vacheron Constantin prides itself on not only adhering stringently to the Geneva Hallmark standards, but also having helped create the new, more strict set of criteria in June 2012. An astounding 75% of Vacheron’s watches carry the Geneva Hallmark, including the watch at hand.
The original standards for the Geneva Hallmark were set in 1886, when Geneva’s local government established an optional set of inspection standards for watches made within the Canton. If you wanted to inscribe the name “Geneva” on your movement, that movement had to be up to standards. Think of this as relatively early brand protection for the Swiss watch industry.
There are two basic requirements for a movement to even be eligible for the Hallmark: 1) It must be assembled and adjusted in the Canton of Geneva and 2) it must bear its own individual production number.
From here, there are twelve criteria that have been around for decades, covering things like the prohibition of wire springs, particular requirements for polished and beveled surfaces, and specifications to ensure optimal escape wheel performance.
But earlier this year, the certification process became even more stringent. While we won’t bore you with every little change and addition, there are a few crucial categories that have been added to the Hallmark’s already rigorous list of requirements.
First is the introduction of specifications for components that link the movement to the case – previously, only the movement itself was covered under the Hallmark. This includes components like screws, push pieces, case rings, and other connecting elements. There is also now wear-testing, which makes sure that winding mechanisms (automatic or manual) work properly in simulated “real world” conditions. Water-resistance testing, power reserve verification, and chronograph power usage checks are all part of the review process now.
All of the modern Hallmark testing information is stored in a centralized database, and tests are only performed by independent third-party inspectors who work directly for the Hallmark agency. The idea is to use twenty-first century technology to uphold centuries-old standards, and to raise consumer awareness as to the impact these standards have on the performance of a watch.
But even with this rigorous testing, the Hallmark only guarantees so much. You know you’re getting an accurate, beautifully finished watch steeped in tradition – but this is no guarantee that you’ll actually like the watch. To get a better sense of the emotional and practical value of the Patrimony Tranditionnelle Self-Winding, I strapped it to my wrist and put it through some tests of my own.