Vacheron Constantin Historiques Cornes de Vache 1955
The Vacheron Constantin Historiques Cornes de Vache 1955 captures the beauty of the reference 6087 from 1955. It is endowed with a bi-compax dial, 38.5mm case, period cow horn lugs and a delightful hand-wound chronograph movement. Angus Davies appraises the watch at close quarters, allowing himself to escape the madness of the modern world.
Recently, my view of the world has changed. Along with the arrival of grey hair and a middle-age paunch comes an overriding sense that ‘the world has gone mad’. Allow me to elaborate.
I am no stranger to Instagram, incessantly posting images of watches for the delectation of fellow horophiles. However, I recently spoke to a lady who proclaimed ‘if you don’t put it on Instagram, it never happened’. She went on to explain that every meal she consumes in a restaurant and every social event she attends has to be recorded in digital technicolour and published for all to see. It seems that huge swathes of the population crave celebrity status.
A quiet meal in a gastropub with friends and family is a forgotten pleasure. Today, there is always someone who feels the need to share their conversation with their fellow diners. They seem to assume that their words are of huge national importance and insist on overshadowing all other discussions. In some instances, consideration and politeness have seemingly been cast aside.
Thankfully, haute horlogerie provides me with a welcome sanctuary in the midst of all this madness. Mechanical components are made to infinitesimal tolerances, finished to an exalted standard and work harmoniously and quietly to impart time. This rarefied work of excellence always assuages my middle-aged angst, causing my heart to return to andante beat.
In terms of high-end watchmaking, I am not averse to contemporary or avant-garde timepieces and I appreciate creativity and innovation. However, I also take much delight in handling historic or traditional watches. I suspect it is because they take me back to a time when everything made a little more sense.
The long-established Genevan firm, Vacheron Constantin, has shown a propensity to embrace the new while respecting the past. Earlier this year, it unveiled the ingenious Traditionnelle Twin Beat Perpetual Calendar endowed with two balances, each operating at a different frequency. In contrast, the luxury marque has recently unveiled the Vacheron Constantin Historiques Cornes de Vache 1955 in steel, a watch which embraces the aesthetic appearance of yesteryear. Indeed, it shares a strong likeness with the brand’s first water-resistant chronograph, the reference 6087.
Image – the reference 6087
Recently, I spent time with the new Vacheron Constantin Historiques Cornes de Vache 1955 and discovered a paragon of fine watchmaking. This glorious chronograph, so rich in period charm it is almost capable of transposing its wearer to an era where genteel conduct and good sense prevailed.
At this juncture, I think it is only right that I declare that chronographs are a horological weakness of mine. There are no other complications, save for the minute repeater, which invite the wearer to interact with the movement in quite the same way. The mere application of pressure to a push-piece, using solely the forefinger, orchestrates an array of levers and wheels to engage in conversation. Hands awaken and elapsed time is recorded. Few complications, including tourbillons, are as complex to make as a fully integrated chronograph.
The advent of the Vacheron Constantin Historiques Cornes de Vache 1955 has indulged my horological proclivity for chronographs. Furthermore, it has seductively sated another watchmaking fetish of mine, the bi-compax dial. Two registers, arranged on a horizontal axis from 3 to 9 o’clock, provide symmetrical elegance par excellence. In my opinion, while there are many chronographs endowed with a tri-compax layout, two registers, despite the mathematical contradiction, offers more appeal than three.
A grey ‘velvet-finished’ canvas provides an artistic backdrop at the centre of the dial. Each hour is denoted with a baton-type index, save for 3 and 9 o’clock, which are usurped by the aforementioned registers, and 6 o’clock and noon which are indicated with elongated Roman numerals. Everything is seemly and becoming.
The hour and minute hands are silver-toned and incredibly slender. I do wonder whether they would prove a tad more lucid if presented in black, however, perhaps that would disrupt the extraordinarily cohesive appearance of the dial. The minute hand reaches beyond the centre of the dial, floating above a chaste white minute track, embellished with discrete markings and red Arabic numerals. The smallest, crisp strokes indicate ⅓-second intervals, consistent with the 3Hz frequency of the movement.
Beyond the minute track is a grey-toned tachymeter scale, calibrated for 1000 metres. When observing a vehicle cover a measured distance of 1000 metres, the chronograph can be used to ascertain its prevailing speed. This is shown on the scale in a simple to understand form.
There is plethora of sweet-tasting treats to be found on this dial. The previously mentioned registers are snailed and framed with a chemin de fer. The subdial adjacent the crown is a 30-minute chronograph register and employs a blued hand, denoting it is for measuring elapsed time. Opposite, at 9 o’clock, the second subdial displays the running seconds and employs a silver-toned hand. This use of colour to differentiate the purpose of a hand extends to the blued central chronograph seconds hand. Below noon, the Maltese Cross, the Maison’s emblem since 1880, is applied to the dial membrane, conferring a wonderful depth to the horological vista. Moreover, the applied indexes also play with perspective in the same way, heightening the visual allure of the dial.
Today, most watches have a case diameter of at least 40mm, with some horological offerings measuring 45mm side to side. However, it was not always this way. In bygone times, watches measuring 34-36mm were considered large. Indeed, the reference 6087, the inspiration for the Vacheron Constantin Historiques Cornes de Vache 1955, measured 35mm in diameter.
Partially accepting that the watch-buying public have a propensity ‘to super-size’, this modern-day interpretation measures 38.5mm. Personally, with my redwood wrists, I usually favour larger watches, however, I found the Vacheron Constantin Historiques Cornes de Vache 1955 looked splendid on my wrist. I suspect one reason why the watch does not look undernourished relates to its sizeable lugs. The model’s nomen, ‘Cornes de Vache’ means ‘cow horns’ and refers to the unusual, asymmetric lugs. While the lugs provide a means of uniting the strap and case, the items fitted to this watch surpass the functional, conferring a high quotient of style.
Two capstan-like pushers grace the right flank of the case, straddling a neatly fluted crown. Each component proffers no-compromise quality and offers sublime ergonomic performance. Appraising the case closely every facet feels refined to nth degree.
To the rear of the watch, the caseback is 10-sided and incorporates a panel of sapphire crystal, affording splendid views of the movement within.
The watch is presented on a dark brown calf leather strap paired with a pin buckle. The pin buckle replicates 50% of a Maltese cross. Typical of Vacheron Constantin, the strap is not just a strap, but a Serapian strap from Milan. This high-end Italian firm makes a range of leather goods and in this instance it equipped the second loop on the strap with an ‘attacco’ shape usually found on luxury handbag handles. The surface is slightly patinated, augmenting the model’s vintage persona.
At this juncture you may be wondering what the case is made of? Well surprisingly, this version of the Vacheron Constantin Historiques Cornes de Vache 1955 is presented in stainless steel. I say surprisingly because I always associate the Genevan Maison with noble metals such as gold and platinum. Indeed, the first examples of this watch were offered solely in platinum and pink gold. Having already affixed the platinum version to my wrist a few months ago, I could easily have assumed an air of superiority and dismissed the new stainless steel model. However, the steel version is gorgeous and makes much sense. It is practical for day-to-day use, easier to polish (don’t do this at home) and, most pertinently, substantially cheaper.
One glance at the manual-winding 1142 chronograph calibre and, just for a few moments, everything seems all right with the world. While I appreciate many modern-day movements, I am often left frustrated by oversized bridges hiding the mechanical thought processes from my inquisitive eyes.
The Calibre 1142 indulges mechanically curious minds by freely disclosing wheels, levers, the balance and the column-wheel. Each lever and bridge is beautifully bevelled, conferring a brilliant gleam that would lighten the bleakest of moments. The screw and jewel sinks are polished to a glorious conclusion. The wheels are circular grained. The column-wheel features a mirror-polished Maltese cross at its centre. The pared-back bridges feature golden engraved text and the pins and pinions shine brightly.
Horological probity is omnipresent. The watch is fitted with a variable inertia balance. Unlike most watches which feature an index, the rate is adjusted by tightening or loosening the timing screws affixed to the rim of the balance wheel.
At this point, I must stress that not all the screws fitted to the balance wheel are for timing, some are for poising, ensuring the wheel runs true. If your car is fitted with replacement tyres, small weights are affixed to the wheel rim to ensure it runs perfectly and there is no unwanted wobble or vibration. This principle is extends to watchmaking, hence the need for poising.
Returning to the variable inertia balance (sometimes termed ‘a free-spring balance’), the spring ‘breathes more concentrically’ than a balance fitted with an index or curb adjuster. This is because this latter system involves nipping the hairspring between two curb pins and altering the effective length of the balance. This has a negative influence on the concentricity of the hairspring, impairing precision. Put simply, a variable inertia balance is superior.
On a modern balance wheel, the underside is cut, removing an infinitesimal amount of material in order to poise the balance, obviating the need for poising screws. On some variable inertia balances, masselottes are affixed to the spokes of the balance wheel to alter the rate of inertia and, by default, the timing of the watch. By combining these two approaches, a balance would not require screws, mitigating air turbulence, hence aiding precision. However, part of the charm of this watch is that it references a historical period when screws were widely used for poising and timing, hence I think the approach of the Maison is highly sensible.
There are two further refinements relating to the balance. Firstly, the hairspring features a Breguet overcoil. This enhancement involves raising the outer coil of the spring and laying it over the main body of the spring, causing it to wind and unwind concentrically. Secondly, the balance is fitted with a sliding stud carrier (see my review of the Vacheron Constantin Historiques Triple Calendrier 1942 for more details).
The exalted execution of the watch, including the movement, is independently certified with the award of the Hallmark of Geneva or Poinçon de Genève, providing further buyer peace of mind.
Vacheron Constantin has created yet another haute horlogerie creation, blessed with a pre-possessing appearance. The dial imparts information efficiently and the case sits comfortably upon the wrist, while the movement is the product of accumulated watchmaking know-how harking back to 1755.
By offering this model in a steel case, a greater number of would-be buyers are able to sample the sweet taste of owning the Vacheron Constantin Historiques Cornes de Vache 1955. In my opinion, those lucky individuals will not be disappointed.
In 1955, when the reference 6087 was unveiled, the Maison was celebrating its bicentennial year. It understood the importance of mechanical excellence and becoming aesthetics back then and it continues to do so today.
Sometimes, the world seems a strange place. Thankfully, on the outskirts of Geneva, there is a suburb called Plan-les-Ouates, which is home to one of the finest names in watchmaking. This is where likeminded individuals painstakingly create watches for the fortunate few. It’s a horological enclave I have visited on several occasions and, in my opinion, it is undoubtedly a haven of logic and virtue. Take a few moments to view the Vacheron Constantin Historiques Cornes de Vache 1955 and you too can escape the madness of modern life and embrace a discreet and quiet world that offers much sense.
- Model: Vacheron Constantin Historiques Cornes de Vache 1955
- Reference: 5000H/000A-B582
- Case: Stainless steel; diameter 38.5mm; height 10.9mm; water resistance 3ATM (30 metres) sapphire crystals to the front and back
- Functions: Hours; minutes; small seconds; chronograph
- Movement: Calibre 1142; hand-wound movement; frequency 21,600 VpH (3Hz); 21 jewels; power reserve 48 hours approximately; 164 components
- Strap: Dark brown calf leather strap paired with a steel pin buckle
- Price: £36,200 (RRP as at 22.9.2019)