Vacheron Constantin Traditionnelle tourbillon
The Vacheron Constantin Traditionnelle tourbillon incorporates the first self-winding tourbillon caliber developed by the Genevan brand, the ultra-thin Calibre 2160. Angus Davies reviews this watch in detail.
This detailed review of the Vacheron Constantin Traditionnelle tourbillon includes numerous images, specification details and pricing.
There comes a point in the lives of most budding watch collectors when they look beyond dials or complications and obsess about movements. The difficulty of deciding between a hand-wound watch or an automatic timepiece has kept many horophiles awake at night.
A hand-wound movement will typically be slimmer than an automatic movement. This is because a self-winding movement has an oscillating weight which sits atop the bridges, increasing the overall thickness of the movement and, as such, often making the watch bulkier. Some companies have addressed this with the use of micro-rotors or peripheral rotors which avoid increasing the overall height of the movement (see later).
There is also the matter of horological scenery. A manual movement bestows an unhindered view of the bridges, escapement, the ratchet and crown wheels. Furthermore, it sometimes reveals part of the gear train and, where applicable, the column-wheel. In a fine watch, these components will be exquisitely finished, bestowing a wonderful glimpse into a world where deft hands manipulate tools with breathtaking aplomb. A disadvantage of many automatic watches is that this magnificent mechanical vista is partially obscured by the oscillating weight, hindering the view of the flawless finissage.
The daily ritual of winding a manual movement proves comforting. For a few brief moments, careful consideration is devoted solely to the act of winding the crown at the exclusion of everything else. Irrespective of the pace of surrounding events, this daily act of energising the mainspring cannot be rushed. Regrettably, an automatic watch is unable to confer this daily pleasure.
An automatic movement can prove a low-maintenance love which requires minimal human input. Assuming the watch has not been left stationary for too long, there is no requirement to twist the crown. Many prospective purchasers of watches, select an automatic timepiece as a ‘daily-wearer’, drawn to the everyday convenience they offer.
A problem which afflicts many hand-wound watches is that the reduced tension of the mainspring reduces the amplitude of the balance. This has negative implications for the accuracy of the watch. There are sophisticated solutions to this problem including a fuseé and chain, remontoir or constant force escapement. However, arguably one of the simplest means of providing constant power is the automatic movement.
When an automatic watch is worn and fully wound, the mainspring torque is at its maximum. This leads to the balance operating at maximum amplitude and within its optimal range. Providing the wearer is sufficiently active, the mainspring will remain fully wound at all times and the amplitude of the balance will not lose oscillations. This aspect of an automatic movement provides superior accuracy.
Some companies have conceived a third-way, the automatic movement with a micro-rotor or a peripheral oscillating rotor. One company who has recently unveiled a timepiece endowed with a peripheral rotor is Vacheron Constantin. It encompasses the aforementioned benefits of a ‘regular’ automatic movement, but also grants an unhindered view of the Calibre 2160. This timepiece is a paragon of fine watchmaking, possessing a myriad of qualities.
The dial of the Vacheron Constantin Traditionnelle tourbillon is seemingly simple with a limited inventory of functions, however, closer examination reveals a plethora of exquisite details. The hours and minutes are expressed with golden, faceted Dauphine-type hands. Encircling the silver opaline dial, 18-carat pink gold ‘bâtons de Genève’ hour-markers tastefully denote each 60-minute interval. At noon, double batons announce their relative importance. Framing the epidermis of the dial is a chemin-de-fer, succinctly indicating 12-minute integers.
Positioned in the lower hemisphere of the dial is a 60-second tourbillon carriage. The carriage is open-worked and shaped like a Maltese cross, the legendary logo of this esteemed Maison. The rotating carriage indicates the running seconds and the aperture for the tourbillon is framed with a crisp seconds track.
Personally, I adore the views granted by the opening at the base of the dial. The screwed-balance and escapement wheel are clearly visible. Circular graining can be seen on the partially-exposed wheels. It is also a pleasure to be able to hold the watch to the light and look through it.
However, it is the tourbillon bridge which I admire the most. It has been painstakingly enriched with black polishing (also called mirror or specular polishing). The movement part is polished on a tin plate and is repeatedly smeared with varying grades of diamantine paste. Thereafter, the part is drawn over the tin plate in a figure of eight or circular motion until it exhibits a regular finish. After several hours are expended by a trained artisan, the component will evince a black or grey appearance depending on the position it is held. This type of polishing is the most difficult to execute and is typically found on the finest examples of watchmaking. Vacheron Constantin also state the tourbillon carriage ‘is entirely hand-bevelled, a craftsmanship operation that takes almost 12 hours for this component alone’. I don’t know the total number of hours expended on the complete tourbillon assembly of this timepiece but the attention to detail manifest reinforces my positive opinion of this esteemed Maison.
Often when an object houses much complexity it assumes bulky proportions. Surprisingly the scale of the Vacheron Constantin Traditionnelle tourbillon is comparatively modest. The case diameter is 41mm and the height of the watch is 10.4mm. While this timepiece may not be the thinnest on the market, it remains slender for a watch equipped with a tourbillon. Furthermore, the moderate proportions of the case imbue the watch with a seemly, understated appearance.
The bezel is also slim, providing greater space for the dial. The case-band is intricately formed and elegant. Below the bezel, the vertical flank of the case steps inwards, then increases in diameter around the central section of the case-band before its torso narrows again. This complexity evokes captivating clusters of shadow and, in so doing, heightens the allure of the case.
Located between the case-band and the case-back is a crenellated-style motif. The lug profile is equally complex with its stepped vertical plane. The lugs draw the dark brown alligator strap close to the case, encouraging it to envelop the wearer’s wrist.
An exhibition case-back affords views of the Calibre 2160.
The Calibre 2160 is the first self-winding tourbillon movement which Vacheron Constantin has developed and manufactured. It is ‘ultra-thin’, measuring a mere 5.65mm in height, explaining the aforementioned slenderness of the Vacheron Constantin Traditionnelle tourbillon.
Despite the svelte profile of the Calibre 2160, the movement is capable of storing sufficient energy for 80 hours of autonomous operation. The movement comprises 188 components, including 30 jewels, and the balance has a frequency of 18,000 vph (2.5Hz). The slenderness of the Calibre 2160 does not appear to come at the expense of virtue.
As mentioned earlier, the Calibre 2160 features a peripheral rotor, constructed of 22-carat gold. This runs in a channel, termed a ‘trottoir’, adjacent the movement bridges, hence occupying minimal space and contributing to the movement’s ‘ultra-thin’ appellation.
An upshot of using the peripheral rotor is that the movement can be viewed in virtually all of its entirety. The Calibre 2160 proves a delectable spectacle.
The tourbillon, a complication typically found on the finest watches, aids precision, countering the adverse effects of gravity on the rate of the balance. While this attribute is very relevant, prospective purchasers are more than likely drawn to tourbillons for the captivating sight of a rotating carriage. In the case of this tourbillon, the peerless finishing proves difficult to ignore.
The bridges are adorned with Côtes de Genève motif. Many other brands embellish bridges with a similar decoration, however, few of them are capable of matching the quality of this Genevan brand’s work. Each stripe is perfectly even and sits precisely parallel to its neighbour. Moreover, the stripes evince a clear and pronounced appearance without any trace of roughness. The decoration is applied by a small machine, skilfully operated by a time-served artisan, mindful of the amount of pressure needed to achieve the perfect result.
Wheels are circular grained, the screws feature chamfered rims, both the jewel and screw sinks are highly polished and the bridges are embellished with golden engraved text. Indeed, everything is refined to the highest order.
Personally, I have a horological fetish for bevelling. The Calibre 2160 features three kinds of bevelling. Firstly, rounded angles imbue the bridges with gleaming, sinuous contours, delivering a 45° angle between the bridge surface and the flank. Secondly, exterior angles feature on the outside edge of components, culminating in a sharp corner. Both rounded angles and exterior angles are often performed on a grinding wheel in conjunction with abrasive paste.
Lastly, the ultimate example of bevelling, is the hand-bevelling of interior angles. This kind of bevelling can only be performed by hand. The acute angle formed between two bevels prevents the use of machines. The bevelling of interior angles necessitates using files of different sizes in conjunction with abrasive pastes of varying coarseness. The internal angle formed between two bevels should fuse into a seamless line.
The width of each bevel should not twist or undulate and its 45° angle should be clear to see. Scrutinising the Calibre 2160, I could not discern anything less than perfection. Furthermore, the quality of Vacheron Constantin’s work is validated externally, illustrated with the Hallmark of Geneva gracing the case of the Vacheron Constantin Traditionnelle tourbillon.
The Vacheron Constantin Traditionnelle tourbillon is a complicated watch and yet, despite its complexity, the dial remains uncomplicated and simple to read. Indeed, the expansive dial area is free of clutter, displaying merely the hours, minutes and seconds. This high-end watch is the epitome of good taste courtesy of its seemly mien.
Vacheron Constantin has expended much time and energy on the case design. This is most noticeable with the case-band and lugs. Everything is beautifully detailed with stepped contours and crenellated decoration on the case-band. Despite my best endeavours, I repeatedly talk of ‘detail’ on this watch, but it is a word that often comes to the fore. Quite simply, sublime details abound.
Over the years, I have often been asked to justify the substantial cost of some of the watches I have reviewed. An informed look at the Calibre 2160 provides the answer. Each microscopic part is executed to the highest standard. The same skills employed in the 18th century, when Vacheron Constantin was founded, continue to endure today. The tourbillon bridge and carriage are painstakingly finished. Crisp Côtes de Genève and anglage stand testament to the time-served skills of Vacheron Constantin’s staff. The peripheral rotor delivers an unhindered view of matchless finishing, one of several attributes which distinguish this historical Maison as remarkable.
Some watch collectors favour hand-wound watches, while others prefer the convenience of self-winding timepieces. Ultimately, personal preference is likely to take precedence over all other considerations. However, I suspect anyone selecting the Vacheron Constantin Traditionnelle tourbillon will not suffer any cognitive dissonance, enjoying the benefits of both a hand-wound and self-winding movement coupled with outstanding finishing, befitting the words, ‘haute horlogerie’.
- Model: Vacheron Constantin Traditionnelle tourbillon
- Reference: 6000T/000R-B346
- Case: 18-carat pink gold; diameter 41mm, height 10.4mm; sapphire crystal to front and case-back; water resistant to 3 ATM (30 metres).
- Functions: Hours; minutes; small seconds
- Movement: Calibre 2160; Self-winding movement; frequency 18,000 vph (2.5Hz); 30 jewels; power reserve approximately 80 hours.
- Strap: Dark brown Mississippiensis alligator leather with alligator inner shell, hand-stitched, saddle-finish, large square scales, 18-carat pink gold folding clasp
- Price: £117,000 (RRP as at 22.8.2018)