Vulcain 50s Presidents’ Watch – Cricket President
The Vulcain 50s Presidents’ Watch – Cricket President is crafted in a small atelier in Le Locle. Vulcain produced the first production alarm watch in 1947. Furthermore, the brand has become a firm favourite of several US Presidents. Angus Davies looks closely at one version equipped with a luxuriously-appointed blue dial with a date display.
In my native country, numerous firms yearn for a Royal Warrant to be displayed on their building, products and stationery. The inference of the words ‘By Appointment to HM The Queen’ on packaging is that if a product is good enough for royalty it must be of the finest quality. Moreover, a Royal Warrant cannot be purchased. It is only awarded to those companies who have supplied goods or services to HM The Queen, HRH The Duke of Edinburgh or HRH The Prince of Wales for the last five years and continue to be engaged in a trading relationship. All Royal Warrants are granted by HM The Queen.
While the Swiss watch brand, Vulcain, lacks a Royal Warrant, it has repeatedly supplied watches to US Presidents. The list includes Truman, Eisenhower, Johnson, Nixon, Obama and, more recently, Trump. Again, this relationship has authenticity and effectively validates the quality of Vulcain’s models.
The aptly named, Vulcain 50s Presidents’ Watch – Cricket President features the brand’s legendary alarm function. When it was unveiled in 1947, it was the first production alarm watch. The alarm is comprised of numerous components dedicated to waking its wearer. Once the alarm time arrives, a hammer strikes a stop pin repeatedly, 1300 times per second, creating a shrill ring. The cavity between the movement and the case back, amplifies the sound of the alarm.
Recently, I spent some time with an example of the watch, equipped with a blue sunray dial.
The dial of the Vulcain 50s Presidents’ Watch – Cricket President sits beneath a glass box sapphire crystal. Dauphine-style, silver-toned hour and minute hands articulate the time in combination with matching baton-type indexes. The classically shaped hands and slender indexes imbue the dial with a becoming elegance.
The central sweep seconds hand is equipped with a fletching-style counterweight, further heightening the model’s notable grace. An additional hand sets the alarm time (see later). The tip of this latter hand is triangular and incorporates a silver, textured surface. It is legible without marring the dial’s pure appearance. The edge of the dial curves gently downwards towards the case and is marked with minutes, used when setting the alarm.
Vulcain offers a selection of different cricket watches, this particular reference (160151.326L/BK) comes with a date indication, positioned at 6 o’clock. Black numerals are presented against a white date disc. Some purists may argue that the date disc should be the same colour as the main dial surface. In theory, they would be correct, however, this modification would incur significant additional cost for minimal benefit, thereby justifying Vulcain’s approach.
Operating the alarm etc
The Vulcain 50s Presidents’ Watch – Cricket President is fitted with two barrels. One barrel delivers power to the escapement while the second barrel provides energy for the alarm function. In order to energise the barrels, the crown is rotated clockwise for one barrel and counter-clockwise for the other (while in position 0 – crown flush to the case).
If the crown is pulled out to Intermediate position 1 and rotated anti-clockwise, the hour and minute hands can be adjusted.
Pressing the pushpiece twice at 2 o’clock causes the crown to pop out to position 2 (fully out). The alarm hand can be set when the crown is rotated clockwise. Once the alarm time is selected, the crown is pushed fully home (position 0) and the alarm is armed.
To deactivate the alarm, the pushpiece at 2 o’clock is pressed once, causing the crown to move to position 1.
When the alarm is ringing, the wearer need only press the pushpiece at 2 o’clock to cancel it. A caseband corrector, located at 09:30 is used to adjust the date indication.
Despite my lengthy explanation, energising the barrels and operating the alarm proves very simple.
Vulcain indulges prospective purchasers with a broad choice of models, including 39mm and 42mm case options. This particular Cricket-equipped model is housed in a 42mm stainless steel case. It exhibits a classical appearance and should retain its appeal for many years to come.
The company has not specified the case thickness, however, the height of the timepiece meets the obligatory ‘fits beneath a shirt cuff’ criteria discussed by legions of watch bloggers.
The case measures circa 50mm from lug to lug, indicating the lugs are slightly elongated. This aspect, along with the lug’s gentle downward trajectory imbues the case with a notable degree of finesse.
A sliver of vertically satin brushed steel spans the case band and the lug flanks, while other surfaces are brightly polished. The aforementioned pushpiece at 2 o’clock has a smooth vertical flank and a capstan-like shape, while the side of the crown is embellished with crosshatching.
Appraising the Vulcain 50s Presidents’ Watch – Cricket President at close quarters reveals the brand hasn’t skimped on the materials it has used. For example, the black strap is formed of premium alligator leather with an attractive grain and proffers a luxurious tactile feel.
Vulcain is one of an elite band of Maisons which is a Manufacture, a term used to describe a company that makes a watch in its entirety, including the movement. One glance at the Caliber V-16 reveals several desirable details.
The hand-wound movement is adorned with straight graining and frosting, while blued screws grace various surfaces. The movement contains 199 components, including 25 jewels.
Interestingly, the balance has a frequency of 18,000 vph (2.5Hz) which is a cadence seldom seen today. As a result of this modest frequency, the second hand exhibits a relaxed, calm gait as it moves just 2.5 times per second. Personally, I find this an endearing trait which is compatible with the classic dial design and glass box sapphire crystal.
As I mentioned earlier, the movement features two barrels. One barrel serves the escapement while the second barrel drives the alarm. This is an eminently sensible approach. Should the wearer sleep through the alarm, something I doubt would happen, the barrel serving the escapement would remain unaffected, ensuring the timekeeping aspects of the watch would continue to function correctly.
A common crown wheel/transmission wheel is fitted to a pivoting bridge. Depending on the direction the crown is rotated, determines which direction the pivoting bridge moves and whether the crown wheel engages with one ratchet wheel or the other. Both ratchet wheels are openworked and, because they work independently, each is fitted with its own dedicated click.
The movement bears the word ‘Exactomatic’. This proprietary system, patented in 1946, is designed to ‘equalise the friction on the balance-wheel axis in all positions by modifying the Incabloc endstones’. This makes the amplitude more consistent, aiding precision.
The Vulcain 50s Presidents’ Watch – Cricket President shares a similar appearance to Vulcain timepieces of the 1950s. Despite the passage of time, the model still looks attractive and relevant to the present day. Moreover, given it still looks appealing some 70 years later, its allure should remain undiminished for years to come.
The exhibition case back allows sight of the Cricket’s alarm. When the alarm sounds, the sight of the metal hammer striking the pin proves hypnotic. The resultant sound resembles the noise of a cricket rubbing its wings together, vindicating the choice of model name. The alarm could not be described as melodious but it is very effective. Depending on whether the watch is affixed to the wrist or placed on a surface, and its distance from the ear, determines the sound volume. Using a simple iPhone app, I registered the alarm at 90 dB, which by any measure is loud.
When appraising the composition of a watch, you inevitably try to position it within the marketplace. The quality of the dial, indexes, case construction, movement and even the strap, in my opinion, place this Vulcain on talking terms with Jaeger-LeCoultre and Zenith. Considering the quality of its execution and the presence of the alarm function, the asking price of £4990 seems very reasonable.
Another aspect of Vulcain ownership is the exclusivity granted by its models. The company is based in an exquisite villa in Le Locle. Time-served hands craft watches at benches, employing traditional techniques, making few concessions to productivity. Availability is restricted by production capacity, hence only a few people, other than US Presidents, are likely to enjoy the pleasure of wearing one of these delightful watches.
- Model: Vulcain 50s Presidents’ Watch – Cricket President
- Reference: 160151.326L/BK
- Case: Stainless steel; diameter 42mm; water resistance 5ATM (50 metres); sapphire crystal to front; exhibition case back.
- Functions: hours; minutes; central sweep seconds; date; alarm
- Movement: Calibre V-16; self-winding movement; frequency 18,000 vph (2.5Hz); 25 jewels; power reserve 42 hours.
- Strap: Black alligator leather paired with a steel pin buckle
- Price: £4,990 including VAT (RRP as at 22.6.2020)