The Vacheron Constantin FiftySix collection hands-on
I'm an engineer who loves Haute Horlogerie and..the finest Italian cuisine.
Among my passions and interests, after engineering and watches of course, there is cooking. I find it to be a deep form of culture, which can tell a lot about the history of a place, of people, of a nation. Last 19th June the Osteria Francescana in Modena – run by the Italian chef Massimo Bottura - was nominated, for the second time, World's Best Restaurant, according to the "50 Best" ranking.
The cooking philosophy of this Modenese chef is based on the careful and meticulous study of tradition, but objectively observed in this case; the idea behind this concept involves trying to avoid experiencing that feeling of nostalgia that tends to bind us all to custom, while, instead, trying to take with us into the future only the best that custom has to offer. But what does all this even have to do with watches? I'll try and explain it in a minute.
Bridging Tradition to Future
Among all the haute horlogerie brands, I believe that Vacheron Constantin is the closest to the idea that Bottura has of tradition and of the need to read it in a different manner. His idea is extremely current, multidisciplinary and should encourage everyone to analyse and understand how the influence of tradition in their very own field could help grow, innovate and improve.
Take a look at what the brand has for example done with masterpieces like the Vacheron Constantin Les Cabinotiers Celestia Astronomical Grand Complication 3600 or the Vacheron Constantin Traditionnelle Perpetual Calendar Squelette.
Vacheron Constantin boasts an immense archive of styles and calibers
If we were to examine the different models and collections available in Vacheron Constantin's catalogue, it would be impossible not to notice how the critical approach of tradition has long been adopted by the Geneva brand. The Traditionelle collection, the Patrimony and, of course, the Historique have deep roots in the past and even contain perfect re-editions of models from 70 years ago (such as the Vacheron Constantin Historiques Triple Calendrier 1942 and 1948), but they nevertheless still show a certain degree of modernity that reflects in the use of current materials, new manufacturing techniques or in the modernization of shapes.
The more than 260 years of history of this brand undoubtedly provide a great deal of culture and tradition, from where designers can draw inspiration to create recognizable, iconic watches of high quality and rich in history. This year, however, Vacheron Constantin decided to go even further. With its new FiftySix collection the maison came up with an innovative line inspired by a 1956 watch that gives an impulse of modernity and opens up the doors of haute horlogerie to a larger number of enthusiasts by providing them with an "affordable" price –at least based on the standard and the positioning of the brand.
The starting point; the 6073 reference
The reference to which the FiftySix collection is inspired to is the 6073. It represents one of the first Vacheron Constantin watches to be equipped with an automatic movement (the 1019/1 calibre – a very reliable and precise calibre) and feature some characteristics that, today, we might consider as exclusive to the brand, such as the lugs shaped like the arms of the Maltese cross.
Already in the 50s this model was a good mix of tradition and spirit of innovation thanks to the fine balance between the classic dial and the geometry of the case; it is therefore the perfect starting point to develop the idea and the message behind the maison’s vision of tradition.
The arrival point; the FiftySix
The new Vacheron Constantin FiftySix is available in two versions, one in 5N gold and one in steel, but with three different complication combinations. In my opinion it is quite interesting to see what the links to tradition and the current history are so as to better understand the areas on which Vacheron Constantin’s designers worked on. Let’s take a look at the first points;
The Maltese cross; the lugs take inspiration from the arms of the cross that is the symbol of Vacheron Constantin, exactly like the 6073.
The Box-type glass; the shape of the glass is of the "box” type and definitely leans out from above the bezel.
The self-winding movement; all models, even the complicated ones, are equipped with a self-winding movement - both an homage to the 6073 reference and a matter of practicality and robustness of the calibre given the target audience the collection is addressed to.
And as for the second ones;
Steel or gold; for the first time a Vacheron Constantin collection comes both in steel and gold, without any difference between the two versions. We all understand how steel has established itself in the world of watchmaking and is back in fashion even when it comes to haute horlogerie.
A special care for the calibre: the calibre sports very visible finishes through the sapphire glass case-back. The Côtes de Genève decoration, the perlage, the spiral grinding and the skeletonization of the rotor are the undisputed protagonists on this watch.
A trick of the light on the dial; if the Arabic numerals interspersed with the baton-style indices are a clear reference to the 50s, the different shades of the dial used to separate the complications from the small parts are, instead, a very modern technique that gives depth and personality to the watch.
The size; the case measures 40mm in diameter and this size represents a modern but not too excessive dimension that allows a good balance and does not excessively distort the traditional watchmaking criteria from the 50s.
As you may have noticed, the traditional details are connected to the correct use of shapes and to the elegance that has always distinguished every Vacheron Constantin watch, while the modernisation work is being carried out on materials, decorations, dimensions and on the evolution of the dial too. If we were to objectively take a look at the 6073 reference, the element that best identifies the watch as a "vintage" timepiece is the dial, that is also the element that was disrupted and modified the most to make the FiftySix more modern.
Three models are available; a self-winding one, a day-date with power reserve and a complete calendar.
They all sport the same case size (40mm in diameter and 11.6mm in thickness), the same degree of waterproofing up to 30m (3 bars) and the same skeletonized oscillating mass made of 22-carat-gold with an applied Maltese cross.
Vacheron Constantin FiftySix Self-Winding.
The self-winding FiftySix is equipped with the 1326 calibre featuring 48 hours of power reserve and it is a classic three-hands-timepiece with date indication. The alternation between the Arabic numerals and the gold baton-style indices revives the monochromatic dial with its double opal-soleil effect.
The hands are covered with glowing material and the watch is available with an alligator strap with a steel deployant buckle or with a gold pin buckle in the shape of a Maltese cross depending on the version selected. The retail price is 11,800euro for the steel version or 19,600 euro for the gold one.
Vacheron Constantin FiftySix Day-Date.
The FiftySix Day-Date is equipped with the 2475 SC/2 calibre with the week days indications, the date, the power reserve and the canonical small parts. The week day and the date are indicated by two counters (slightly reminding us of the bicompax design typical of the old chronographs) placed symmetrically at 9 o’clock and 3 o’clock, respectively, while the indication of the power reserve is placed at 6 o'clock via an hand indicator.
The oscillating mass is equipped with ceramic ball bearings that do not require any lubrication, thus increasing the movement duration and also reducing the need for servicing throughout the entire life of the watch. The retail price is 17,400 and 32,600 euro for the two different versions with the Geneva Seal. The straps, the buckles and opal-soleil decorations on the dial are the same as those of the FiftySix base.
Vacheron Constantin FiftySix Complete Calendar
The FiftySix complete calendar is the flagship model of the collection and is equipped with the 2460 QCL/1 calibre with the indicators for the weekday, the month, the date, the moon phases and the classic small parts. The month and the day of the week are indicated through two small windows placed below the Vacheron Constantin logo, the date is indicated through a special hand showing the Roman numerals placed around the dial, while the moon phases are indicated at 6 o'clock through a canonical half-moon marker and gold moons.
The arrangement of the complications is quite similar to that of the Vacheron Constantin Historique Triple Calendrier 1948. The moon phases need to be adjusted every 122 years. The retail price is 23,000 and 35,900 euros, respectively. The straps and the decorations of the dial are the same ones available on the other Vacheron Constantin timepieces. Even these complete calendars have been awarded the Geneva Seal.
Which one should you buy?
Among all the models I think that the most interesting versions are the time-only and the steel complete calendar models. Steel is easier to wear than gold and given the target of "new enthusiasts" to which the collection is addressed, it is also less challenging. The time-only version is a perfect high quality entry-level watch retailing at a more affordable price than any other modern Vacheron Constantin timepiece, while the complete calendar is perfectly in line with the trends from the last one and an half year.
Have you noticed how many perpetual or complete calendars have been released by the various manufacturers? Patek Philippe released the Nautilus Perpetual Calendar 5740-1G, Audemars Piguet the Royal Oak RD#2 Perpetual Calendar Ultra-Thin and Vacheron Constantin with the Overseas Ultra-Thin Perpetual Calendar Rose Gold. It is undoubtedly an interesting complication from a mechanical point of view, but it is also useful in everyday life and having a steel version allows the customer to enter the world of haute horlogerie at a more affordable than in the past.
(Photo credit: courtesy of Marco Antinori for Vacheron Constantin)
Andrea Frigerio @Horbiter®