The Historiques Collection from Vacheron Constantin is the home of a number of critic and fan favorites, including the Cornes de Vache chronographs and the oh-so-deliciously-thin Ultra-Fine 1955. It also includes the quirky but extremely appealing American 1921 “Driver’s Watch,” with its unusual angled dial. Today Vacheron’s announced several major new additions to the Historiques family: two versions of two closely related, and quite wonderful, triple calendar and moonphase references from the 1940s, and a new version of the American 1921 in a new, significantly smaller case. Let’s take a look at the calendar and moonphase watches first.
The Historiques 1942 And 1948 Triple Calendrier Watches
The triple calendar watches are very similar, but there are actually two different models based on two different versions of the reference 4240, which first debuted in 1942. The reference 4240 had claw lugs and was 35mm in diameter, with a stepped bezel, day and month windows, and with the date shown by a pointer. The movement for the reference 4240 was the caliber 485; this was based on the time-only Vacheron caliber 453, which was based on the Jaeger-LeCoultre caliber 449. The movement was reworked and finished to a very high level and a center seconds version, the caliber P1008/BS, was used in the mid-20th century in Vacheron’s hand-wound versions of the Chronomtre Royal (one of the most lovely instances of the art of the hand-wound movement you could ask for). The original reference 4240 was produced in yellow or rose gold and, interestingly enough, in steel, but with rose or yellow gold lugs. They are quite rarely seen for sale or at auction. There was also a slightly larger version: the reference 4241, in a 35.5mm case (one version of the 4241 had very 1940s hooded bar-shaped lugs).
The 4240 (and the 4240L) were produced at an interesting time for Vacheron Constantin; the company was struggling in the late 1930s, thanks to the effects of the Great Depression, and there was actually a merger between Jaeger-LeCoultre and Vacheron under the umbrella of a holding company called SAPIC (SocitAnonyme de Produits Industriels et Commerciaux). This explains the extremely close working relationship between the two firms, and the extensive use of Jaeger-LeCoultre movements by Vacheron not only in the 4240 series but in other watches as well.
The new Historiques Triple Calendrier 1942 is being produced in steel only and it is not a limited edition. It’s not identical in every detail to the reference 4240 but it is instantly recognizable as a follow-on to the original. The case is a more modern size, at 40mm x 10.35mm in diameter and of course case construction is more modern, with a 30 meter water resistance. The movement in the new Triple Calendrier 1942 model is a modern one, of course: Vacheron’s 12 1/2 ligne (29mm) caliber 4400 QC, which is based on the hand-wound caliber 4400. Caliber 4400 is actually a fairly recent movement: it was launched in the Historiques 1921 when the watch first debuted in 2008. Caliber 4400 was preceded by the hand wound caliber 1400 in 2001, and also by the automatic caliber 2450 which was Vacheron’s first automatic movement (the caliber 1400 was Vacheron’s first in-house basic hand-wound movement since the merger with Jaeger-LeCoultre).
In addition to being a very engaging reworking, with modern materials, and careful style tweaks, to a rare and attractive vintage watch, the Historiques Triple Calendrier 1942 is priced very accessibly (relatively speaking) for a modern complicated watch from an haut de gamme firm: $19,500.
The Historiques 1948 is a somewhat different proposition, although just as with the Historiques 1942, there are very obvious similarities between it and the ref. 4240 vintage watches. Both watches feature a triple calendar complication with a pointer for the date, along with a sub-seconds register at 6:00 (you’ll notice, by the way, that the six is absent in the 1942; this is actually a very common feature in both vintage wristwatches and pocket watches with sub-seconds dials so much so that pocket watches with sub-seconds dials are sometimes called “six-eaters.”) However, the Historiques 1948 models are being offered in rose gold, rather than steel, with slightly more elaborate dials and most importantly, with a high-accuracy moonphase complication.
The Historiques 1948 is based on the reference 4240L, which was also 35mm in diameter, and which used the caliber 495 (basically, it’s the 4240 but with a moonphase disk; the L was for “lune”). In all other respects, 4240L was identical in general quality, inside and out, to the 4240, and like the 4240 it’s rarely encountered at auction or at dealers. As with the Historiques 1942, the Historiques 1948 is a very careful, modern update to the design, with identical case dimensions to the 1942. The moonphase disk comes in either red or blue, with red or blue numerals for the date track. Unlike the 1942, which has transfer printed dial markers, the Historiques 1948 has applied Roman numerals at 3, 9, and 12 o’clock, and applied triangular markers for the remaining hours (except at 6 o’clock). While the 1942 has plain beveled edges for the day and month windows, the 1948 has gold surrounds and the whole effect adds up to a subtly but definitely more formal presentation that the Historiques 1942.
Technically the biggest difference between the two watches is of course the high precision moonphase, which is accurate to one day’s error in 122 years. As with the more elaborate dial treatment, the moonphase adds considerably to sense of formality of the Historiques 1948, and very much gives it an air of mid-century, nostalgic romance. Unlike the Historiques 1942, the Historiques 1948 is a limited edition (200 pieces) and the price will be $35,000. Both models should be available in December 2017.
The Historiques American 1921 Small Model
The Historiques American 1921 has an interesting past. The original version of the watch was first delivered to the US in 1921 (no surprises there) and only 12 were made, over a ten year period between 1921 and 1931. According to Vacheron, the original used the Vacheron caliber RA 11 ligne “Nouveau Amrique” movement, and the first piece sold in the US went to the Rev. S. Parkes Cadman, who was a prominent Congregationalist minister and radio broadcaster known for his outspoken criticism of anti-Semitism in the years leading up to World War II. When the new version was released in 2008, Vacheron’s Christian Selmoni said, “We had been eyeing this watch since 2006; it has an original typically ’20s design and yet is far from being outdated. It’s neither masculine nor feminine and yet very sophisticated.” The rose gold case of the 2008 model is 40mm x 40mm and as we mentioned, it was the launch platform for the hand-wound Vacheron caliber 4400 as we mentioned, the second in-house simple hand-wound caliber produced by Vacheron after the caliber 1400, in 2001.
The caliber 4400 is a 12 1/2 ligne (28.6mm) movement and in the 36.5mm version of the American 1921, it really fills up the 36.5mm x 7.25mm case beautifully. The lug to case width ratio has been adjusted to ensure that there’s enough clearance between the crown and the lugs, that hand-winding the watch is comfortable; this would be an extremely enjoyable daily wear watch for anyone who loves the American 1921 but prefers something a little less evocative of a pocket watch. The Small version of the 1921 is going to come with two straps: dark brown alligator, or the gloss finished red strap you see here.
The Historiques American 1921 small model is a non-limited edition watch; price will be $29,200 and as with the Historiques 1942 and 1948 models, it should be available starting in early December of this year. To see the entire Historiques Collection, visit Vacheron Constantin online.
Here are some additional photos of the new Historiques, courtesy of Vacheron Constantin: