In-Depth: The Vacheron Constantin Patrimony Traditionnelle Tourbillon
There’s a new automatic whirlwind in the brand’s collection.
When a representative from Vacheron Constantin asked me if I’d like to spend a little time with the Patrimony Traditionnelle Tourbillon in rose gold, I’ll admit that my interest was piqued. The prospect of owning a six-figure high complication in a precious metal is pretty far from where I am in my own collecting journey; the idea seemed almost ridiculous, but in a most positively intriguing way. I asked another editor here what he thought about such a story. He said, “If they’ll actually lend you one of those, then yeah, that would be awesome.” Try one on for a week, I thought? Aw heck, why not.
Researching this story, I learned with the aid of Vacheron Constantin’s heritage department that the first wristwatch tourbillon from Vacheron was the reference 30050, manufactured between 1990 and 2000. According to Carole Lambelet and Lorette Coen’s book The World of Vacheron Constantin, the caliber 1760 movement inside this watch was developed with Nouvelle Lémania; one of these rare birds sold at Sotheby’s, in 2016, for CHF 62,500. Some other important tourbillon wristwatches date to 2005, a year that marked the 250th anniversary celebrations for the Geneva maison. These early models combined the tourbillon with other complications.
These included the Saint-Gervais and the Tour de l’Ile, the former combining its tourbillon with a perpetual calendar and a 250-hour power reserve that was a nod to the company’s milestone anniversary year (actually, the four barrels provided for 270 hours, with a stop mechanism capping the the reserve at 250). The latter, the famous Tour de l’Ile, was named for the historic home of Vacheron Constantin in a tower atop a small island, situated at the confluence of the Rhône River and Lake Geneva. Vacheron has since returned to this property, and Jack went up the tower for a visit back in January. The Tour de l’Ile was produced in an extremely limited run of seven pieces, and had 16 complications, with an initial price tag of $1.5 million.
One of the more memorable recent wristwatches to come from Vacheron Constantin was another tourbillon with an extended power reserve. The Patrimony Traditionnelle 14-Day Tourbillon arrived on the scene in the run-up to SIHH 2012, and brought with it a beautiful tourbillon mechanism with a cage inspired by the Maltese Cross, the symbol of VC. It was a beautiful, hand-wound 42mm gentleman’s dress watch with a pretty staggering two-week power reserve via four barrels. When I first became aware of this watch, my thoughts immediately turned to Patek Philippe’s own 10-Day Tourbillon, and how Vacheron had eclipsed that watch’s lengthy reserve in a rather dramatic fashion. Perhaps that was the idea, I thought at the time. And that watch also came at time when Vacheron was redoubling its commitment to the Geneva Seal, in contrast to Patek, which had adopted its own, internal Patek Philippe Seal in 2009.
The watch you see here is very much in line with the design of that original Patrimony Traditionnelle 14-Day Tourbillon from seven years ago, but now it features a new automatic movement. The reserve is pretty dramatically reduced – down to 80 hours, in fact – but it’s automatic, which means that it’s constantly being wound as you go about your day. So there isn’t really any issue with the reserve. Either way, both models have been designed without even a simple calendar complication.
The idea that the long power reserve is there to spare you the trouble of re-setting the time or date should the watch accidentally run down, isn’t really an argument for the long power reserve in these particular tourbillons – instead, I think it’s there as a demonstration of horological prowess. Moreover, neither is exactly the kind of watch that is easy to imagine making one’s daily wearer. It’s a solid precious metal tourbillon, the kind of watch that I’d probably be afraid to wear on my subway ride to work.
In a move that saved overall height while preserving a view of the movement – which is just as impressive to behold as in the 14-day variation – Vacheron opted for a peripherally mounted 22k gold rotor. The rotor can be seen skirting the outer edges of the finely adorned caliber 2160, a 2.5 Hz (18,000 vph) Geneva Seal beauty that Vacheron makes in-house and adjusts in five positions. In recent years, we have seen the release of several peripheral rotor tourbillons from Breguet, Carl F. Bucherer, and Bulgari, but it’s still a somewhat unusual combination. The finishing on this movement is everything that you’d expect from a caliber created in compliance with the criteria set forth by the Seal. The plates and bridges come sumptuously adorned with Geneva waves, the screw heads are black polished, and the edges are finely beveled.
The rotor itself is decorated with hobnailing, as well as the company name and the Maltese cross. But if I can be allowed one overall aesthetic criticism of caliber 2160, it is that the inner gearing on the peripheral rotor, which engages with the rest of the automatic winding train, seems a little out of place with the fine finishing on the rest of the movement. This, however, does somewhat derive from the use of a peripheral rotor in conjunction with a traditionally construced movement, and a trade off the benefit of which is having an automatic movement, with the entire movement always visible.
In case you’re wondering, this watch doesn’t replace the hand-wound 14-day tourbillon, it merely joins the Patrimony Traditionnelle product family and comes with a slightly different set of features. From a price comparison standpoint, the original 14-day tourbillon is going to cost you $254,000 in rose gold, and $348,000 in platinum with a movement that has been skeletonized, while the watch you see here is set to sell for $118,000 in rose gold and $149,000 in platinum.
I prefer the dial of this new model over its 14-day precursor because it feels a bit cleaner without the power reserve indicator. It’s also more symmetrical, with the company’s name and the Maltese Cross moving to the 12 o’clock position. Looking closely at the rose gold hands, indexes, and Maltese Cross on the silvered opaline dial, you can see that they have been assiduously polished in a manner befitting a watch of such gravity, from a manufacturer of this stature. The printed track for the minutes is a nice touch that’s echoed in the track for the subsidiary seconds; it’s a one minute tourbillon, which means you can have a running seconds hand just by putting a hand on the pivot of the tourbillon cage – or, as in this case, having one of the four upper cage screws with a different finish from the other three.
On the wrist, the Patrimony Traditionnelle Tourbillon has the presence that one should expect from a 41mm x 10.4mm solid gold wristwatch, and the large, visible tourbillon mechanism seems to accentuate this effect. But it’s also a watch whose proportions, and whose quality of design, allowed it to wear very well on my seven-inch wrist – this despite being a size that’s just north of that of the watches I normally wear. At times the contrast of this watch against the flannel shirtsleeves so typical of my late winter/early spring wardrobe was striking, so I found myself trying to up my sartorial game during my time with this watch, if only to let it really sing.
Going about my daily routine while wearing an exotic, solid gold tourbillon was an experience that was memorable in a way that other lengthy test drives might not have been. Friends, on more than one occasion, actually reached out to grab my wrist mid-air so as to have a closer look at what to them surely seemed the ne plus ultra of luxury wristwatches. There is something about a tourbillon that gets this kind of incredulous reaction from people. A perpetual calendar or a split-seconds chronograph can muster an air of functional plausibility that a baroque, early early 19th-century mechanism cased up in solid gold, it seems, cannot. In a way this is a simple watch – its only indications are for the time, after all – but it’s an exceedingly well-executed one.
The Vacheron Constantin Patrimony Traditionelle Tourbillon is priced at $118,000 in rose gold. A second, platinum version will be made in a limited edition of 25 and will join the Excellence Platine Collection. Find out more about the Traditionelle Tourbillon at Vacheron-Constantin.com.