BY WALT ODETS
What has four wings, flies only in circles, and always wants to land back on your wrist? For one thing, a Vacheron &
Constantin wristwatch from about 1940.
More properly, the Vacheron shown right has, not wings, but triple-tiered teardrop lugs. It is a classic Vacheron of the period. While well-to-do bankers
and businessmen might have preferred their quiet Pateks, our Vacheron suggests why those with less conservative tastes and a bent for style often preferred the Vacheron. At 35.3 millimeters in
diameter, it was a very large watch for its day. It is 8.3 millimeters thick from its snap-on back to the dome of its “unbreakable” crystal.
Typical of the period, the case is constructed in two pieces. One is the snap back in combination with “dust cover” to hold
the movement. The second piece is the combined bezel and case band with attached lugs. The lugs, each of which is slightly different from the others are soldered to the case band by hand (left
The dial includes many lovely details, including highly stylized applied 18K Romans alternating with cabochons. In the
watch at hand, the dial is, unfortunately, refinished. The grained finish (right) on the hour chapter is almost certainly not original
The poor quality of the lettering is another indication of refinishing.
The unevenness and lack of sharpness in other details is also characteristic of a refinished dial. The very finest refinishing does not exhibit most of these defects.
The movement of this VC reflects the zenith of Swiss watchmaking. Based on the Jaeger LeCoultre caliber 452, the movement is huge by
contemporary standards: 13.5 lignes (30 millimeters) and almost 4 millimeters thick. With 17 jewels, the watch uses a cap jewel on the escape wheel upper pivot, but a replaceable bushing on the lower
center wheel pivot (arrow, left). Although this was common practice, Vacheron’s finest movement of the day would have been 18 jewels with a jewel in this high-load position.
In this particular watch, the bronze center wheel bushing showed considerable wear and needed replacement.
Another common point of wear in vintage watches is the area of the mainplate supporting the shoulder of the winding stem (left)
. Here, the wear in this watch was minimal, but a more advanced condition would require an oversize stem.
The escape wheel cap jewel is carried in a characteristic black-polished plate screwed to the escape wheel cock.
The disassembly allowed better cleaning in the days before ultrasonics. At right is the cock (1) and cap jewel plate (2).
Assembled in the watch, these parts provide a handsome appearance and minimize running friction for the escape wheel in the dial-up position.
(Dial-down is a largely unencountered position for a watch, and cap jewels, at either end, serve no function in vertical positions.)
The caliber 452 shows many lovely details of construction. Note, for example, the careful chamfering around virtually all holes in
The assembled top plate, left.
The wheel train bridge, including center (1), third (2), fourth (3), and escape (4) wheels.
The wheels, themselves, are masterfully finished.
© 2016 Bourne in Time Inc.