Vacheron Constantin patrimony minute repeater have always been making wonderful minute repeaters. As one of the Grand Maisons of haute horologerie, VC’s striking watches always impress. Be it those which are adorned by other complications like the VC 57260, with its 56 other complications, or just plain time only repetition minutes, like Vacheron Constantin Patrimony Ultra-thin Minute Repeater 1731 in this review.
First, a personal anecdote.
In 1995, a young but already seasoned collector entered the Vacheron Constantin boutique at Quai de l’Ile, Geneva. He was served graciously by the staff of the boutique, who also offered a tour of the private museum housed in the upper floors. After the tour, he was ushered into the salon, and shown a Patrimony Minute Repeater. It was a plain watch. Perfect in proportions. But unadorned. A plain, round platinum case, a dial showing only the hours, minutes and a subsidiary seconds hand. And a slide on the side. Push the slide, and release. And heavenly tones entered the salon. The watch struck the hours, quarters and minutes in the most beautiful, most harmonious tone the young collector had ever heard. Each strike was perfectly timed. Each strike, perfect in tonality, and each decaying slowly, reveberrating through the tiny, thin case. And each strike etched in the mind of the young collector. Never was he to forget the sound.
That seasoned collector, for the uninitiated, has developed his appreciation of all things horology, and have become this veteran author. And the sound of those strikes, some 20 years ago still linger, and remain fresh. In those ensuing years, he had experienced many minute repeaters. From the revered Patek Philippe 3939 and 5016 to the Philippe Dufour Grande Sonnerie and recently the Lange Zietwerk Minute Repeater. But the VC remained a reference standard. And never had he heard an equal. Until today. Maybe.
The Vacheron Constantin Patrimony Ultra-thin Minute Repeater The first appearance of the Patrimony Ultra-thin Minute Repeater was in 2013, when the watch was available in rose gold with a opaline off-white dial. The watch is now announced at Watches & Wonders 2015 cased in a platinum case. The same VC manufactured caliber 1731 powers the watch, and is the thinnest minute repeater in the market, clocking in at only 3.9mm in height, in a case which is only 8.09mm thick. It held the record for world’s thinnest minute repeater watch in 2013. But was soon unseated by Jaeger LeCoultre in 2014. The caliber 1731, however, is still the current holder of the World’s thinnest minute repeater movement.We covered that release in an article here. We then compared it to the Jaeger LeCoultre Hybris Mechanica 11, in comparison, has a case thickness of 7.9 mm beating the VC by a tiniest sliver of only 0.19mm. The JLC movement, however is the C.362 which is 4.8mm thick. Nearly 1mm thicker than the VC 1731. JLC had managed to squeeze a thicker movement into a thinner case. This also an apple to oranges comparison, as the JLC is also equipped with a tourbillon and the thin case hides a very clever peripheral rotor making it an automatic winding movement.
During the recent Watches & Wonders we only managed to photograph the silvered opaline dialed version of the new platinum watch. The watch is also available in a slate grey dial, which is perhaps a bit less muted. Both are monochromatic, but highly legible.A wallpaper sized image measuring 1920 pixels x 1200 pixels is available for download. Click here for a free license to download on the condition that it is only used for non-commercial, personal use with no modifications of any kind.
Sonics: the true test of a minute repeater
And this is where the VC excels. Hands down, the best sound from any repeater we have heard. As was the VC repeater which the author heard way back in 1999, the new VC 1731 is a reference standard. Aural memory does not last 15 years, so it is impossible to compare. We also did not manage to compare this platinum cased watch with its rose gold cased brethren. When we did the impressions review of the RG 1731, the striking works was still being tuned, and then, it did not give us goosebumps. But this current platinum version does initiate goosebumps, even though platinum tends to dull the sound, as it is a denser meta than gold.
And the same emotions of 1999 returned as we listened to this latest VC. Each strike perfectly timed. Each tone, beautifully articulated. Each decay resonating harmonically. The strikes emerge from a dark aural background. A black silence due to the silent regulator on the 1731 movement. Magnificent.
The volume of the strikes are no slouch either. The piecing tones can be easily heard in a typical room, over quiet, polite conversation. But in comparison the measurably louder JLC repeaters, it pales. The high volume strikes of the JLC are achieved with their Trébuchet hammers which strike out a loud decibel. However, we feel the tonality of the VC strikes are much more pleasant to the ear. Less clinical, more harmonic, more artistic than the louder JLC. More emotional. One can almost feel the musician behind the tones.
How does VC achieve this? Attention to detail abounds in the design. The gongs are connected to the case middle so as to amplify the sound. In an effort to product a more harmonious tone, the gongs are stacked instead of being laid out side by side in a classical repeater. The case is specially tuned to enhance the acoustics. Diverse factors like airflow from the gongs to the outside is considered. And the case is built without joints which can interfere with the transmission of sound waves.
Each watch is tuned by a specialist, and after the final tuning, the sound is recorded as a high resolution file for the archives. When the watch returns for servicing, the sound file is retrieved and consulted, so that the watch can be re-tuned and returned with the same sonic signature after service.
Needless to say, the movement is finished wonderfully. All the traditional finnisage points are addressed par excellence. Visually, it is an exciting movement. The bridges are well laid out, with nice sharp points, both inward and outward pointing.The thin-ness of the movement is apparent in the photograph above. In context, the VC’s achievement of a movement thickness of only 3.9mm is quite amazing. This compares well with the Piaget Altiplano 900P at 3.69mm and the Jaeger LeCoultre Master Ultra Thin Jubilee at 4.05 mm. These are specialist ultra-thin movements. Two hands showing just the minutes and hours with no complication.The photograph above shows the VC 1731 Silent Regulator (seen in gold finish under its own bridge held by a gold chaton. Also visible on the top of the photograph is the spring which powers the hammers. The spring is wound when the slide by the side of the case is pushed, and unwinds when the slide is released. The speed of the unwinding is governed by the Silent Regulator. As the regulator spins, its wings open, and uses air resistance to moderate its own rate. This is silent as compared to the buzz in a traditional repeater.
As a note of interest, VC is not the only repeater using this style of regulator. The Credor Minute Repeater also uses a similar air resistance assisted regulator.
A wallpaper sized image measuring 1920 pixels x 1200 pixels is available for download. Click here for a free license to download on the condition that it is only used for non-commercial, personal use with no modifications of any kind.
The Vacheron Constantin Patrimony Ultra-thin Minute Repeater is a remarkable watch, It ticks the right boxes. Elegant design. Slim, svelte and discrete. Beautiful aesthetics, both on the dial side, but also on the movement and the case design. And most important of all in a minute repeater, superb sonics. The raison d’être of a striking watch. And it does this with aplomb. Out of a silent, near black aural background, emerges the magnificent tones. Clean, clear, perfectly timed, and beautiful decay harmonics.
And for this author, the emotional connection to his experience with another VC repeater some 20 years ago, floods the pleasure centers. Perhaps causing a momentary lapse in objectivity. But haute horlogerie is not mere science or engineering. But it is based on subjective emotions. The core and very essence is the passion and the appreciation for the artistic. And for this, the Vacheron Constantin Patrimony Ultra-thin Minute Repeater fulfills. Retail price is S$633,400.