Vacheron Constantin FiftySix Self-Winding

Vacheron Constantin FiftySix Self-Winding‘s simple watches have heretofore been offered largely in precious metals, and comparatively expensive; a two-hand Patrimony in 18k white gold is currently priced at $18,900. This year Vacheron is offering a whole new collection: the FiftySix collection. The simplest FiftySix models are the Vacheron Constantin FiftySix Self-Winding watches, which are being offered in pink gold or steel, and priced at $19,400 for the former and $11,700 for the latter.
According to Vacheron, this is the first time in history that the company has offered a “classic collection” (i.e. a non-sports model) in both a precious metal and steel. While the FiftySix collection isn’t nearly as formal as the Patrimony watchs (for example) and while you could also argue that the Quai de L’Ile watches are “classic” it is true that the new FiftySix watches have a more classic design (as well as being smaller than the Quai de L’Ile watches, which are comparatively quite large, at 41mm x 50.26mm). The feel is very 1950s, with a sector dial and alternating Arabic numerals and baton hour-markers, box crystal, and a crown recessed into its case; in fact the FiftySix is quite similar to a vintage Vacheron design from the mid-1950s – the reference 6073 – which was the inspiration for the modern design. There’s a new movement inside as well: the Vacheron caliber 1326, which is a 26.2mm x 4.3mm caliber with a pink gold rotor (the rotor is gold in both the steel and pink gold models). (Correction: Vacheron has clarified that this is not a Jaeger-LeCoultre movement; it’s produced by the Richemont Group’s Manufacture Horlogère ValFleurier and finished, assembled, and regulated by Vacheron Constantin.)
In both pink gold and steel, this is an attractive new addition to Vacheron’s collections of simpler watches and significantly expands its design vocabulary. While they’re inspired by a vintage model, the overall feel remains pretty contemporary and at 40mm x 9.6mm they’re a great size for an everyday wear watch, and a new movement from Vacheron Constantin is always welcome as well (the original reference 6073 was powered by the Vacheron caliber 1019, which was manufactured by Jaeger-LeCoultre but used exclusively by Vacheron, according to Hampel’s Automatic Wristwatches).
I suspect that initial reactions will be somewhat mixed, depending on how strongly you identify simple watchmaking at Vacheron Constantin with the rather more austere than not, round watches that (the Quai de L’Ile collection aside) have largely defined non-sports simple watches from Vacheron.
Personally I find these quite refreshing; Vacheron’s post-World War II case designs included some very interesting and original work (including the famous “Cioccolatone” case, which was the basis for the modern Toledo) and the steel model represents a very attractive way to get into Vacheron Constantin at a price that makes it a quite interesting new option in under-$15,000 fine watches. Vacheron is, I’m sure, aware that such a watch certainly fills a major gap in its existing collections but it’s also nice that it doesn’t feel or look like an entry-level watch per se.

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