Vacheron Constantin has launched a very special new timepiece named Patrimony Contemporaine Ultra-Thin Calibre 1731 which is currently the thinnest watch with a striking mechanism on the market (8.09 mm thick), as well as the one with the thinnest caliber of this kind (3.9 mm). Previously, there were actually thinner movements and watches with an audible representation of time (and one of those was released by the same brand back at the start of the 1990s), but this is the one with the smallest height that is currently being produced and sold. The main reason why Patrimony Contemporaine Ultra-Thin Calibre 1731 Minute Repeater is a bit thicker than the previous ones is the fact that it has raised functionality, since its hand-wound mechanical movement with the prestigious Geneva seal certificate of quality has an extended power reserve of 65 hours.
One of the Most Demanding Complications in Watchmaking
A minute repeater is a function where, after the activation (usually by a slider as it is in this case) of its striking mechanism, time is represented via three types of sounds – low pitched gongs signify hours, a combination of two types of gongs is used for quarter hours, whereas high pitched sounds represent minutes. It is an extremely difficult complication to make, since every single model with the feature is actually unique and its construction requires several months of skilled work of an expert craftsman. In Vacheron Constantin’s modus operandi, each minute repeater is made by just a single master watchmaker in the time frame of three to six months, while the task of creating it is viewed as the highest honor. In order to receive such an honor, skilled craftsmen must have at least 15 years of experience before they are moved to “Grandes Complication” workshop where they serve under the mentorship of a master watchmaker for two more years.
The Brand’s Knack for Ultra-Slim Striking Mechanisms
Historically, the complication was invented in 1776 by the English inventor and priest Edward Barlow. The importance of the feature was far more important at that time, since it enables the reading of time even when it is dark. Vacheron Constantin itself also has a long tradition of making timekeepers with minute repeaters – its first pocket watch with a striking mechanism was presented two centuries ago, in 1810. The first wristwatch with this complication saw the light of day in 1941 and, interestingly, it likewise had an ultra-slim movement named Calibre 4261. As it has been said, the Vacheron Constantin’s champion of thinness came in 1992 when it presented Calibre 1755 which had the minute height of 3.28 mm. However, this model has been discontinued and replaced with the new one – Calibre 1731 which involves higher functionality since it has a more lasting power storage.
With the launch of this brand new ultra-thin caliber, Vacheron Constantin has in a way spoiled the plans of Piaget which launched its Emperador Coussin XL model supplied with Caliber 1290P at the start of the year and marketed it as the thinnest available minute repeater. However, the Piaget model is still a record holder in its category, since this watch with the caliber thickness of 4.8 mm has an automatic-winding movement, unlike the new hand-wound watch from the Patrimony Contemporaine collection by Vacheron Constantin.
Innovative Caliber 1731
The current champion among thin minute repeaters was named Caliber 1731 in order to tribute the birth year of the brand’s founder, Jean-Marc Vacheron. Its creation proved to be a very laborious process, since it started back in 2009 and it required four years in order to be finally presented. Apart from being the slimmest on the market, Calibre 1731 can also pride itself with a flying strike governor used in the construction of its striking mechanism. Unlike the common minute repeaters which are built with lever-type governors, this brand’s innovation (which premiered on Calibre 2755, launched six years ago) is absolutely silent. Its function within the mechanism is to guarantee a steady rate of hammers which hit the gongs when the complication is activated. It is comprised of two weights which serve as a brake on the rotating shaft and even out the amount of energy which is delivered by the movement’s barrel spring with the use of centripetal and centrifugal forces. Another innovation included in the caliber is that the gongs of the striking mechanism lay side by side, as opposed to being stacked as it is common practice. They are also joined to the middle of the case, which in the combination with the previous trait strongly contributes to the amplification of the sound. Another step in this direction is the fact that the housing is constructed without joints.
Furthermore, it should be said that the thinnest caliber with a minute repeater complication on the market (3.9 mm) has the diameter of 14 ¼ lignes (32.8 mm), and that it operates at the rate of 21,600 vph. It is comprised of 265 parts in total and it integrates 36 jewels in its construction. It is opulently finished, and even the parts that are not visible are with a decoration. Its base-plate is graced with circular graining, while the hammers of the striking mechanism received mirror polished finish. Finally, the seven bridges of the movement are beveled and decorated with a Cotes de Geneve motif, while the mentioned flying strike governor shows the brand’s recognizable Maltese cross symbol. Most of these features can be seen through the transparent case-back of the timekeeper made from sapphire (just like the crystal at the front).
The Patrimony Contemporaine Aesthetics
The overall appearance of Vacheron Constantin Patrimony Contemporaine Ultra-Thin 1731 men’s watch is based upon an ultra-slender timekeeper from 1955 which was launched to celebrate two centuries of the brand’s existence. Nine years ago, Vacheron Constantin inaugurated the Reference 81180, the first model of the new Patrimony Contemporaine (the Contemporary Patrimony) series. The new watch is a part of this very same series and includes several aesthetic features that were modeled on the watch from 58 years ago. These traits include very thin profile, pebble shape of its 18K 5N pink gold housing (which is, by the way, with the diameter of 41 mm and without waterproofness), the presence of a curved bezel and a cambered dial, and a crystal of the same shape, as well as baton shaped hands that rotate around the dial which includes beaded minute markers and hour markers that are made in successive baton and triangular shapes.
Vacheron Constantin Patrimony Contemporaine Ultra-Thin 1731 has a 18K 5N gold dial in silvered color which is paired with accents in pink gold. At the eight o’clock position, one can notice a small seconds dial which is the only function that accompanies its hours, minutes and minute repeater (this is the first timekeeper in the series with the seconds counter at this position). For the strap, Vacheron Constantin chose a hand-stitched black Mississippiensis alligator leather strap with large scales in the square shape. It fastens with a tongue buckle made in the same material as its case. Whoever buys the watch with the reference number 30110/000R-9793, he will receive it with the sound resonator. It is expected that the brand will not make more than about a dozen models per year, while the expected price is around $365,000.