A Grail Among Grails: The Vacheron Constantin Traditionnelle Split-Seconds Chronograph Ultra-Thin
Simon Schneider14 May 2021 | 5 min read
In terms of watchmaking prestige, no brands rank higher than those found in the holy trinity. For those unaware, the holy trinity refers to Patek Philippe, Audemars Piguet, and Vacheron Constantin who for the longest time have been considered the echelon of high-level watchmaking. Resting on your laurels however is a recipe for regression even for the holiest of watchmakers.
The only way that the prestige associated with the holy trinity retains its relevance in an ever-changing landscape is if we keep questioning it and the brands found within it. Considering the individual brands, hell will freeze over before Patek will lose its status and AP is still riding the 50-year success story of the Royal Oak. But what about Vacheron? It is not an isolated opinion that A. Lange & Söhne is making a good case to displace Vacheron who, while undoubtedly making great watches, seem to lack the standout pieces that excite the watch market in the way that the other brands manage to do.
The Traditionnelle Split-Seconds Chronograph Ultra-Thin
As if to spit in the face of their doubters Vacheron decided to release in 2021 the Traditionnelle Split-Seconds Chronograph Ultra-Thin from the Collection Excellence Platine. The intention with this watch was clear.
This is not a watch you will spot in a rap video. This is not a watch you will use daily. This is a watch that will be remembered as one of the best pieces of horology ever made and aims to solidify their position in the watchmaking food chain.
Let’s start off with the functions of this Vacheron. It is exactly as the name suggests an ultra thin split second chronograph with a 60 minute totalizer and a power reserve indicator. There is no complicated calendar to make the dial unreadable. There is also no arbitrary tourbillon to bump up the parts count and appeal to the demographic who only understands about this complication that it is hard to make and presumably desirable. Instead, this is a pure example of function following form. While a split second’s chronograph is an impressive feat of horology on any day of the week it takes a back seat when considering how this watch does what it does.
The beating heart of this masterpiece is the caliber 3500. It has a 48 hour power reserve and operates at 21,600 vph. The movement has a lateral friction clutch with the Vacheron logo as a design ensuring a crisply clean operation of the chronograph pushers and the movement is decorated with the Geneva Hallmark testifying to its quality. While these stats aren’t impressive in and of themselves the finishing is fantastic with many different brushed and polished elements which will have you gazing at its beauty.
Hand wound vs automatic?
At this point Vacheron would have to make one of two bad decisions. Either they let you look at the movement and make it a hand wound watch giving up on huge amounts of daily usability. Or they could make it an automatic where the rotor would cover up most of the movement at all times which would be a shame to say the least.
Vacheron decided to take neither of these routes and yet combine the benefits of both. To do so they revived an old automatic winding mechanism that by virtue of its inefficiency has been largely forgotten: the peripheral rotor. The 22k yellow gold attraction is mounted on ball bearings and winds the 473 part movement through teeth on its inner rim. Modern engineering enables the viability of this old mechanism which allows for both added usability and a visual spectacle.
42.5mm platinum case
The classically designed platinum case is restrained in its optics and modern in size at 42.5 mm. On any other watch the fitting adjective would probably be boring, however I refrain from using it here since anything else could quickly become overbearing. You can’t have every single part of a watch be a highlight, some design elements need to support others for a harmonious picture. There is an impressive element to this watch that doesn’t become evident from a first glance and that is the thickness of 10.7mm which is fantastically thin for an automatic split seconds chronograph. For comparison the new Tudor Black Bay Chrono comes in at 14.2 mm.
A blue alligator strap
The case is attached to your wrist with a blue alligator strap and a platinum deployant buckle. The dark blue leather strap does good to add some colour to this otherwise somewhat monochromatic watch and I consider Vacheron wise for not giving it a metal bracelet. The colour coordination between the blue of the leather and that of the hands is only trumped by that of the stitching on the leather which has platinum woven into it with a glittering optic similar to the platinum dial.
Speaking of the platinum dial it is absolutely fantastic. I have had a personal sweet spot for these dials ever since holding one of the old Yacht-Master watches in the hand and really got to experience the multi-layered depth of these dials. From most angles it has a matte texture similar to some apple products only to reveal its true nature in direct sunlight when it starts glittering more than a prom queen.
The highlights are the hands which are finished in platinum for the hour and minute hands as well as the running seconds and indicators. They take a secondary role to the blued hands which are dedicated to the chrono as well as for the power reserve indicator. A thoughtful touch to the two chronograph hands is that their counterbalance have different styles. While one looks like an eclipse the other looks like a crescent moon combining to make a circle when laying on top of one another.
How does the price tag compare?
If you know anything about watches and have been following all the features and attention to detail in this watch you will already be aware that this is going to be an expensive watch. The fact that it is a limited edition of 15 pieces probably won’t help either. But even I was stunned when I saw the retail price of $288,000. Compare that to the price of the platinum Daytona, which has a full platinum bracelet which retails for less than $80,000. Sure these watches are in different leagues in terms of complexity and finishing but the value argument for the consumer is a tough one to make.
The Vacheron Constantin Traditionnelle Split-Seconds Chronograph is an absolutely breath-taking watch. It is a halo piece that has the power to bring more interest to the brand and establishes their validity for a brand at the top of the food chain. If there is one critique to make, then it would be that the price is too high and that if it were to be found on the secondary market it might be below retail. That robs this watch from the potential of being traded above retail and escalating in secondary value which would be less financially rewarding for the brand in the short term but good for their reputation in the long run. This watch has all the potential in the world to be a hot commodity. Only time will tell if it will manage to claim the throne it is the rightful heir to.
Image credits: Vacheron Constantin