My grandfather’s Vacheron Constantin was the antithesis of my taste in watches. And then I fell in love…Jared Belson
My Vacheron Constantin is actually a watch I inherited rather than bought. When my grandfather passed, nobody in my family was aware the watch existed. My father found it amongst a few other watches in his bedside drawer (including his daily Tag Heuer 1500, which I now own as well). When I got the text that he’d found an “old, gold watch” I couldn’t imagine what it was. Given that my grandfather wasn’t what you’d call a flashy man, I assumed it was something gold-plated from a relatively obscure brand. Invaluable as a sentimental item, an heirloom, but relatively valueless on the open market. Instead, the following texts I received were low-resolution images from my father’s old Samsung flip phone, 1.3 megapixel camera and all. Reading the text on the dial elicited a good bit of excitement: seeing the words “Vacheron Constantin Automatic” on the dial let me know we’d stumbled on something special. However, my next emotion was admittedly disappointment.
I’ve owned my fair share of luxury watches, including Rolex, Omega, Tudor, and the like. And yet, the images I was seeing here were a turn off. The watch I was seeing was nearly the antithesis of my personal style: small, short lugs, a textured gold dial, and a yellow gold case. To friends, I’d always maintained I was a white metal person – stainless-steel, white gold, or platinum only. Yet here we were with a double gold, vintage-sized dress watch, on an antiquated lizard strap no less! It was truly a relic from another era and one that, while I knew I’d always cherish as having belonged to my grandfather, I simply couldn’t imagine wearing.
However, as many of us know, our tastes as collectors evolve over time. First, it was a fascination with Jaeger LeCoultre’s Reverso, of which I owned an Ultra Thin Tribute to 1931. Once I moved on from that watch, I shifted my attention to a Montblanc Chronometrie Ultra Slim I’d stumbled on at a sample sale. I lusted after sector-dialled beauties like the Patek Philippe 5296G. Still, I couldn’t find a place in my box for the old Vacheron. It took me quite a while to come around to it; years, in fact. As I grew as an enthusiast my tastes became more refined, and with it my feelings towards the watch invariably shifted.
Whereas I’d always seen the gold dial x gold case combo as a bit gaudy, I’d begun to appreciate the understated elegance of dress watches from the era. The ultra-thin profile allowed it to sit low on my wrist, lending itself to a larger diameter than measurements would suggest. This was an exciting discovery, as my rather large 7.5 inch wrist typically dwarfs other watches of the era. The dial began to grow on me as well, its distinctive vertical graining and black enamel-filled markers unlike anything else I’d ever seen. I researched the caliber within, becoming fascinated with the K1121 movement. For something so thin (just 3.05mm), it was a wonder for it to not only be a full-rotor automatic, but with a date no less! Even more incredibly, the basic architecture of the K1121 movement is still in production in a variety of watches today, including the Vacheron Constantin Overseas Ultra-Thin and the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak.
Upon learning the movement was a joint collaboration between Audemars Piguet, Vacheron Constantin, Patek Philippe, and Jaeger LeCoultre, I was ecstatic: I owned a bona-fide piece of horological history. As you can tell, my opinions had done an about-face. I had come to love and appreciate the watch in its own right, not just as an heirloom. Receiving a nod of appreciation at an event from Alexander Schmiedt, President of Vacheron Constantin of the Americas, was truly the icing on the cake.
While I’d come to appreciate its history, the Vacheron still had one more trick up its sleeve. As I’ve mentioned, a large part of my fascination with machines comes with the thoughts and feelings they evoke. When I think of my old Tag Heuer Aquaracer, a bog-standard quartz model, I don’t think of its relatively staid design. Instead, I remember swimming with it in the clear blue waters surrounding Capri. Donning a Rolex GMT Master conjures images of being a member of the original jet-set, or maybe of being a pilot on one of the early commercial airliners. It’s these ideas that bring forth these larger than life connections, these desires for what’s essentially an outdated, relatively inaccurate mode of telling time. My Vacheron Constantin Automatic in particular harkens back to the bygone era from where it came; “Mad Men-esque,” if you will. To me, it’s fully transcended its existence as an heirloom or technical marvel and become a gateway to another time and place.
Now, when I tire of my life staring at screens, I take refuge with my little escape capsule. I slap on the Vacheron Constantin Automatic, make a strong cocktail, throw on a nice shirt, sit on my balcony, and imagine that for a little while that I’ve travelled back in time.