In search of a decent Vacheron Constantin pocket watch

slungu

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Hello together,
I have been into watches about ten years now, focus was mainly slim movements and classics from the 60s and 70s and I have managed to get some nice Vacheron Constantin in the process - nothing fancy, just time only, calibers 1003,1002,1072. Now I would like to add a pocket watch to the collection, but not the ones form the 60s that were using the 1001. I did find some, but they are kind of puzzling me. One is a very nice movement, nice finish, lettering in gold, gold chaton on the minutes wheel and "Adjusted" also written onto the movement and it has a strange regulator being not straight and no swan neck. The dial is signed ( and has a little hairline crack ) but the case, albeit 18k, is not. The other one is silver, not so fancy finished, no "Adjusted" lettering, dial is again signed and looks nice written, so no uggly repaint, but again no signed case ( this one is a nice Niello case ). A third one I had eyed is signed on movement and case, what is strange there is that while havong a swan neck regulator it does not have a gold chaton on the minute wheel, it is not so nice finshed and nickeled like the first example and what I am again a little puzzled is that it looks rose on the outside but yellow on the inside ( has a beautiful gold yellow face). Finally I found one with "Adjusted" writing, gold chaton on the minute wheel and swan neck regulator but a clean dial without any signing and a case signed as "keystone" "watchcase" and "silveroid". So the question would be if these combinations would be legit and what to look aftet. Another question would be if a watch that is marked as Chrometre Royal has to be marked both on the dial and on the movement ( seen one with a movement with swan neck regulator, wolfteeth but no inscription and no gold chaton on minute wheel ).

Kind regards,
Stefan
 

Ethan Lipsig

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Stefan, although I have 17 V&C pocket watches in my collection, I am not a V&C expert. Nevertheless, a few observations may be helpful. They are my views; others might disagree.

As one of the oldest Swiss watchmaking firms, V&C started making watches in an era when Swiss watches generally were at the low end of the quality spectrum. V&C watches from the first half of the 19th century don't seem to have been standouts in quality.

Pocket watches faded out of fashion during the period between World War I and World War II. V&C was one of the few Swiss firms that continued making pocket watches after World War II, but post World War II watches are not very common. There is relatively little collector interest in them. Any pocket watch with incabloc construction will be a post-World War II watch.

Everything else being equal, a V&C with an unrefinished V&C-signed dial, case, and movement generally would be more desirable than a V&C that lacked one or more of those attributes, but this isn't always true. For example, the famous firm of Verger cased many V&Cs, usually elegantly. Here are how the V&Cs in my collection are cased.
  • 18k V&C Case: 5
  • 14k AWCCo Case: 2*
  • 14k Hayden Wheeler Dubois Case: 1*
  • 14k Case likely by Knapp: 1*
  • 18k or Platinum Verger Case: 3
  • 18k US Retailer-signed Case: 2*
  • 18k EER (V&C's US Agent) Case: 1
  • Aluminum V&C Case: 1
  • Unsigned platinum case: 1*
The asterisks denote private-label watches. These are watches that bear the retailer's name. Especially in the US, it was very common for watches to be marketed under retailer names. US tariff laws made it less expensive to import uncased movements and case them in the US in US cases. Because I am a US collector, a higher percentage of the V&Cs available to me probably are private-label watches cased in the US than would be available to a European collector.

I am sure V&C offered a range of different quality levels, but I have never seen an analysis of what they were at any point in time. In time-only watches, generally the higher the jewel count, the greater the number of adjustments, and a sophisticated regulator are all indications of quality. The highest grade V&C pocket watches that I have seen was marked as having 21 jewels, 8 adjustments, and an "Integral Balance," with the serial number engraved on the plate, not the bridge. These are scarce.

At least on watches imported to the US, movement markings were dictated by tariff laws. For example, prior to 1897, the jewel count did not have to be engraved on the movement and rarely was. So, a watch that has, for example, no markings for jewel count or adjustment count might be one for the European or South American market or one imported to the US before 1897.

I question whether V&C's Chronometre Royals were special in any way other than being a trademarked line aimed at the South American market. Many were only marked "Chronometre Royal" on the dial, not on the movement or case. My Chronometre Royal is only so marked on the dial. Its 18k case is just signed by V&C and the movement is just signed by V&C with no indication of jewel count or adjustments.

Putting this all together, I suggest you look for a V&C watch made between approximately 1880 and 1940. I suggest you look for a keyless watch. Winding and setting a watch with a key is a nuisance, and V&C's keywind watches were made during the time that V&C wasn't a world-beater in quality. I would look for a watch that (a) delights your sense of style, (b) has no material issues, e.g., a refinished dial or corrosion on the movement, and (c) in an 18k V&C-signed or Verger-signed case. If you want me to comment on any specific watch, send me photos and information about it by means of a private conversation (click on my "avatar", which is an "EER"-cased V&C, to start one).
 

Dr. Jon

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All legit Vacheron and Constantin watches are or were more than decent.

V&C has a long history in the US market. They sent in a lot of uncased watches sized to fit US made cases, so you will see a lot of them in US cases. I suspect most were initially in gold cases but re-cased into gold fill or base metal when owners scrapped the gold.

Some were put into US cases which had serial numbers matcing the movement.

US tariff were charged on the degree and number of adjustments so the marking will vary.

There are a lot of Chronometre Royal fans who know what the dial conditions are but I suspect the US market had a distributor who could put on what ever dial a customer wanted.

Vacheron and Constantin used a variety of regulators including a very elegant direct screw drive type. The better ones usually bu not always have a form of micrometer adjustment.

There are a lot of very fine V&C from 16 size to pendant that are very fine.

Generally, the gold chaton is on earlier watches. They made some very fine ones without them.
 
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slungu

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Thank you very much for the detailed responses. The watches that I am eyeing currently have a movement serial number between 322xxx and 345xxx, placing them I think somewhere between 1900 and 1910, the one in NIello would actually look very good since the blued hands fit that decorative finish very good - I assume a broken glas is not such a big problem to fix, or at least I hope. On the golden side I would have two candidates - problem is I am reluctant to post pictures since they are not mine.

Regards, Stefan
 

Ethan Lipsig

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Stefan, those serial numbers should be for production in or around 1910.

I would be wary about buying a V&C in a niello case unless it is a signed V&C case. I don't know whether any such cases exist. I don't remember ever seeing one. If the case isn't signed by V&C, I am guessing that it is a later replacement case. Niello cases are interesting, but one rarely sees high-grade movements in them. Of course, if you want the watch even if the case isn't original, don't let other collectors' preferences govern your decisions. Niello cases, besides being attractive, have the big advantage of costing much less than solid gold or platinum cases.

Finally, it won't be difficult to get a new crystal for the watch. A new one installed in the US probably would cost you US$50-$100.
 

Dr. Jon

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One thing to look at are the hands. Vacheron and Constantin hands are very high quality. The minute hands have a thick boss and snap into position. The centers should be highly poilished. Look carefully at color, they should be dark blue and match very closely.

V&C movement in the US usually fit US size cases so recasing is possible and that goes forward too.

My opinion is that the Vacherons made in the 1900 to 1910 were as good as anything anyone was making.
 

MrRoundel

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V&C movement in the US usually fit US size cases so recasing is possible and that goes forward too.
Oh, and stay away from the smaller caseless ones with lever-set mechanisms. I have a nice private label that is ~12 ligne, which is close to a 4/0s American size, which is a tough one to case. Mine is also a poor candidate for putting in one of those "marriage" watch cases for a wrist-watch, as it is also an open-face movement. The lever-set doesn't help either. Regardless, it is a very nice movement that I'm happy to have and to hold, for richer, for poorer...

Hmmm...must have been that talk about "marriage" watches. :rolleyes:

Cheers.
 
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