Heritage Preservation & Watch Auctions

From Aristotle’s Poetics to Hegel’s Aesthetics, more than 2,000 years of philosophy have drawn a line between the Fine Arts, considered noble because they presuppose intellectual activity, and craftsmanship, which lacks the essence of art. As Diderot and d’Alembert’s Encyclopédie put it, craftsmen are ‘workers who practice those arts that require the least intelligence’. Yet watchmaking expertise is so admired and fascinated that it seems to escape this vision. Watchmaking is consistently characterised by ambitious standards, as demonstrated by the definition of the term ‘Artisan’ in the Encylopédie, which states that ‘a good shoemaker is said to be a good craftsman, and a skilful watchmaker is said to be a great artist1’. Despite this thirst for artistic recognition, watchmaking still suffers from an almost total lack of heritage. Unlike the fine arts, which have benefited from institutional heritage recognition for several centuries, watchmaking has struggled to benefit from the concepts of conservation or restoration, or from public acquisition policies, which are so obvious in the case of the fine arts.

Antiquorum, a privileged partner of the manufacturers

Watchmaking owes its heritage recognition to the initiative of private institutions and collectors, who have moved it from curiosity cabinets to museum showcases. In 1902, under the impetus of the La Chauxde- Fonds School of Watchmaking, the fi rst watchmaking museum was created. At the same time, it was the watchmakers who built up the most important private collections. Building a heritage also means building legitimacy.

As a specialist in watch auctions since 1974, Antiquorum has always made it a point of honour to contribute to this heritage- building work, in particular by organising themed sales, as we presented in our last issue. The auction house not only contributes to the enhancement of watchmaking heritage through its catalogues and research, but also constitutes a lasting and reliable source of heritage for watch manufacturers.

In 1994, for example, Antiquorum had the opportunity to illustrate the virtuosity of Vacheron Constantin during the famous and very fi rst thematic sale ‘The Art of Vacheron Constantin’, in tribute to the brand, where no fewer than 286 timepieces were auctioned on 13 November at the Hôtel des Bergues. It was on this occasion that the ‘Grande Complication’ pocket watch commissioned in 1946 for Farouk I (1920-1965), King of Egypt, was sold for CHF 1,158,500. A masterpiece of watchmaking, this timepiece will remain the most complicated pocket watch ever produced by Vacheron Constantin in the 20th century.

The Vacheron Constantin private collection, initiated in 1906 following the Milan International Exhibition (28 April – 11 November 1906), continues to grow today. One of the most important arguments for its legitimacy is its colossal treasure trove of archives: correspondence, plans, photographs, as well as all the manufacturing registers dating back to the eighteenth century, all grouped together on more than 420 metres of shelving, roughly the length of an Olympic stadium. It is with this heritage in mind that the Manufacture off ers all its customers an exceptional restoration service: any watch produced between 1755 and the present day can be repaired or restored. Putting this knowledge to the test, the recreation of the American 1921 watch, celebrating its 100th anniversary, was an opportunity to redesign this emblematic timepiece identically, using period machine tools and components.

We are pleased to present here Antiquorum’s contribution to Vacheron Constantin’s heritage through some of the pieces we have had the honour of off ering for sale and which were purchased by Vacheron Constantin for this private collection.

Antiquorum at the service of Vacheron Constantin’s heritage

Founded in 1755 by Jean-Marc Vacheron (1731-1805), Vacheron Constantin is the oldest watch manufacturer that has never stopped producing watches. The company’s long history has given it not only considerable legitimacy on the international stage, but also, and above all, unrivalled expertise. A quest for excellence that has endured for more than 260 years, as evidenced by François Constantin’s words to Jacques-Barthélémy Vacheron (1787-1864) – which have since become the company’s motto – in a letter dated 5 July 1819: ‘Do better if possible, which is always possible’.

Enamel Watches

But before going into partnership with François Constantin (1788-1854) in 1819, the company was called ‘Vacheron Chossat & Cie’ for a short period (1816- 1819), after Charles-François Chossat, Jacques-Barthélémy Vacheron’s brotherin- law, with whom the latter went into partnership in 1816. A short interval that serves as a chronological marker for watches from this period, which are extremely rare for obvious reasons. The Vacheron- Chossat enamelled yellow gold minute repeater pocket watch (No. 6498), sold for CHF 33,750 on 12 May 2013 (1) is a superb testament to this association. The fishing scene depicted is proof of the high quality of workmanship in painted enamels from the earliest days of the Manufacture. A tradition that has been perpetuated over time, as shown by the superb Ref. 4730 ‘North America’ in yellow gold with a cloisonné enamel dial (No. 463128, case No. 323580), made in 1951 and sold for CHF 115,000 on 3 April 2005 (2). The Manufacture produced very few watches with cloisonné enamel dials. As its name suggests, here it depicts a map of North America. Typical of the work of the Stern brothers, this design is in keeping with Vacheron Constantin’s taste of the 1950s. Unlike Patek Philippe, the Manufacture favours models representing the different continents, models resembling Gothic stained-glass windows, seascapes and Gauguin-style landscapes.

Genève le 12 Mai 2013

Lot 51 – sold for CHF 33,750

Vacheron Chossat & Cie. à Genève, No. 6498. Made 1816-1819. Very fine and rare, 18K. gold, painted on enamel and pearl-set, quarter repeating watch. Accompanied by the original gold-tooled red morocco fitted box.

Genève 3 avril 2005
Lot 203 #11195 – Vendue CHF 115,000

Vacheron & Constantin, Geneve, No. 463128, case No. 323580, Ref. 4730. Made in 1951. Very fine and extremely rare, center-seconds, 18K yellow gold gentleman’s wristwatch with «cloisonné» enamel dial by Stern. Accompanied by a yellow gold Vacheron Constantin buckle and a Certificate of Authenticity.

Genève 3 avril 2005
LOT 33 #11143 – Vendue CHF 92,000

Cupid at the Altar of Love, Vacheron & Constantin, Genève, No. 368871, case No. 229848. Made in 1916. Very fine and unique, early, platinum and diamond lady’s rectangular wristwatch with canted corners, with cameo concealing the dial and matching platinum and diamond expandable bracelet. Accompanied by a Certificate of Authenticity.

Genève 15 mai 2011
LOT 579 -Vendue CHF 242,500

Vacheron & Constantin ; A Unique Art Deco Masterwork ; 30-Day Duration Clock with Constant Force Escapement Vacheron & Constantin, Geneve, Suisse, 30 Days, Force Constant, No. 418068. Made in 1933. Exceptional and unique, Art Deco, rock crystal and chrome, 30-day going, two-train, skeletonized clock with Philippe René Jaccard’s Swiss patent No. 142508 constant force escapement of 1930. Accompanied by photographs of Jaccard’s designs for the escapement.

Genève 11 octobre 2003
Lot 132 #10815 -Vendue CHF 74,750

Vacheron & Constantin, Genève, No. 360375, case No. 225246, circa 1914. Very fine and important 18K gold keyless watch presented to Agenor Parmelin by the Republic and Canton of Geneva to mark his flight over Mont-Blanc on February 11th 1914, accompanied by fitted box with dedication inscription and certificate.

Witnesses of History

A Manufacture that has been in existence for more than two centuries has had the opportunity to be both a witness to major historical events and a player in all stylistic evolutions.

For example, the ‘Cupidon à l’hôtel de l’Amour’ ladies’ watch (No. 368871, case No. 229848) made in 1916 (3) is a perfect illustration of the taste for the French Second Empire. Set with diamonds, it is what is known as a ‘hidden beauty’, the cameo revealing the watch. A technical masterpiece, notably with the practical and elegant extensible bracelet, which was a novelty at the time, it also demonstrates Vacheron Constantin’s interest in its female clientele.

Another aesthetic, the rock crystal skeleton clock with 30-day constant-force power reserve (4), is an ode to the Art Deco style that dominated the western world. It is also an incredible technical feat achieved by Philippe René Jaccard, since a power reserve of 30 days in a single winding is highly unusual for a clock of this size: two spring barrels are used, and to avoid changes in rhythm caused by variations in the energy supplied by these two springs, there is a constant-force escapement designed to give precisely measured impulses to the balance wheel.

Thanks to its archives, the Heritage Department is therefore able to authenticate all the watches produced by the Manufacture using case and movement numbers: a considerable source of historical information. This is how we find the yellow gold ‘Empire’ pocket watch of Agénor Parmelin (1884 – 1917) (5) the famous Swiss aviator, 5 the first to fly over Mont Blanc in a Deperdussin monoplane. The dedication to this achievement, a gift from the Republic of the Canton of Geneva, is engraved on the bowl.


Among all the Manufacture’s creations, there is one that stands out as the Holy Grail, as much for its rarity as for its elegant and timeless design: the ‘Corne de Vache’ (6). The one sold by Antiquorum and in the Vacheron Constantin collection is a ref. 6087 in yellow gold, of which only 36 were produced between 1954 and 1959. Of these, 26 were in yellow gold, 8 in pink gold and 2 in platinum – by special order. Even rarer, LOT 91 at the sale in Geneva on 6 November 2021 is in pink gold, one of only a handful of the 8 produced. The market was not mistaken, as the watch sold for more than four times its low estimate of CHF 206,250.

As proof of the model’s success, Vacheron Constantin reinterpreted it in a limited series in platinum in 2015, thus giving tangible reality to its ‘Historical Watches’ collection.

Hong Kong, Oct 23, 2011
LOT 367 #11558- Vendue HKD 487,500

Genève, movement No. 470084, case No. 373268, Ref. 6087. Made in 1960. Very fine,
rare and important, water-resistant, 18K yellow gold wristwatch, round button chronograph
and register.

Technical innovations

Backed by more than 260 years of research and expertise, the Vacheron Constantin Manufacture continues to innovate. Among the technical jewels that have been created is the famous pocket World Time completed by Louis Cottier (1894-1966), an illustrious independent watchmaker from Geneva who invented the ‘World Time’ system in 1935. The Manufacture even has a letter from the eminent inventor in which he mentions the development of this World Time system, which was subsequently adopted by all the other major manufactures, including Rolex and Patek Philippe…

Geneva, Apr 03, 2005
LOT 200 #11182 – Vendue CHF 138,000

Vacheron & Constantin, Genève, No. 416360, case No. 298210, Ref. 4414. Made in 1946. Very fine and extremely rare, slim, 18K yellow gold, keyless, World Time, dress watch, finished by Louis Cottier. Accompanied by a Certificate of Authenticity.

The classic, elegant style of the Art Deco period had a major influence on the watch design of the time. It was at the forefront of the Swiss watch industry’s most innovative and daring ideas for high-quality timepieces. He transformed a high-precision instrument into a timeless fashion accessory that could be worn by men of all ages. The Ref. 3234 n. 414101 date, made in 1931, perfectly demonstrates the mastery of the House’s artists, designers and technicians.

Geneva, Apr 03, 2005

LOT 129 #11179 – Vendue : CHF 446,249

Hermès, Vacheron & Constantin, Genève, No. 414101, case No. 257328, Ref. 3234. Made in 1931, retailed by Hermès, Paris. Very fine, rare and important, rectangular curved, astronomic, 18K white gold gentleman’s wristwatch with full calendar and moon phase, with a white gold Vacheron & Constantin buckle. Accompanied by a Certificate of Authenticity.

Another mechanical innovation: the minute repeater. The system was perfected in 1687 by Daniel Quare, but the first minute-repeater wristwatch was produced by Omega in 1892. However, collectors and professionals around the world consider the model signed Vacheron Constantin ref. 4261 to be one of the finest minute-repeater wristwatches ever made. By the middle of the 20th century, Vacheron Constantin had produced only 36 minute-repeater wristwatches in pink, yellow and white gold and platinum: 17 from 1942, 9 from 1944 and 10 from 1951. Of these, only ten examples of large extra-flat minute-repeater wristwatches were fitted with a 13″ movement (thickness 3.1, total thickness without glass 5.8 mm): 8 in yellow gold, one in pink gold and two in platinum, including the minute-repeater watch ref. 4261, No. 501912, produced in 1954 and which joined the Vacheron Constantin heritage in 2005 for CHF 286,750.

Geneva, Apr 03, 2005
LOT 41 – Vendue : CHF 286,750

Vacheron & Constantin, Genève, No. 501912, case No. 328065, Ref. 4261, made in
1954. Extremely fine and unique, large, extra-flat, minute-repeating, platinum and
diamond-set gentleman’s wristwatch with a platinum Vacheron & Constantin buckle.
Accompanied by a Certificate of Authenticity.

Special Displays

Form and substance go hand in hand … excellence is reflected in the design of both the movement and the dial. The proof is in the famous ‘Caravelle’ (7) pocket watch, with its ‘arm in the air’ display, produced in 1937 and then marketed by Gübelin.

Grand Havana Room, Mar 24, 2004
LOT 254 #11119 – Vendue USD 211,500

Fabrication commencée en 1934 et terminée en 1939 , puis vendue à Gübelin.Très belle et unique montre habillée de type bras-en-l’air en platine, sans clé, avec cadran serti de diamants. Accompagnée de l’Extrait des Archives.

More than half a century later, Vacheron Constantin has lost none of its ingenuity, as shown by the Sputnik (8) in white gold, which takes its name from the miniature Sputnik in white gold engraved on the dial. This Vacheron Constantin ‘Métiers d’Arts Sputnik’ model was produced in just 10 pieces to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the launch of the Soviet satellite in 2007 and sold exclusively at the Vacheron Constantin boutique in Moscow.

In the end, the dichotomy that some critics want to create between the second and first markets has no place. The future belongs to those who are aware of the times. This article shows just how much Vacheron Constantin has made this motto its own, drawing strength from its past and looking serenely to the future. The same ambition that drives Antiquorum makes our auction house a key player in the promotion and protection of the world’s watchmaking heritage.

Monaco, Jul 16, 2019
LOT 151 – Vendue EUR 84,500 

Extremely rare and fine, limited edition, 18k white gold, self-winding wristwatch with blue dial and an engraved white gold Sputnik miniature.

To read more, visit online version of our magazine Vox click on : Vox Magazine

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