In-Depth – A Look at Shaped Watches by Vacheron Constantin and Patek Philippe through History

calendar | ic_dehaze_black_24px By Xavier Markl | ic_query_builder_black_24px 7 minute read |

When thinking about the archetype of the round Swiss watch, the first names that come to mind might very well be Patek Philippe or Vacheron Constantin. As the custodians of Geneva’s watchmaking tradition, influenced by the sober protestant spirit, both brands stand for subtle, understated elegance. However, beyond the design conventions dictated by the round wristwatch, Patek Philippe and Vacheron Constantin have in common a long, rich legacy of shaped watches. After Cartier, Monochrome brings together a (non-exhaustive) selection of shaped watches from Patek Philippe and Vacheron Constantin.

Hands turn in a circle. The semantic notion of what a clock should look like is round. The circle is the direct consequence of the mechanics to display the time and it is the most versatile shape in many respects. The first wristwatches were mostly pocket watches, modified later to be strapped on the wrist. However, designing shaped watches gave watchmakers an opportunity to express their creativity and technical mastery breaking away from the ubiquitous round cases. Without doubt, Patek Philippe and Vacheron Constantin excel in manufacturing classic round watches – see the Calatrava or the Patrimony. Yet, the quest for new forms have allowed them to build a unique legacy of shaped watches, giving birth to horological icons, some being works of beauty, reflecting their mechanical perfection.

Tonneau (barrel shape)

As early as 1912, Vacheron Constantin were one of the first watchmakers to adopt the Tonneau shape. Right from its appearance, it quickly became part of the identity of the Maison and has been continuously reinterpreted over the years.  Not to be outdone, Patek Philippe equally let loose its creativity releasing numerous Tonneau-shaped watches from thin, two-handed manual to complicated versions.

From left to right: a 1915 Vacheron Constantin an ergonomically curved yellow gold case – A yellow gold minute repeater (movement from 1895, case from 1927) ordered by H. Grave Jr. that was sold for just under $3,000,000 by Sotheby’s in 2012 – The modern Patek Philippe 5098, part of the Gondolo collection. Launched in 1993, the Gondolo collection embodies Patek Philippe’s legacy to form watches. The name of the collection was derived from the ‘Chronometro Gondolo’ watches that were manufactured by Patek Philippe for the renowned Brazilian retailer Gondolo & Labouriau, in Rio de Janiero, between 1902 and 1930. The collection comprises shaped watches inspired from the brand’s rich patrimony.

Today, both brands still offer such shapes. Vacheron Constantin perpeptuates this tradition with the Malte Collection, while Patek Philippe keeps affectionately the tonneau-shaped Gondolo in the current collection – with one reference only.

vacheron constantin malte - Shaped Watches by Vacheron Constantin and Patek Philippe

Coussin (cushion shape)

Both Patek Philippe and Vacheron Constantin have produced remarkable cushion shaped watches, many of these with complicated movements. It is a difficult task to pick favorites among the numerous cushion shaped watches from both brands, Patek Philippe’s minute repeaters, calendar watches or chronographs, Vacheron Constantin’s American 1921, Medicus or Saltarello – to name a few – being all revered masterpieces.

Left: a 1928 Vacheron Constantin mono-pusher chronograph with pulsometric scale. Right: a Patek Philippe cushion-shaped mono-pusher chronograph in white gold manufactured in 1928 and sold in 1931. This remarkable piece was auctioned by Christie’s for $ 3.6 millions.

The American 1921 is probably one of the most elegant watches Vacheron Constantin ever made. From left to right : a 1919 model with its crown on the left hand corner, the 1921 model with the crown on the right hand corner and the modern Vacheron Constantin Historique American 1921.

Recently, Vacheron Constantin introduced an entirely new collection, inspired by vintage timepieces, the Harmony and its chronographs housed in elegant cushion-shaped cases. As for Patek, the shape is still a big inspiration with several references such as the reference 5940 with perpetual calendar or the reference 5950 with split-second chronograph.

Rectangle

Epitomized by the Cartier Tank, rectangular-shaped cases represent a clear break away from the ubiquitous round watches. The rectangle has been adopted by many manufacturers, opening up new design avenues. Today Patek Philippe and Vacheron Constantin have relatively few rectangular watches in their collections. But then again, both Maison’s have a rich legacy with a wealth of creations often housing superb shaped movements, for instance in some of Patek Philippe’s ‘Pagoda’ or ‘Manta Ray’ timepieces.

From left to right: The beautiful and understated Patek Philippe 5101 Tourbillon featuring a 10-day power reserve. A 2554 Patek Philippe, so-called ‘Manta Ray’ for its winged rectangular case reminding the fluid outline of the giant of the oceans. The Vacheron Constantin Aronde 1954 from the ‘Historiques’ collection.

Today for Vacheron Constantin, the rectangle is represented  by only one reference in the Historiques collection (plus, differently, by the Historiques 1968 and Toledo), while Patek Philippe has two rectangular Gondolo models in its catalogue: the two-handed reference 5124 and the ref. 5200, with a 8-day power reserve.

patek_philippe_gondolo_ref_5200 - Shaped Watches by Vacheron Constantin and Patek Philippe

The modern Patek Philippe Gondolo 5200, with its calendar and 8-day power reserve, but no tourbillon anymore.

Montres à volets (shutters)

The partnership between Vacheron Constantin and Verger Frères (Verger frères performing design, Vacheron Constantin providing the mechanisms) gave birth to remarkable creations among which the famous shutter watches. The Founder of Verger Frères, Ferdinand Verger was a jeweler and watchmaker himself – he did his apprenticeship in the workshop of Lépine. From 1910 to 1935, Verger Frères was acclaimed as a master of Art Nouveau and Art Deco. The creations born from this partnership were among the most creative of the time and are still very much influencing Vacheron Constantin today.

A modern shutter watch by Vacheron Constantin and the 1930 patent filing drawings from Verger Frères showing the rectangular and square versions of the case. Shutter watches feature concealed dials under hinged panels. A switch allows to open the shutters and reveal the time.

Asymmetry

Patek Philippe and Vacheron Constantin are among the brands that have dared to investigate asymmetrical cases, giving birth to amazingly creative watches. The work of renowned designer Gilbert Albert for Patek Philippe as of 1955 defies the canons of horological design. Inspired by a radical modern artistic vision, Albert used asymmetrical and rhombic forms. If many of his bold creations never went into production, the reference 3424 debuted in 1959. Its unusual design boasts an asymmetrical case with curved, stepped sides.

A perfect dandy watch, the Vacheron Constantin 1972 is probably Vacheron Constantin most iconic asymmetric watch. The ‘1972’ name references the year when Vacheron Constantin became the first watchmaking company to be honoured with the rare ‘Prestige de la France’ award and brought out a stylish skewed trapezoidal-shaped watch. Over 40 years later, its stylish slim silhouette still combines classic simplicity and substance with modern flair.

Left: a Patek Philippe 3424 ‘Gilbert Albert’. Right: an example of the elegant Vacheron Constantin 1972.

Ellipse

patek-philippe golden-ellipse - Shaped Watches by Vacheron Constantin and Patek Philippe

If Vacheron Constantin has produced a variety of oval watches, the Patek Philippe Golden Ellipse, launched in 1968, has been an enduring success thanks to its unique blend of simplicity and formal purity. Its elliptical design is based on the golden section, a ratio that has intrigued philosophers and artists alike, and spontaneously suggests a sense of natural balance and visual harmony.

Sport watches

Sport watches also have their share in the shaped watches legacy and mystique around Patek Philippe and Vacheron Constantin, which owes much to Gerald Genta. During the 1970s, the eminent watch designer defined the Haute Horlogerie sport category with iconic creations such as the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, the Patek Philippe Nautilus or the IWC ingenieur. The Nautilus was a groundbreaking departure from the Patek Philippe tradition with its bold, style and unusual dimensions. Furthermore, it was crafted from steel. However, its daring personality exudes elegance, the Nautilus was a runaway success and what might have been seen as an illegitimate child turned into a cult object.

Left: The 1976 Patek Philippe Nautilus 3700, with its characteristic ears on the side of the case, inspired from hinged portholes. It was available in steel with a distinctive horizontally grooved dial. Right: The Vacheron Constantin ‘222’, the predecessor of the actual Overseas collection.

The 1970s also marked the introduction of an emblematic Vacheron Constantin sport watch, the ‘222’ that inspired the Overseas launched in 1996. The ‘222’ shares the defining characteristics of the Royal Oak, Nautilus and Ingenieur: a large steel watch with bold powerful lines, integrated design (case and bracelet) and emphatic bezel. The filiation is clear, to the point that the design of the Vacheron Constantin ‘222’ has often been attributed to Genta while it was actually the brainchild of young Jorg Hysek.

Both watches are still in the current collections. The Patek Philippe Nautilus is an enduring sucess and its current version, the Ref. 5711, has little changed with minor alterations only. On the other hand, the 222 from Vacheron Constantin was discontinued.  Its successor, the Overseas, was completely revamped this year.

Left: the modern Patek Philippe Nautilus 5711. Right: the brand new Vacheron Constantin Overseas 2000V

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