It seems that Guillaume Laidet is on a mission to revive glorious historic names… Hidden gems of watchmaking history, names that have fallen into industrial oblivion, but that haven’t been forgotten by watch enthusiasts. Following the revival of Nivada Grenchen and Excelsior Park, the young watchmaking entrepreneur is now turning his attention to yet another sleeping beauty of the industry, with one of the most important watches to ever come out of the Swiss vallées… Indeed, Vulcain, the Le Locle-based manufacture specialised in alarm watches is back in action, with new collections. And this includes the all-time favourite Vulcain Cricket Alarm Watch.
Some historical references
Vulcain’s history story starts in 1858 in the Swiss Jura, with a pair of talented watchmakers, the Ditisheim brothers. They gain fame and success by producing complication watches such as minute repeaters, grande and petite sonneries, and perpetual calendars, which won prizes at multiple international exhibitions.
It, however, took close to a century to Vulcain to achieve true international recognition, including that of the all-important American market. This turning point in the history of the brand occurred in 1947, with the introduction of the Vulcain Cricket watch, and its alarm movement… The first alarm wristwatch to truly be worthy of the name.
“Five years of continuous research and experimentation were spent by the engineers of the Vulcain Watch Factory
at La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland. The problem, one that had stumped expert watchmakers for years, was how to place the delicate mechanism of a precision watch and that of an alarm in a thin wristwatch case. Then, too, the sound had to have a noise loud enough to awaken a sleeper. Vulcain’s craftsmen developed and discarded mechanism after mechanism for two years. Most actually rang accurately, but the sound was just too soft to have any really audible effect. Then one sunny morning, one of the Vulcain engineers was enjoying a walk in the country when he heard crickets singing their deafening sound. Crickets!…” So is what you could read in some adverts of the time.
The main point behind the Cricket watch was its hand-wound movement with two independent barrels – one for timekeeping, one for the alarm – which produced a sound more powerful and louder than anything else before. A 25-second chime that sounded like a cricket chirping, thanks to a buzzing hammer striking a pin. And the collection became an instant hit, mostly due to some of its famous owners… American Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, Nixon and Johnson all once owned a Vulcain Cricket.
“Whether you wear it on your wrist or whether you place it on your night table, the Vulcain Cricket will awaken you at the very minute chosen. (…) On your wrist, Cricket will recall your appointments.” The concept was not only highly efficient in terms of sound, but also easy to use… As easy as setting the alarm on a mechanical night table clock, actually. The watch was fitted with a usual crown at 3 o’clock and an additional button at 2 o’clock. The crown would wind the barrels (both the watch in one way and the alarm in the other) and would adjust the time traditionally. Pushing the button releases the crown to adjust the additional arrow-shaped hand, in order to set the time of the alarm.
The Vulcain Cricket will evolve with the addition of a smaller model for ladies in 1958, and a model named Nautical in 1961, with an alarm that was audible underwater. However, the quartz crisis stroke hard on Vulcain, which came to an end in the early 1980s. In 2001, a company named PMH (Production et Marketing Horloger SA) owned by Bernard Fleury, acquired the brand and the rights to its V-10 calibre. In 2002, the Cricket Alarm watch was back… Up until a few years ago, with the brand being again in a rather difficult position.
The Comeback of the Vulcain Cricket Alarm Watch
The first important thing to note here is that, yes, Vulcain is back as a brand, with a new collection of watches. But that’s not all, since the manufacture where the Cricket movement with alarm complication was produced is also still alive. And the new collection is a very nice tribute to the past, with designs that directly look back at early models of the Vulcain Cricket… Two different collections built around the same movement and case design, available in a variety of colours, and in two highly attractive sizes; a classic 39mm and a compact, vintage-oriented 36mm case.
The new Cricket Alarm watches rotate around two distinct dial designs, one named “Tradition” with applied arrow markers and numerals, paired with classic Dauphine hands, and another one named “Classique” with a sectorized dial, painted Arabic numerals and luminous Alpha hands, with a slightly sportier (and, in my opinion, cooler) design.
Let’s start with the case. Both collections are identical in this instance. In fact, with the exception of the dial design, everything is shared between the two. There’s an undeniable retro charm in the shape of the watch, with rounded surfaces, pointy lugs, an angled, thin bezel and, topping this (not so) new Cricket, a box-shaped sapphire crystal. Either 36mm or 39mm options have a height of 12.70mm, however, the lug width will be 18 or 20mm depending on the chosen size. The caseback is screwed and made of two elements, and water-resistance is fairly decent at 50 metres.
The dials… First, the Classique version. A re-edition of a dial that has existed in the past, this first model has painted Arabic numerals and luminous Alpha hands, for a slightly original, tool-ish look. The dial is available in 3 standard versions, in light brown as presented here (a bit like a patinated white dial) and in black with either white/blue accents, or khaki accents.
The Tradition model is a bit more on the elegant, discreet side, with its combination of applied arrows and numerals. The hands are also thinner, and full metal (no lume) dauphine style. Again, 3 standard models are available at the time of the presentation; a black/gold edition, an eggshell model with golden accents and a classic black dial with silvered accents. And importantly, there are salmon editions of both variants, which are limited “launch” editions (which are also available in 36 or 39mm cases).
The dial, designs apart, all have the same display, with 4 central hands (hours, minutes and seconds) including the all-important alarm hand that points at a peripheral track, with 10-minute intervals to set the time of the alarm. The latter, as explained above, is set by using the pusher at 2 o’clock and then the crown at 3 o’clock.
Interestingly, the rebirth of Vulcain isn’t just about encasing outsourced ébauches, but also about reviving historic movements, including the classic hand-wound calibre V-10. An evolution of the movement designed in 1947, it still features the two-barrel architecture and the same sort of hammer to chime the alarm – resulting in this typically Vulcain Cricket buzzing sound. In a Cricket, the hammer strikes the pin emitting the sound of the cricket. The exterior caseback acts as a resonance chamber and amplifies the sound. You can hear it in the video below.
The second important feature of this movement is named Exactomatic, a patented device to equalise the friction on the balance-wheel axis in all positions by modifying the Incabloc endstones. This provides a more regular amplitude. The movement, which is hidden behind the solid caseback, runs at a slow pace of 2.5Hz and stores 42 hours of power reserve. It’s an old-school but proven movement that we’re certainly happy to see back in action.
Availability & Price
The new Vulcain Cricket Alarm Watches are now available for pre-order on the brand’s website, with the salmon models being limited to 50 pieces each. There’s also a large choice of leather straps, as well as pin buckle or folding clasp options. Retail prices start at CHF 3,600 for the 36mm models, and CHF 3,900 for the 39mm model.
For more details and orders, please visit vulcain.ch.