Adapting the Biblical phrase to the watchmaking sphere, it is true to say that watch lovers do not live by novelties alone. There are plenty of models out there that deserve to be admired, time after time. One of these belongs to Vacheron Constantin‘s understated yet elegant Patrimony family inspired by slim men’s wristwatches of the 1950s. The Patrimony Moon Phase and Retrograde Date appeared in 2017, a simpler model that was somewhat eclipsed by the astronomical watch Celestia with double-digit complications and the Grande Sonnerie Symphonia. Fitted with a retrograde date and a moon phase indication, the complications were not jaw-dropping, but the overall appeal and discreet elegance of the watch have given it the kind of sticking power you need to become a classic.
As Brice explained in his review, the Moon Phase and Retrograde Date was a descendant of the Retrograde Day-Date with the same case, same base movement and the replacement of the day indication with a moon phase. Initially presented in 18k white and pink gold, there has also been a majestic platinum edition (2020) that really takes the cake. However, today we’re going to take a short trip down memory lane and look at the two gold editions.
We are all familiar with retrograde complications and their delightful hands that jump back to the start counterclockwise at the end of their journey. Retrograde displays are something of a Vacheron Constantin signature and enjoyed their golden age in the 1920s. Coinciding with the creative freedom of the Art Deco period, Vacheron produced the delightful “Arms in the Air” pocket watch with a bi-retrograde display (ref. inv. 11060) featuring a fakir or a Chinese magician whose arms replaced the hands to indicate the hours and minutes. In the 1990s, Vacheron produced retrograde wristwatches like the Saltarello with retrograde minutes and jumping hours.
In 2000, Vacheron released the reference 47245 Patrimony, a retrograde Day & Date model to coincide with the brand’s 245th anniversary with a 31-date arc in the upper half of the dial and a round day-of-the-week counter in the lower half, the ancestor, if you like of the 2017 Patrimony Moon Phase & Retrograde Date.
Simple, elegant case
Although the case is simple, it takes a lot of work to strike a balance between ‘elegant simple’ and ‘boring simple’. Minimalist yet refined, the case is smooth, flat with polished surfaces and no sharp angles, capturing the mood of slim, sober, high-end watches of the mid 20th century. Fair enough, purists will argue that 42.5mm is big for a dress watch, but it does reflect today’s trend for slightly larger dress watch diameters, and its height of 9.70mm is slim enough to slide under the cuff.
Again, the dial is uncluttered and legible representing the retrograde date in an arc spanning the dial from 9 to 3 o’clock. Arabic numerals for odd numbers with dots representing the even numbers are indicated by the openworked arrow-tipped hand that performs its jump back to zero (in this case, 1) at the end of each month. A smaller arc balances the date arc in the lower half of the dial for the moon phase indication. Like most conventional moon phases, it is placed in a bosom-shaped aperture with a starry blue sky and a rose or white gold moon.
However, to promote an even stronger visual balance with the numerals on the retrograde date, the ages of the Moon are inscribed on the arc running from 0 to 29 ½. As a precision moon phase mechanism, it will require a one-day correction once every 122 years. Another detail I hadn’t noticed until I spent some time with the watch was the arrangement of the stars. What could seem like a random distribution of stars is, in fact, a depiction of certain constellations in the Northern Hemisphere traced with thinly etched lines filled with stars.
Where things start to get interesting, design-wise, is with the indices applied to the silver opaline dial. As you can appreciate, the lower half of the dial has larger indices (white or rose gold) with slim triangular wedges applied at 3, 6 and 9 o’clock and thin batons at 4, 5, 7 and 8 o’clock, all slightly bent at their tips to follow the gentle curve of the dial. However, given the more copious information supplied in the top half of the dial, the indices are about one-third smaller in length. Even the triangular index at noon has been lobbed off to accommodate the date track. Another detail that I love about the watch is the minutes track. Instead of adding more numerals to the equation, the designers have opted for applied pearl markers in white or rose gold, depending on the case (a feature found in the ref. 47245 where the gold pearl markers represented the odd hours. It is not an earth-shattering detail but points to the excellent design that results in an expansive, easy-to-read and elegant dial. The hour and minute hands are bevelled but subtle and, as you would expect from this watch, not treated with lume. In fact, there is not a trace of lume anywhere on the dial, in keeping with its smart dress watch appeal.
Another winning trait of this watch is its user-friendliness. Apart from the normal use of a crown to set the time and wind the movement, the date and moon phase can also be adjusted at the crown. Position A of the crown is to hand-wind the movement (it is automatic, but if you haven’t worn it for some time, you can turn the crown a few turns); position B is for correcting the date (turn clockwise) and adjusting the moon phase (anticlockwise), and position C is to set the time.
Calibre 2460 R31L
Beautifully finished in line with its Hallmark of Geneva certification, with circular graining on the main plate and the elaborate decoration on the large 22k gold rotor, the in-house automatic movement delivers 40 hours of power reserve. Composed of 275 parts, the movement beats at a frequency of 28,800vph /4Hz.
A very attractive candidate for a gold dress watch with contemporary proportions and an elegant, slim 1950s profile spirit that Vacheron’s Patrimony collection cultivates so well. Retrograde functions always liven up a dial, and the impeccable balance and congruity of the dial denote the excellent design. Not forgetting the added bonus of being able to set the moon phases at the crown, a rare feature in watches that dispenses with fiddly pushers and buttons on the side of the case.
Availability and Price
Both Patrimony Moon Phase Retrograde Date models come with alligator straps and a gold ardillon buckle. The retail price is CHF 45,300 (incl. tax) for both models.
More information at Vacheron-Constantin.com.