“Patrimony” is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as “property inherited from one’s father or male ancestor,” or “valued things passed down from previous generations; heritage.” In the case of Vacheron Constantin’s Patrimony collection of fine timepieces, both interpretations apply. Patrimony watches most definitely trace their design lineage to ancestors from the Geneva-based manufacture’s 260-plus-year history — most directly, from models made in the 1950s — while they also are clearly suitable to be passed down as a treasured heirloom to a current owner’s descendants.
To continue the metaphor, “Retrograde” is defined as “directed or moving backward” — and the Patrimony Moon Phase and Retrograde Date, which Vacheron added to the vintage-inspired collection this year and which I recently had a chance to review, is indeed a throwback to a more elegant era of timekeeping with its midcentury-influenced design — but, with its user-friendly moon-phase complication, is clearly meant to embody a very modern sense of luxury as well.
The watch, as its lengthy name implies, features a somewhat rare combination of a retrograde date indication and a moon-phase display, and does so in a pleasingly balanced and symmetrical dial layout.
The round, rose gold case measures 42.5 mm in diameter and 9.7 mm thick, and dazzles with a gleaming, polished finish. A subtly curved sapphire crystal, rising just fractions of a millimeter above the sloping contours of the bezel, gives the watch an elegant profile. The keenly faceted lugs are curved to hug the wrist and meticulously polished. The very small, grooved winding crown has a relief engraving of a Maltese cross, Vacheron’s famous emblem — one of several instances in which it appears on this watch. Set very close to the case middle, the crown may be a bit challenging for larger fingers (or shorter fingernails) to grip and turn.
The silvered opaline dial is eminently legible despite the myriad of information it displays. Hours are marked by simple gold appliqués in several shapes and sizes — triangular markers at the quarter-hours (with a substantially smaller one at 12 o’clock, so as not to obscure the date scale or the Vacheron logo), thin rectangles at the other hour marks (again, shorter between 9 and 12 o’clock, and 12 and 3 o’clock, to make way for the date scale). The minute track is made up entirely of tiny golden circles that wrap around the dial’s subtly raised rim like a string of horological pearls.
Simple, thin, center-mounted, beveled hands of different lengths clearly indicate the hours and minutes. There is no seconds hand, or any indication of running seconds, which bothered me a bit at first but quickly starts to feel “right,” as this is a watch suited for leisure, not for rushing to meet down-to-the-minute deadlines. Another subtle detail, as seen in the photos below: the hands have an ever-so-slight downward curve in order to follow the contours of the dial’s surface and those of the domed sapphire crystal.
Occupying the spot usually reserved for a central seconds hand is the open-arrow-tipped pointer hand, its black coloring achieved by an oxide process, which is used in one of the watch’s signature complications, its retrograde date function. This hand’s tip brushes the bottom of each black, sans-serif numeral on the elegantly curving 1-to-31 scale as it moves from day to day. At midnight on the 31st of each 31-day month, the pointer hand jumps back from 31 to 1 to begin the monthly countdown again. In days with fewer than 31 days, the wearer simply manually advances the pointer the extra day (or in the case of February, the extra two or three days) with a simple clockwise turn of the crown in its second position.
The moon-phase display at 6 o’clock is beautiful — with a gold disk for the moon and a painted gold starfield on a dark blue night sky — and outwardly somewhat traditional in its design. Inwardly, however, it’s far more complex than average: it is engineered to be accurate to one day every 122 years — getting back to the “patrimony” theme, that would mean it won’t need a correction until your grandkids inherit it — and, unlike most other moon-phases that are synched to the watch’s calendar functions, is adjustable via the crown, with counterclockwise rotations in its second position. A scale representing the actual lunar cycle of 29 days, 12 hours, and 45 minutes, with black Arabic numerals and dot indices, appears around the semicircular moon-phase aperture.
Turn the watch over to get a glimpse of the manufacture movement that makes all of this possible, Vacheron’s self-winding Caliber 2460 R31L. The micromechanical vista is dominated by a large rotor, made of 22k gold and lovingly adorned with a barleycorn guilloché pattern and an engraved-relief Vacheron Constantin logo. Tilt the timepiece to move the very sensitive oscillating mass to a different position and get a glimpse of the balance wheel, oscillating at 28,800 vph (4 Hz); and the curving bridges, finished with côtes de Genève and beveled edges, one of them oh-so-subtly stamped with the Hallmark of Geneva in gold. The barrel, which ostensibly holds a 40-hour power reserve (I’m pretty sure that I left the watch in a safe for two full days and it didn’t require rewinding when it emerged), is less noticeable, ensconced nearer the dial side of the movement in the perlage-decorated mainplate. The aforementioned Geneva Hallmark, of course, testifies to the movement’s superior level of finishing.
The strap is suitably handsome and dressy, in dark brown alligator that is almost velvety to the touch. It attaches to the wrist with a simple pin buckle made of the same rose gold as the case — simple, of course, being a relative term here; the execution of said buckle’s half-Maltese cross design, with its meticulous polishing and gently rounded curved edges, is anything but.
On the wrist, the watch’s gold 42.5-mm gold case felt substantial but not overly weighty and nestled comfortably under a shirt cuff. Reading both the time and date at a glance quickly becomes intuitive, though the lack of a seconds hand does leave the wearer bereft of a means to discern whether the watch is actually running, which could be an issue after the timepiece may have been in a drawer or on a nightstand for a while. (The best answer to this, of course, is to wear the watch often — as many who discover it, I’m confident, would not have to be coaxed into doing.) The half-Maltese cross buckle fastens securely and also has the benefit of being very attractive; as I’ve noted in a previous review of a Vacheron watch, I appreciate how watches from this brand are instantly recognizable from the buckle as much as they are from the dial designs or case shapes.
The Vacheron Constantin Patrimony Moon Phase and Retrograde Date (in this rose-gold version, it’s Ref. 4010U/000R-B329; the brand also offers a white-gold version, Ref. 4010U/000G-B330) carries a retail price of $40,600 — certainly pricey, but fair when one considers the combination of precious metal, in-house movement, and the easy-to-use (but rare and difficult to execute) crown-operated moon-phase complication. The latter feature, of course, is a perfect expression of the understated luxury that the watch’s owner, and possibly his descendants, will display with this timepiece on his wrist.