One of the best parts about big watch events — especially one like WatchTime New York 2016 last month — is how easily collectors, enthusiasts, and journalists can engage with many of the brands we’ve spent the year reading about. For me, one of those brands happened to be Vacheron Constantin; I often receive the brand’s press releases, and see plenty of articles on its newest watches, but it is not very often that am I able to directly connect with some of the people who run the show, in addition to connecting with some of the watches that have helped build its reputation as one of the top luxury brands today.
Of those watches was the Vacheron Constantin Historiques Cornes de Vache 1955, or Cornes de Vache for short. I originally wrote a little bit about this piece while covering some of the most noteworthy vintage-inspired pieces I spotted at this year’s WatchTime New York, but I thought it would also be interesting to directly compare the watch to its historical counterpart.
The new series is based upon a small production of luxury chronographs from 1955, known as the Ref. 6087 (photo above, courtesy of Phillips Auction), but the reference quickly earned the nickname “Cornes de Vache” for the resemblance between its teardrop-shaped lugs and cow horns (which roughly translates to “cornes de vache” in French). From its first production in the mid-1950s to its eventual discontinuation in the early 1960s, only 28 of these watches were produced in yellow gold, and only handful or so more were produced in white gold. Because it is so rare, and because the 6087 was one of the few water-resistant luxury chronographs of its time (due to its screw-down caseback and round chronograph pushers), it has since become a grail in vintage collecting, often going at auction for over $40,000 when it makes an appearance.
The new watch, originally released in 2015 with a platinum case (below) and then in 2016 in rose gold (above), set out to honor its forebear with a historical homage. Available in a polished, 38.5-mm case, the watch of course features its namesake “Cornes de Vache” lugs, along with a sapphire caseback revealing the beautifully finished hand-wound Caliber 1142. On the white dial is an outer tachymetric scale detailed in blue, an inner minute ring indicating each consecutive five minutes up to 60, and two subdials for running seconds and a chronograph minutes counter. The hour markers are applied gold or platinum depending on the case material, with tick marks for each hour with the exception of Roman numerals for the 12 and 6 o’clock positions. The time is indicated by stick hands for the hours, minutes, and running seconds, while a vintage-inspired blued steel is used for the chronograph seconds and minute counter hands. The watch, like its historical counterpart, is available in extremely low quantities, and retails at $53,600 for its rose gold variation and $69,200 for the platinum.
Compared to the original Ref. 6087, the new Cornes de Vache shares many distinctly vintage stylings, along with some new modern details. Foremost among the former is the general case shape and style of lugs, which brought the watch so much initial attention. Another is the simplicity of the white dial, which uses only two subdials; those on the modern watch are a bit more detailed than its vintage relative, and the overall case size has been increased by 3.5 mm so the additions of the tachymetric scale does not overcrowd the aesthetic. Also note the use of case-matching colors for the applied markers and hands, along with the use of blue details seen on both the vintage and modern piece.
The notable differences between the two models are details that one would expect on such a modern heritage piece. These include the slightly larger case (38.5 mm, up from the original’s 35 mm); the sapphire caseback, instead of a traditional solid screw-down, which offers a view of the movement; and a slightly more intricate dial meant to give the watch a more interesting appearance. Today’s variation does use applied Roman numerals, tick marks, and a tachymetric scale — none of which appeared on the 1955 reference — but these are far from extreme changes from the original’s overall look and appeal.
There is a reason why this watch originally caught my eye at WatchTime New York. Besides it being a very handsome piece in its own right, when I saw it I instantly thought it had to have some sort of vintage inspiration. Not very often in today’s world of horology do you see such a subtle case size along with a caliber of this detail, so to me it became one of the most distinctive-looking pieces from the event. Its design is timeless, strikingly similar to its rare historical counterpart, and an eye-catcher in a crowded field. Put into the larger context of Vacheron Constantin’s growing collection of historically inspired watches, this one becomes another example of a tribute well-executed by the brand.
For our most recent article, in which I look at the historical inspirations for the modern Casio G-Shock lineage, click here.
Caleb Anderson is a freelance writer with a primary focus on vintage watches. Since first learning about horology, he has garnered extensive knowledge in the field, and spends much of his time sharing his opinions among other writers, collectors, and dealers. Currently located near New York City, he is a persistent student in all things historical, a writer on many topics, and a casual runner.