Two of the more popular vintage-revival watches released last year were the Vacheron Constantin Historiques Triple Calendrier 1942 and 1948. The pieces, which now sit in boutiques alongside the critically-acclaimed Overseas collection, caught the attention of many publications early last October for their integration of the 1940s triple calendar design and Vacheron’s excellent contemporary manufacturing abilities. They also contributed to Vacheron’s growing Historiques collection which also includes the Cornes de Vache 1955 chronograph and the American 1921 watch.
These new watches are based on two different executions of the reference 4240 (vintage picture above, via Antiquorum). The Historique 1942 is based on the Vacheron Constantin reference 4240 released in the modern watch’s namesake year 1942, and the Historique 1948 is based on the 4240L (the added “L” indicating the moon phase disk, picture below via Sotheby’s) which was released six years later after the first reference, naturally in 1948. The two original references were similar to one another, each utilizing many different dial features and case materials including both printed and applied numerals; dauphine and stick hands; many different colors and accents; and steel, yellow gold, and pink gold cases.
To first focus on the Historique Triple Calendrier 1942, the watch comes exclusively in steel at 40 mm, and features “claw” style lugs, a triple gadroon case profile which gives the piece a stepped appearance, and a tight signed crown. On its opaline dial— which comes in either blue or red for the analog date track— is an outer black railroad track, the previously mentioned date track, and black-printed Arabic hour markers. Also on the dial is a prominent 6 o’clock sub-dial for the seconds counter, and, above the center, are the day and month windows, set slightly beneath the subtle Vacheron Constantin logo. Powering the watch’s stick-style hour and minute hands and red-tipped hour date indicator is the manually wound caliber 4400 QC, which is based on VC’s in-house caliber 4400, and is capable of a 65-hour power reserve and visible through a sapphire caseback. This model is currently priced at $19,500.
Moving onto the Historique Triple Calendrier 1948, this watch comes exclusively in pink gold at 40 mm, and uses the same triple gadroon case design and crown as the 1942, but differs from its sister watch in using a more integrated style of lugs. On the dial, much of the details of the 1942 are the same, specifically the analog date and outer railroad tracks, blue and red color options, and the stick style of hands. What differs between the watches is that the Historique 1948 uses applied gold pyramid hour markers between the applied Roman numerals at the three, six, and twelve positions; as well the 1948 uses gold edging around the day and month indicators while the 1942 lacks this extra feature. At the bottom of the 1948 is possibly its most distinguishing feature in the moon-phase and seconds subdial (also available in either red or blue), which is powered by the caliber 4400 QCL (the “L,” like the vintage 4240L, indicates its capability as a moon phase watch). This movement is identical to the 4400 QC outside the addition of the moon phase complication, with it also being capable of a 65-hour power reserve and visible through the watch’s sapphire caseback. The Historique 1948 is currently priced at $35,000.
In both the Historique 1942 and 1948, the vintage influences are seen throughout the watches. Most apparently, these are seen in the triple gadroon case, outer railroad track, triple calendar dial configuration, and the subdial presence for either seconds only or for the seconds and moon phase. Yet, in more subtle ways, these influences are also seen, such as the use of both red and blue accents, the use of applied numerals on the 1948 and printed on the 1942, and the stick hour markers on both. The vintage watches themselves had so much variation in design — from dial accents to case materials— that the composition of different 4240 and 4240L influences in these modern watches match the original distinction from the series.
But what has made these watches even more popular is not vintage influence alone, but how this historical inspiration has been executed so well on the part of Vacheron. For example, as far as I’m aware, none of the vintage 4240L watches used as much of an integrated lug design as the Historique 1948, and few of the 4240 watches had as distinctive claw lugs as the 1942 (in fact, many had a style more similar to those seen on the Cornes de Vache). Yet the brand needed to bring these watches into the modern era and let them stand on their own, and so it slightly tweaked what in the 1940s might have been a distinguishing mark for the series to fit what can now become a distinguishing mark for the series today.
Other noticeable differences include the use of a thicker, and likely sturdier, signed crown; a larger case, from 35 to 40 mm; a clear improvement on manufacturing and finishing throughout the watch; the use of a modern sapphire caseback to showcase the new movement; and for the 1948, the addition of the gold edging around the day and month windows.
To Vacheron Constantin’s benefit, not many brands were producing luxury wristwatches in the 1940s, and, of those that did, not all of them are still in business. VC itself struggled during this period and has only in recent decades began to return to the center of luxury watchmaking. While many brands today produce triple calendar designs, few, if any of them, are doing so using this vintage style. Together, these features of real history and a unique design distinguish the Historique 1942 and 1948.
For the most recent article in the “Vintage Eye” series, in which we compare the Girard-Perregaux Laureato to its historical predecessor, click here. You can also check out Vacheron Constantin’s latest release at SIHH 2018 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.