Beloved by collectors for their classical approach to watchmaking, Vacheron Constantin is the most traditional of the three Holy Trinity watchmakers thanks to their old-time aesthetic, heritage-inspired design, and traditionalist view of mechanics. With this, some of Vacheron's timepieces offer a wonderful view of the timepieces that came generations before the modern watches of today and the Les Historiques Chronograph Ref. 47101 that I have here is a beautiful example of that.
For those who don’t know, the 1990s were an interesting period for watch collecting. It signified a radical change in the watchmaking industry as it gradually crawled out of its darkest days - the quartz crisis. Mechanical horology was regaining popularity and again, making a comeback. Now being in 2022, watches from this particular 90s era, now known as “neo-vintage watches”, represent a significant shift in mindset for many luxury brands who are once again, getting back into producing mechanical watches during that time.
This particular Vacheron Constantin Historiques Chronograph Ref. 47101 in 18-carat yellow gold represented Vacheron’s way of kick-starting the 90s on a strong note. It was first introduced in 1989 as part of the brand’s Historiques collection as a tribute to the Geneva watchmaker’s archives. This was Vacheron’s modern reinterpretation of vintage chronographs from the 1940s to 1950s, specifically the iconic manual-wind chronograph Ref. 4178.
Having a beautiful and balanced aesthetic is one thing Vacheron did right on the Ref. 47101, but I think what sets this one apart from the other examples is its pleasingly symmetrical and stunning, deep black dial with a beautiful guilloché. Its two subdial layout utilizes two gold-encircled sub-dials with concentric circles engraved within to display the running seconds at 9 o'clock, and the chronograph's 30-minute counter at 3 o'clock. Despite the tachymeter scale being placed along its chapter ring, the Ref. 47101's dial is clean and retains its legibility, as its 18-carat yellow gold applied hour markers and Arabic numerals contrast nicely against the deep rich black dial.
By looking over the images, I am certain that you’d be inclined to agree with us that the Ref. 47101 is, without a doubt, a perfectly elegant and dressy chronograph. When you turn the case over, you will see that it houses a highly finished Vacheron Cal. 1140, which was based on the legendary Lemania Cal. 2310. The Cal. 1140 features 21-jewels, and comes with a self-compensating Breguet spring, a swan-neck regulator, and is adjusted to 5 positions. It fully displays Lemania's signature labyrinthine architecture with an array of Vacheron's emphatic finishing techniques on its bridges, baseplate, levers, and screws. A beautiful watch on the wrist and off it, the Ref. 47101 presents itself as a pure expression of classical watchmaking, long before the advent of modern manufacturing and flashy design. Interestingly, the Ref. 47101 actually remained in production up until the early 2000s with numerous variations consisting of several dial and case configurations.
As far as wearability goes, the 36mm case wears on the wrist very well. To some, 36mm may sound small on paper, but the teardrop lugs perceptively increased the wrist presence of the case ever so slightly, which contributes to overall wearability. There is something about this watch that exudes an old-world charm that I haven’t felt with many other watches I’ve handled in the past. Its outstanding design and proportions make the Ref. 47101 a very attractive watch to reach for in the watch box on a regular basis.
My time spent with the Ref. 47101 has been extremely enjoyable. As part of the recent resurgence of neo-vintage timepieces from the ’90s, I am glad to see elegant and historically important dress watches such as this one come back to importance.
Furthermore, with this black and gold version being significantly rarer than other variants, and the fact that it comes in pristine condition, including its original box, papers, and pouch, makes this example truly a collectors grade piece.