With the onslaught of the Swiss watchmaking industry brought about by the Quartz Crisis at its peak in the early 1980s, the public's interest in complicated mechanical watches had begun to wane as digital and electronic technology took precedence. One watch that was instrumental in reversing that now antiquated mindset was the Vacheron Constantin Perpetual Calendar ref. 43031 - as it put high-end horology firmly back on the map and aided in getting complicated mechanical watches back on the wrists of the public.
Released in 1983, the Vacheron Constantin Perpetual Calendar ref. 43031 followed Audemars Piguet's own perpetual calendar model and preceded that of Patek Philippe in what was a classic battle for the top spot between the Holy Trinity's three watchmakers. Evolving into Vacheron's quintessential perpetual calendar model, the ref. 43031 saw around two decades of service with its eventual discontinuation in 2002 following the production of several variants in different metals and dial configurations.
Offered here, I have the yellow gold variant with a beautiful silver dial. Measuring 36mm across, the ref. 43031 was delightfully on point in proportions, and with its long lugs, it continues to wear well in the contemporary era of watchmaking too. What makes this particular example so special is the fact that it remains in pristine, new old stock condition with its original case back sticker still attached.
With a stepped bezel and its perfectly circular case interrupted only by a small discreet crown, the ref. 43031 is a beautiful watch that sparkles like a jewel with its polished surface finish. Contrasting its polished finish, the ref. 43031 features an opaline dial with four subdials marking the day, month, leap year, date, and moon phase - which combine to make for an elegantly symmetrical layout. A wonderful design all-around, the ref. 43031's secret lies in its moon phase indicator, with a lapis lazuli moon phase backdrop bringing a deep rich textured blue color to the ref. 43031's dial. A semi-precious gemstone, lapis lazuli is often used in jewelry and antiquity, yet some watchmakers use it as a means to mark their best watches.
A splendid watch on the outside, the ref. 43031 is an alluring piece of work on the inside too. While fitted with a solid caseback, the movement found within the ref. 43031 is still undoubtedly a horological heavyweight. Based on the legendary JLC cal. 920 and retrofitted with a Dubois-Depraz perpetual calendar module, the resultant movement is Vacheron's cal. 1120/2 - an elegantly finished and historically significant movement that Vacheron still uses to this day. Powered by an iconic movement and featuring an elegant design, the ref. 43031 is the sort of watch that put Vacheron on the map and earned them the plaudits they still enjoy.
Vacheron Constantin’s perpetual calendars are the latest watches to join the neo-vintage rebirth and it is a model line that deserves its re-found fame. I am sure that it will continue to appreciate over time after many years of being seen as an outdated ‘dress’ watch.