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Review: Vacheron Constantin Traditionnelle Tourbillon Chronograph

If you’ve got the thick end of $200,000 to spend, well—first of all I’d ask who you robbed to get it, and secondly, I’d suggest buying something sensible like property with it. But what if you’ve already got property, already been sensible, and you’ve still got $200,000 to spend? This Vacheron Constantin Traditionnelle Tourbillon Chronograph is one way to do it. Let’s take a closer look.

The Tradition

No mincing words with Vacheron Constantin: this is the Traditionnelle Tourbillon Chronograph, so what better way to explore it than to break it down into those three chunks. For $66,666 and change of your $200,000, the Tradition part of the Traditionnelle Tourbillon Chronograph better be worth the headline billing. Thankfully, Vacheron Constantin, having been around since 1755, has plenty of it.

And it hasn’t just been moping around the last two-and-a-half centuries, procrastinating like a time-warped teenager; Vacheron Constantin has been putting in hard time and getting stuff done. Thinnest, most complicated—these aren’t words used to describe the plot of the latest M. Night Shyamalan venture, rather the kinds of watches Vacheron Constantin has put out time and time again.

Being so old, it’s not really the kind of brand that wows and innovates with crazy designs and space-age materials. It sticks to what it knows and what it does best, and that’s complication. Vacheron Constantin is that old guy at work, the only one left who knows how to do the thing with the machine to make the stuff happen, the guy who’ll leave the company in a sticky pickle when he passes on.

Except, that with over 260 years of continuous production, it’s also been the young guy with the modern, technical know-how too. The brand didn’t just hire watchmakers, but inventors, establishing protocol for standardised calibres, and developing the pantograph, a tool used for engraving incredibly small parts. The first nonmagnetic timepiece was a Vacheron Constantin, fitted with bronze, gold and palladium components to protect the escapement.

With just a scratch to the surface of the company’s history, that’s the tradition ticked off—what about the rest?

The Tourbillon

The tourbillon isn’t a Vacheron Constantin venture, but nevertheless it’s certainly a very welcome filling in the Traditionnelle Tourbillon Chronograph sandwich. You’ll find it towards the top of the 42.5mm rose gold case, and whilst its design originates from the pursuit of exceptional timekeeping, it’s the looks that are going to earn it its share of the 200 large.

The tourbillon, invented by Abraham Louis Breguet in 1795, was a wizard idea to make the already complicated pocket watch escapement even more complicated. Containing upwards of fifty parts on its own, the tourbillon is an engineering solution and a half to the problem of gravity. It’s the equivalent of getting more sun in the dining room by picking up the entire house and turning it around.

But whilst the practical applications of the tourbillon are less important these days, the mastery of not just making one, but making one as pretty as this, is still very much in demand. As the only part of the calibre 3200 on show from the front, it’s wearing its best dress—namely the brand’s logo, the Maltese cross—as the tourbillon cage. Its healthy 65-hour power reserve can be kept in check via the 6 o’clock sub-dial—handy, as this is a manual wind watch only.

But a tourbillon like this isn’t going to be happy with just a casual glance; it wants to be scrutinised to the smallest detail. Vacheron Constantin didn’t pay an arm and a leg to apply for the Geneva Seal to get anything less. The mirror polished bridge supporting the whole ensemble starts how Vacheron Constantin means to go on, every surface treated to a level of attention even a reality TV star would find a bit too much. And, like said reality TV star, the tourbillon is just something you can’t help but watch—although, in this case, not to see it crash and burn in a mire of its own ego and depravity…

The Chronograph

With the tourbillon peeking out the front, that usually means the back is left somewhat lacklustre, however because of the last word in the watch’s name—chronograph—you’re not left short changed. Well, at $66,666 for the chronograph bit, I’ll leave that for you to decide.

Unlike other Lemania-based chronographs Vacheron Constantin uses—which would still fit the Tradition moniker, it’s worth noting—the calibre 3200 is entirely the brand’s own, if only to squeeze the chronograph and tourbillon together into a package that stays the right side of 12mm thick. With the tourbillon taking running seconds duty and power reserve down low, that only leaves the 3 o’clock sub-dial for chronograph minutes—up to 45—and the central chronograph seconds as is expected.

What’s not expected—and is a nod back to Vacheron Constantin’s traditional past—is that this is not a typical chronograph. Most these days have one pusher to start and stop, and one to reset. That’s something Breitling came up with more recently than you’d imagine, in 1923. No, no no—Vacheron Constantin’s chronograph bread and butter is the monopusher. One button to rule them all—actually that whole Tolkien verse fits rather well, come to think of it.

You may decry the lack of fidelity when it comes to monitoring the chronograph, but when you get to see it in action from the back—through which the tourbillon still offers a mighty view—all that is forgiven, and perhaps even forgotten. This is a watch to be enjoyed with the eyes from top to bottom, the reserved—but nonetheless exquisite—case and dial serving as a frame for the artwork within. And, by way of the artist’s signature, there’s another little Maltese cross nestled in the column wheel.

There’s a lot of things I’d happily spend $200,000 on. If I could, which I won’t, but if I could spend it on a watch, it’s safe to say that choosing would be the hardest part. This is a watch surrounded by some very esteemed company, and for $200,000, you’re going to want that choice to reflect every last dollar spent. Is the Traditionnelle Tourbillon Chronograph’s trifecta a tantalising enough proposition? As someone lacking most of the required investment, it’s hard, if not impossible to say. If you’re someone looking for a traditional tourbillion with a bonus chronograph and have a quarter mill to spend, you’re certainly not going to be disappointed.

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