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By: respo 
Posts: 4371 


The Thin Man - Initial Review of Les Historiques Ultra-fine 1955

Date: Jun 04, 2012,21:04 PM -  (view entire thread)

Recently I welcomed a new Vacheron into the family. 



This was NOT the next VC I was expecting to get, but the Historiques Ultra-fine 1955 surprised me when I first strapped it on.


I was expecting to get a Patrimony Contemporaine first, or the Historiques Ultra-fine 1968, perhaps, or even some reference from further back.  I have had a real fondness for ultra-thin watches ever since I discovered JLC's Master Ultra Thin. But the JLC is a bit too small for me at 34mm. It always looks just a bit like a ladies' watch on my wide flat wrist. I feared that the 1955 might also be too small at 36mm.  But then I finally had the opportunity to try it on a few weeks ago.  What a revelation!

Bill wrote a great Quick Look Review of the 1955 in February 2012: Quick-Look Review: Vacheron Consatntin - Historiques Ultrathin 1955 . So, I will just offer here my very personal thoughts on the 1955 thus far.

I have admired both the Ultra-fine 1968 and 1955 since they were launched at SIHH 2010. I think they make a fabulous pair, and I would love to have both. In each instance, these models from the Historiques line reinterpret a watch from the past while using the calibers that were in the respective original watches that served as the inspirations for the new models. Vacheron Constantin is proudly proclaiming its heritage and perhaps winking at the rest of the industry. Just think about the fact that VC has been using the legendary calibers 1003 and 1120 since approximately 1955 and 1968 respectively, long enough that the brand can reinterpret watches decades after the originals while using the original calibers! There are just not that many manufacturers that could do this.



The Historiques Ultra-fine 1955 revisits the reference 6099, which was itself produced in celebration of Vacheron Constantin’s 200th anniversary in 1955, and which served as the first watch to use the new ultrathin caliber 1003. According to Vacheron Constantin, the Historiques Ultra-fine 1955 is currently the world’s thinnest mechanical hand-wound watch, at just 4.10 mm thick. As Bill pointed out in his Quick Look Review, there have been movements thinner than the cal. 1003 at 1.64mm, but none that have been so reliable.



Consequently, the more I thought about my next VC, the more I realized I really wanted a VC with a caliber 1003 in it. The trouble is that most vintage VCs are too small for my wrist. With the 1955, we have, perhaps for the first time, the caliber 1003 in a larger case that is water resistant, and here with a solid, plain dial (not skeletonized, for instance). It is really nice to have this option available to those of us who have been captivated by the legendary cal. 1003. Now we have a watch with the 1003 that we can wear even on a daily basis, as it is large enough for wrists like mine, robust enough for daily life outside the watchbox, and water resistant enough to brave the rain. And Vacheron did all this while making the 1995 thinner than the original reference 6099!

I find the entire case to be shaped by sexy curves that I almost find unexpected in what seems such a conservative dress watch. In reinterpreting ref. 6099, VC beautifully integrated the lugs, sculpted references to the arms of the Maltese Cross, into the main body of the case.



Last week, Bill provided some interesting details on the design choices and production of the dial of the 1955 here: Dial Details of Vacheron Constantin's Historiques 1955


The indices are an interesting feature on the 1955.  As Bill already explained, they are created by masking the brass alloy dial during the application of the silver-opaline finish to the dial; a satin varnish applied at the end tones down the shininess of the polished dial underneath.  The end effect, which is very hard to capture in photos, is that the indices appear to have a glow that emanates from within, a similar effect to what has been achieved with the gold movement on the other side of the watch.  The decision to create indices in this fashion may have been made for technical reasons in working toward the goal of thinness, but they work metaphorically as well, just as the super thin hour and minute hands do, referencing the ultimate theme of the Ultra-fine.

The packaging for the watch presents an experience rather like unwrapping a Russian nested doll set: a box within a box within a box within a box within a box. The 1955 (and I think the 1968 as well) not only come in the now standard display box for the majority of VC’s “regular production” watches, but it also has a special travel case. This is in addition to the travel case that comes standard with the new presentation box. So, there is a travel case contained within the travel case...

... and boy do I love it!


Given my fetish for Vacheron ephemera, this travel case is right up my alley.

The 1955 is snug in its travel case, which is about the same sizes my trusty HP 12C in its case, just a few mm longer, so it fits nicely in one’s breast pocket or briefcase as needed.

While playing with the 1955, I also indulged in another fetish – an additional arrival on the very same day as the package from Vacheron Constantin, in fact – I am a lucky boy!


This is a watch that elegantly flies under the radar. 


The 1955 is quite simply a perfect dress watch, elegant and beautiful, but also horologically interesting for its achievement as the thinnest mechanical watch with the thinnest mechanical movement.  Its simple appearance to the casual observer belies what is underneath. 

The 1955’s sublime thinness is in plain view, but will remain invisible to most people, and the gold movement is a secret revealed only when the watch is turned over.  Even my beloved 1921 is more of an eye catcher with its larger 5N pink gold case, its jauntily tilted dial and the oddly placed crown. In contrast, the 1955 does not call attention to itself, keeping a very low, indeed the thinnest, of profiles. The 1921 is almost twice as high, and the 1921 is not a thick watch by any means. 


Have to share a shot of the business side of the 1955.  The movement has been rebuilt with a gold plate and bridges for its 55th anniversary in 2010, and honestly it just seems to glow from within.  With the exhibition caseback, it is presented for your view like a jewel. The challenge of making, assembling and regulating the caliber 1003 has been a triumph for Vacheron Constantin for more than five decades.


Winding the watch is very satsifying both in terms of feel and sound.  About 30+ turns does the trick and makes for a lovely morning ritual.


The specs:


Reference: 33155/000R-9588

Caliber: 1003/3

Energy: manual

Thickness (mm): 1.64

Diameter (mm): 21.10

Number of parts: 117

Number of jewels: 18

Frequency: 2.5 Hz (18'000 v.p.h.)

Power-reserve (hours): 31 approx.

Indication: hours, minutes

Certification: Hallmark of Geneva


Material of the case: 18K 4N pink gold

Size (mm): 36.00

Thickness (mm): 4.10

Shape: round

Back: transparent case back with sapphire glass

Water-resistance (bar): 3


Material of the dial: metal

Strap: alligator Mississippiensis

Clasp: buckle


Mirror-polished indexes.


In many ways, the 1955 is Vacheron Constantin playing at the top of its game.  For its efforts, VC won the 2010 Geneva Watchmaking Grand Prix award for the 1955.


Look how nicely it goes with other VC accessories (more evidence of my fetish for VC ephemera)…I am ready for business.


One of the interesting things I noticed about the 1955 is that as soon as I got mine and strapped it on, it felt like an old friend, as if I might have been wearing it for years.  I have had this same initial feeling about a watch only once before, when I got my AP jumbo, another slender watch at 7mm. 


Perhaps I am the Thin Man, after all.


I hope this relatively non-technical initial wrist review is of some interest, and I hope it will generate some comments and questions.




This message has been edited by respo on 2012-06-04 21:32:33
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