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

Jun 04, 2012,21:04 PM

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

  login to reply

Comments: view entire thread


First impression ...

 By: small-luxury-world : June 4th, 2012-22:45
this is a great post. Will come back for sure, when I have more time. Thanks! Oliver


 By: RJW : June 5th, 2012-03:28
Now I want one. Or at least one of the historiques collection. Thanks for the review respo. Regards, Richard.

Me too...

 By: Wees : June 5th, 2012-09:44
... the only thing that I would change is the movement regulation, but imo there is no better example of a dress watch (in its strict sense) in the market today.

I agree with you...

 By: respo : June 5th, 2012-12:51
...about the 1955 as a superlative dress watch. I would be interested in hearing more on what you you would change regarding the the movement regulation, if you care to add more. Thank you for looking. Best, respo

I have drunk

 By: Wees : June 5th, 2012-18:19
.. .the free-sprung red cordial, hence I would prefer watches not to have index regulation. It's probably not that big of a deal, but there you have it!

I hope you get one, Richard

 By: respo : June 5th, 2012-12:49
Thanks for looking. I admire many if not most of the Historiques watches, too. It is a way of getting that vintage feel while also having the advantages of modern advances such as water resistance. Best, respo

Excellent review respo!

 By: walidk : June 5th, 2012-04:28
I particularly like the combo with the shoes -another 'problem' of mine, although I cannot help but think the stitching looks like a JL Saint Crepin. You my good man have exquisite taste! If only they made the 1955 in a white metal; then I can share a sim... 

Excellent eye, Walid!

 By: respo : June 5th, 2012-08:31
Yes, Vacheron Constantin is not my only problem. Do you also have the JL 2011s? We need a thread on shoes -- I don't think there has been one in a while, and there are a few here who could participate actively. ;-) I was expecting to get a white metal VC ... 


 By: walidk : June 5th, 2012-08:54
I don't usually go for the JL yearly editions, but the Saint Crepin (JL 2011's edition) was a stunner that I got as soon I saw and realised it was in a 8000 last. The stitching on the sides is simply to die for; but admittedly not for everyone (ps mine ar... 

Great write-up, Robert!

 By: radekw : June 5th, 2012-05:43
you sheer passion towards the new piece is soooo transparent... now you're going on yet another honeymoon. I envy you but relay my sincere congratulations, again! may the watch tick away happy times only!

Thank you, Radek

 By: respo : June 5th, 2012-12:57
As always for your kind words and for your freindship. Best always, respo

Thanks for a great review

 By: tick-talk : June 5th, 2012-07:21
But you were a devil to leave a picture of the back until almost the end ;-) VC did a masterful job of presenting their in-house 1003/3 caliber in this iconic case design sized for modern tastes. They still have much room for modifications in subsequent e... 

Thanks, Dean!

 By: respo : June 5th, 2012-08:39
Coming from you, that means a lot to me. The truth is I am embarrassed to post my photos after seeing so many of the amazing photos posted here, especially when it comes to the movement scans. Bill actually posted a much better photo of the backside fo th... 

In the best tradition of V&C

 By: tick-talk : June 6th, 2012-07:40
VC, having reawakened both the case design and the movement calibre, should stick with this theme and follow the past practice of introducing small deviations between small production runs. Dial design and case metals were typically tweaked to keep intere... 

Your perspective is very much appreciated, Dean

 By: respo : June 6th, 2012-07:54
I would love to see the ref. 6694 re-appear in Les Historiques. I had not thought of this, but the tweaks in case, dial, metals and even movements between production runs has made for a rich tradition at VC/V&C. I am thinking of the Historiques Chrono... 

Outstanding review....

 By: WHL : June 5th, 2012-08:25
I'm going to install it in the blog for quick reference and rereading. I agree about the winding feel on the caliber 1003. I place it a close second only to the 1400 in terms of feel. I too, love the travel case. Congrats on your newest addition, respo, a... 

I will have to try winding your EPPC next time I see you

 By: respo : June 5th, 2012-08:44
I am not sure I recall how winding the 1400 feels. Thanks for the kind words about the review. And thanks again for making the review possible. ;-) Best, respo

What a great post

 By: cisco : June 5th, 2012-11:51
On photos I thought I would prefer a Patrimony maybe or an American or a 1968. In real this is the one I would choose, comfort for my wrist, understatement. I already write it, but at first, one meter away, nothing, on the wrist and detailing it, what a w... 

You echo my thoughts exactly, Francois

 By: respo : June 5th, 2012-12:56
Thank you for your comments. I am glad (and very fortunate, I know) that I did not have to make a choice between the 1955 and the 1921 -- that would have been impossible! And you are right, from a distance one might overlook the 1955. But on closer inspec... 

Thanks for this excellent review, Respo.

 By: amanico : June 5th, 2012-14:50
I must say that you got a very nice watch, my friend, with a great movement. The only flaw I find on this watch is that with a 36 mm case, the movement look more lost than in a 34 mm case. Otherwise, a superb time keeper. Very elegant. One of the best in ... 

Thanks, Nicolas

 By: respo : June 5th, 2012-15:42
Thanks for your kind words, my friend. I appreciate your reading my amateur review. I don't find any problem with the relation of the movement size to the case here. In fact, it did not even occur to me that there was any such issue in this instance as it...  

Be sure that I am always thinking, too. :)

 By: amanico : June 5th, 2012-22:55
Yes, you're right, sometimes, we ask too much to our beloved brands. I agree with you that thsi movement is superb, and is a strong point of the watch. And certainly, the wearability of a watch is an important factor. If the watch looks lost on your wrist... 

Fabulous post, Respo!

 By: Gary G : June 5th, 2012-19:07
I can certainly understand why you love this watch. Thank you very much for the personal wearing impressions -- I now understand this watch and its appeal much better. All the best, Gary G

Thanks, Gary!

 By: respo : June 6th, 2012-05:37
If I have conveyed why I have fallen for this watch, then I am glad. I appreciate your kind words very much. Best, respo

Very interesting post.

 By: docsnov : June 5th, 2012-21:42
After reading I understand how much more there is to this simple appearing watch. It is hard to believe how thin the movement is. Vacheron makes the most attractive dress watches in my opinion (compared to Calatrava, Jules Audemars, Classique, etc.) with ... 

Sometimes simple is best

 By: respo : June 6th, 2012-05:41
Thanks for looking, Stewart. I agree about VC's strength in creating gorgeous simple, fine watches. In fact, I couldn't agree more. When I look at the movement, I am still surprised at how thin it is. Thanks for your comments. Best, respo

Thanks a lot for the great review Respo.

 By: foversta : June 11th, 2012-13:38
A superb and elegant watch. I was very seduced by this one and the 1968. Fx ...  

Thanks, Fx

 By: respo : June 11th, 2012-14:53
I am seduced by both models as well. The 1955 looks great on your wrist. How can you resist? I obviously could not. Best, respo

What a gorgeous timepiece. Simple pure beauty.

 By: bar2020 : June 12th, 2012-09:50
And an excellent review. This is quite helpful for people like me who are learning about this great company. Thank you

Thank you for reading the review.

 By: respo : June 12th, 2012-10:32
i am very glad it is useful. This forum and site have been so helpful to me. Best, respo