With the increase in popularity and collectability of vintage watches, we’ve also seen vintage re-issues and homages become the hottest trend of the last decade. Essentially every watch brand on the planet has dug deep into their archives for inspiration on what their next watch should look like, and don’t get me wrong, a lot of these re-releases and vintage-inspired timepieces are great. Still, I think we all know there’s just nothing like the original. Case and point, this pair of Vacheron Constantin Triple Calendar 4240 references seen here in both silver and gold dial configurations. This reference has become one of Vacheron’s most famous and was the direct inspiration for the Vacheron Constantin Historiques Triple Calendrier 1942. Let’s dig into what made this reference so special that Vacheron Constantin decided to re-introduce it 75 years later.
Vacheron Constantin has been making watches since 1755—they’re the oldest continuously running watch manufacture—and they’ve been making complicated watches since 1790, but they never made a serially produced complicated watch until this Triple Date 4240. When the Triple Date was released in 1942, Vacheron Constantin and Jaeger LeCoultre had just merged in an effort to help both companies survive during the economic downturn. It’s why the movement in this watch is based on a JLC movement. Since its release, the Triple Date has become an iconic reference lauded as one of the best designs from its era. It garnered so much attention during its production years—and after—that Vacheron Constantin decided to re-issue a version of the watch in steel in 2017 as part of its Historiques collection. This re-release is a great watch in its own right, and it has become a popular model for the brand while also spurring interest in the original.
The 4240 is elegant in a way that few modern watches are. The old adage “they don’t make them like they used to” comes to mind. The cases on these watches are essentially identical. Both of these models have 35mm rose gold cases with Vacheron’s famous “Cornes De Vache” lugs, which got their name because they resemble cow’s horns. While lugs can be somewhat of an afterthought on many watches, these Cornes De Vache lugs are one of the 4240’s most attractive features. The bezel is thin and concaved, and it really opens up the dial making the watch appear a bit larger than its 35mm measurement. There is some beautiful gadrooning along with a large knurled bottle cap style crown and dimpled pushers to adjust the calendar on the mid-case. The style of the mid-case finishing helps add some interest to the almost entirely polished finish and also allows the dimpled pushers to blend in a bit more. On the closed caseback is a beautiful, brushed, blank canvas begging for a sentimental engraving.
The dial is where these two examples most differ. You’ll find alternating gold Arabic numerals and small gold pyramid indices for the hour markers on the silver dialed example, while the gold dialed variant has gold baton indices with gold numerals. Both watches have developed a nice even patina across all the gold dial furniture, adding some real rich character to the dial. Another differentiator is that the day and month on the silver dial are in English, while the gold dial variant displays Spanish. For whatever reason, I love the added specialness of a watch with a different language on it, it’s super easy to learn and adapt to it, and it just has adds that extra touch of uniqueness.
At six o’clock is a recessed, radially finished running seconds subdial, and around the perimeter of the dial is a thin railroad track with red art deco-styled numerals. The date is indicated by a long, dark, red arrow-tipped center hand that seems out of place next to the rose gold sword hands, but the contrast does make it easy to read the date quickly.
Looking at all the design quirks and features on this watch on paper, one might think this is an extremely loud watch, but it’s not. The implementation has been done flawlessly, and I think that’s why this design has remained so attractive for so long. I can’t think of another watch with a case and dial that has this much flair and still manages to somehow feel reserved and elegant.
Powering these beautiful watches is the Vacheron Constantin caliber 12”’1/2 P 495, which is, as I said, is based on a Jaeger LeCoultre caliber. Vacheron built this caliber off of a time only movement and added the triple calendar complication—not to be confused for an annual or perpetual calendar—it displays the day, date, and month along with the hours, minutes, and seconds. The movement is manually wound and rhodium-plated with “fausses cötes” decoration, a straight-line lever escapement, a shock absorber mechanism, and a Breguet balance spring. Because of the closed caseback, you obviously won’t be able to see any of this without bravely popping the caseback off, but you can be assured that it’s still finished to Vacheron’s famously high standards.
Versus The Competition
The triple calendar complication is not as common as it once was, and the design of this watch very distinct. Add to that the fact that it’s a famous vintage reference, and you don’t end up with a lot of one-to-one comparisons. However, there are plenty of alternatives in the rose gold dress watch arena in the $19-25k price range. Take this Breguet Classique Moonphase reference 7788. This is an automatic winding, 39mm rose gold watch with a beautiful moon phase, enamel dial, and a diamond-set bezel and lugs. It’s a gorgeous dress watch with traditional good looks from a reputable watchmaker available here for $19,500.
If diamonds aren’t your thing, there’s also this Lange and Sohne Lange 1 reference 101.032, which is selling for $25,900. This is an effortlessly elegant 38.5mm rose gold dress watch. It’s a simple time and date movement with a sub seconds dial and Lange’s trademark big date window. The movement is exceptionally finished and manually wound with a 72-hour power reserve. Also, unlike the Triple Date, the movement can be appreciated through the display caseback. This is a modern watch, so you lose the character that comes with a vintage piece, but this is also undoubtedly a future classic.
There’s also the re-edition of this watch to consider. With an MSRP of $21,900, it slots well into this price range and is the closest thing to the original aesthetically. But it’s currently only offered in steel. Additionally—like both of the above-mentioned timepieces—it doesn’t come with the iconic Cornes De Vache lugs or the vintage charm.
This is a confident and stylish reference with bold embellishments, and while it’s not loud, it’s not quiet either. The 4240 is the perfect watch for a vintage collector who’s looking for a dress watch that compliments their unique and eccentric style. It’s a watch that makes a statement, but only to those who are paying attention, and that’s the point.
The 4240 is one of the best watch designs of the last century. It’s a bold watch meant to invoke a strong response, positive or otherwise, and it’s frankly too good not to re-release. However, while the re-release is great, it doesn’t hold a candle to the original.