Vacheron Constantin is longest running manufacture having been founded in 1755 and has clients such as Napoleon and the Duke of Windsor. It’s uninterrupted history has produced some magnificent watches, one of which is the Patrimony Contemporaine Ultra-Thin Calibre 1731. A bit of a mouthful, but in a nutshell, it is the thinnest minute repeater on the market.

Producing approximately 20,000 watches per year, Vacheron Constantin survived many ups and downs since 1755. This included the French Revolution, World War II, and the rise in popularity of the quartz watch. During this time it made certain horological advancements such as creating the first non-magnetic timepiece in 1862 whereby it used palladium, bronze and gold to withstand magnetic fields.

Headquartered in Plan-les-Ouates (where the Rolex manufacture is), Vacheron Constantin have proven to be a leading manufacture time and time again. They are true master watchmakers and the Patrimony Contemporaine Ultra-Thin Calibre 1731 is an example of this. The movement measures on 3.9mm and the case, 8.09mm.

vacheron_image.3513613 What is a minute repeater?

The first minute repeater was produced in the 18th century to be able to let its owners tell the time before electric lighting was readily available. When you activate the minute repeater, tiny hammers strike a gong inside the watch to mark the hours, and then the quarters and minutes are played after this. By listening to the number of strikes and pitch, you can tell what the time is. Check out the video at the bottom of the page to listen to this particular example.

Every minute repeater is a demonstration of fine watchmaking. Each sound is unique and is a reflection of the watchmaker who built it. Those lucky enough to work on striking watches need at least 15 years of experience. If you’ve never heard one before, be sure to try it when you can. They are truly magnificent. In today’s world they’re technically obsolete, however many watch aficionados still appreciate them due to the difficulty in constructing a minute repeater, and also the nostalgia that goes along with owning one.

Vacheron Constantin produced their first minute repeater in 1810 but produced their first single complication minute repeater in 1941 with the Calibre 4261. Since then (along with other manufactures), there has been a pursuit to make these movements as thin as possible. The 1731, named after the birth year of its founder Jean-Marc Vacheron is where they have ended up.

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The VC Patrimony Contemporaine Ultra-Thin Calibre 1731

The bezel and crystal form a nice subtle curve in the watch. The dial truly hides the complexity in the watch. It is a classic dial with a beaded minute circle and baton shaped hour markers. The gold hands are quite delicate and probably make it difficult to distinguish between the hour and minute hands if you glance too quickly. A seconds sub dial at the 8 o’clock mark is a welcome addition. We also appreciate Vacheron’s effort to display as much of the movement as possible with the crystal case back.

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Super clean and classic dial

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A very thin case with an nice curve to the crystal and bezel

The slim manual movement has a 65 hour power reserve. Not only is it difficult to assemble such a thin movement, but Vacheron Constantin have also added a flying strike governor. A governor is used in a minute repeater to regulate the speed of the hammers striking the gong spring and controlling the pace of the sounds it makes. Unlike traditional governors, this one is completely silent.

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Rear of the Calibre 1731 where the striking hammers are visible

Vacheron Constantin put a lot of focus on the sound. They even considered how air inside the watch flows between the minute repeater complication and the case. The case is a monobloc design, so there are no joins in the case that would affect how the sound gets amplified. The sound experts at the manufacture tests the minute repeater at precisely 4.49 because this is the time when the sound is most audible since there are close intervals between the hours (4 strikes), quarters, (3 strikes) and minutes (4 strikes).

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Dial side of the Caliber 1731

To give you an idea, at Vacheron Constantin, it takes up to six months to build a minute repeater like this working with over 1,200 tools some of which are completely custom made by that watchmaker. Each part of the 1731 is meticulously finished by hand. The main plate is decorated with perlage, and the hammers are “black” polished (superior polishing at the microscopic level that sometimes appears black under light as all the light is reflected in one direction). The bridges have are finished with Côtes de Genève stripes and edges are nicely bevelled and polished.

Everything feel right about this watch. A clever blend of classic Vacheron Constantin DNA, master watchmaking skills, and the nostalgia of a minute repeater. No doubt this will be a popular one.

Official Vacheron Constantin 1731 promotional video (have a listen to the minute repeater)