Vacheron Constantin has always been a highly-regarded legacy watchmaker, with over 260 years of history on the books. It thus came as a surprise when the brand launched its new Fiftysix collection at SIHH this past January. The collection was easily one of the biggest talking points among industry insiders at the fair, partially because it represented a new entry level for Vacheron Constantin, and partially because the watch also departs from the brand's usual visual style. Whether or not this watch represents a good move for the brand can only be decided after more time has passed, but we can certainly appreciate the watches in the meantime.
The Fiftysix collection harks back to a vintage reference, 6073, created in—you guessed it—1956. It had integrated lugs, and was one of the first from the brand to have an automatic movement and water-resistant case. The new Fiftysix collection resembles the 6073 somewhat, mostly in the shape of the boxed sapphire crystal, as well as the case and lugs (which resemble a part of the brand's distinctive Maltese cross logo), but it also adds a contemporary spin to it that makes it distinct from the historical reference.
All pieces in the collection have a silvered opaline dial, with applied numerals, pencil hands, and concentric ring detailing; the inner ring acts as a minute track, while the outer ring detailing varies depending on the model. At SIHH, the brand introduced three models in the collection, the Self-Winding (which is the brand's new entry-level model), the Complete Calendar, and the Day-Date. All three models are available in steel and pink gold. The movement in each model differs, with the Self-Winding model powered by the calibre 1326, a 'manufacture' calibre (as opposed to an in-house one) that has parts produced by Richemont Group's consolidated Valfleurier manufacture, then assembled and finished by Vacheron Constantin. The Complete Calendar houses the calibre 2460 QCL/1, and the Day-Date houses the calibre 2475 SC/2, both of which are in-house models with the Geneva Hallmark.
Now, nine months on, the brand has introduced a fourth model—the Fiftysix Tourbillon. It is powered by the calibre 2160, the new in-house movement introduced just this year in watches such as the Traditionelle Tourbillon. It is the first in-house self-winding tourbillon movement developed and manufactured by the brand. Its 22k gold peripheral rotor means that the movement can remain incredibly slim, at just 5.65mm thick. It also has an impressive 80 hours of power reserve. With a frequency of 2.5Hz, it is not the quickest movement on the market, but it does mean that there will be some beautiful views of the tourbillon as it oscillates. The tourbillon carriage, by the way, is also shaped like the brand's Maltese cross.
This is the first major horological complication for the Ffitysix, and perhaps indicates that the brand doesn't intend for the series to be an entry-level collection, but rather a contemporary variation of its usual watchmaking. The launch of the Fiftysix also comes packaged with a creative partnership with Abbey Road Studios, the world's most famous recording studio, musical home to the likes of The Beatles, Pink Floyd, and Kanye West, as well as recording studio of soundtracks from the Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings series. Music artist Benjamin Clementine recorded and produced an exclusive single in collaboration with Vacheron Constantin and Abbey Road Studios, to be released in the near future.
The brand has typically shied away from celebrity endorsements of any kind, so this partnership too comes as a surprise, and a refreshing change from the industry's usual famous face fodder. The precision needed in playing and recording music is akin to that required in the art of watchmaking, so the synergies make sense. Plus, as both industries have time as an essential part of their work, the partnership seems like a stroke of genius.
All that remains is to see whether the Fiftysix collection takes off. With the right whiz of the baton, it just might.