Before I begin, as some of you may know Dane (@the_watch_vault & www.watchvault.com.au) had a serious motorcycle incident recently. We often take our next day for granted and it stunned me that one of our best pals was seriously hurt. Thankfully, Dane is one tough bastard and came out the other side with only a few metal upgrades (#terminator) and some scars to show for it. Yes, we love our watches here but nothing is more important than our friends.
They say never meet your heroes. That the expectation you build upon them will far surpass the reality of seeing them in the flesh, so what do you do? Let your dreams be dreams? The journey is far better than the summit? For the week, I have dared to go where not many have gone before thanks to Dane who has not passed one, not two, but now three Vacheron Constantin Traditionelle’s into my lap to have my little slice of heaven.
What is a grail watch?
To me, a grail watch should be at the very tip of your fingers if you reach out as far as you possibly can with all the means you can direct to this hobby. It should be so hard to obtain that it is not without sleepless nights, relentless financial consideration and a little (maybe a lot) of guilt if it does end up on your wrist. The Vacheron Constantin Traditionelle is probably not the most typical grail watch, so why is it mine?
When I distil everything down to what I love about watches, it’s human craft, art, tradition, finishing, mechanical finesse. If I take all these factors and project them upon a watch, it is the ref. 82172 VC Patrimony Traditionelle. It’s manual wind movement, grey dial, applied logo, applied indices and contrast finish hands are a delight to look at and one of many reasons why I love this watch so much. Small seconds and railroad minute track underline a classic aesthetic and so too the dimensions with a 38mm case only 8mm thick. An exhibition caseback allows you to take in all that is the geneva sealed 4400 AS calibre. Oh and the case? It’s platinum.
The Traditionelle was a watch that I didn’t know existed until the pink gold variation ended up on my wrist at a get-together and even then, I didn’t really appreciate it until I found myself scrolling through my instagram feed to look at it again and again. I don’t think I’ve found a watch that fits my wrist better and every time I look down at it, I wouldn’t change a thing. The rose gold is warm and classic, white gold sober and understated while the big daddy here, the grey dial PT950 platinum Traditionelle is the one for me. I have a love for applied logos, indices and hands that feature contrast finishes. Each hour marker is high polish and no matter how close I get, light beams off each facet without blemish. The hour and minute hands are high polish on one side, and frosted on the other. The subtle lustre of the frosting paired with the polish is quite the sight, best of both worlds. Tilting the watch side to side to see the way it interacts with light and turning it over to admire the caseback never gets old. I’m taken by this watch in a way that no ‘power watch’ (think Richard Mille or Royal Oak Offshore) ever could. Everywhere I look I find something I like and nothing I don’t. Finishing is the name of my grail game, it separates the good, from the great, from the best. There is nowhere to hide under a loupe and dress watches are the best exhibition of a brand’s ability to make something beautiful when big cases and busy layouts are off the cards. I also have a penchant for grey dials, as they are not common as a blue, silver or black and predominantly reserved for limited runs or special edition pieces amongst haute horology manufacturers. This is what makes this particular watch so exciting for me as the intersection of my interests and preferences.
So, the big question. Does it meet the mark or should my grail have remained a wish upon a star?
The watch does not disappoint at all. It’s every bit as impressive and exciting as I thought it would be. Wearing it for a week, I’m absolutely smitten. In a formal setting it does exactly what you want. A discreet watch to match any suit or wear it with jeans, a t-shirt, sneakers, it all works. Grey never looks out of place and I just know it could lend itself to so many strap options as long as they have curved spring bars. On a cloudy day, the dial appears smooth and soft which makes as a perfect backdrop for the applied components to sparkle against a transforming from anthracite to light ash colouration depending where you are. The weight of the platinum is surprising and has quite some heft for a watch of this size, noticeably greater than its gold counterparts and is not something I would have been able to appreciate unless I wore the pink or white gold Traditionelle prior. Having the extra weight on my wrist was a constant reminder that this example is extra special. It’s a stealth operator, it sneaks by just about everyone (enthusiast or otherwise) and it feels like carrying the world’s best kept secret on your wrist as you go about your day. Only those who really, really know what it is will talk to you about it. And even then, they may hazard a guess of a steel or white gold case giving you the opportunity (should you wish to do so) to let them in on the secret of its platinum construction. Vacheron is beginning to gain momentum in the mainstream market with the rise of the overseas, but as I walked around the city, sat at my local coffee shop or worked in the office, I felt like a rockstar and because only I knew what little masterpiece I had concealed beneath my shirt cuff. Some watches command a presence across the room, this ain’t one of them. And tell you what? That is exactly the way I like it. I really can’t explain how much I enjoyed this watch. When you look down at it and can confidently say yes, this is for me. Top to bottom, inside out, on wrist and in front of a lens, it’s perfect to me. I wore it practically non-stop as I wanted to soak it in as much as I could for it will be some time before I see one again, let alone wear it. It brought a smile to my face every day and regardless of price, any watch that can do that is a perfect watch in my book.
So, after loving the watch and it meeting my hopes and expectations. I still feel a pinch of dejection. Why? To put it simply, market price. Okay yes, a grail cannot be easily obtained by nature and this hobby is not the cheapest one to throw yourself into, but in the mid $30 thousand region (AUD) it is a large sum of money. Not just a large sum of money for a watch, a large sum of money full stop. Initially there was a hint of guilt, even if I had the means (I definitely do not at this point time, nor will I soon) I’m not so sure I would be willing to fire $30k at any timepiece unless I had multiples of that amount at my disposal. Things like family, friends, life, responsibilities and the good you could with that coin made its way into my mind as I held the Traditionelle. However, not long after the initial shock factor, I got very used to the Plat Trad (is that how the cool kids say it?) on the wrist after a few days and was only reminded of its monetary value when other’s asked for it. That guilt may have faded faster due to the fact I haven’t actually paid for this watch and once I got over it, I enjoyed this piece even more. It’s true what people say, as you spend time in this hobby you become desensitised to retail prices that were once insane. Suddenly that thousand dollar Seiko is a bargain compared to a $10k diver and so on and so forth. Some enthusiasts put watches under the umbrella of investment, but I know I’m not that kind of operator. Looking inward, it’s hypocritical of me to talk about feeling guilty as I look at my own collection and if I were to tally up the value, albeit a much smaller amount, the principal remains the same. The bottom line for me is that I’m not in that league financially or mentally to spend such a sum right now on any watch and guess what, that is okay! A timepiece like this is supposed to be reserved for the upper echelons, the high achievers because without exclusivity, it would lose some of the allure. This isn’t a hype piece to max out the credit card when you get ‘the call’ from ‘your AD’, only to wear a watch you don’t really like to impress people you don’t really know. It is up to me to find a way to work towards the Traditionelle over time and make this dream a reality. Don’t we all love a challenge? It will make it all the more special when I do get there and if I fall short, there is so much available below $30 grand I certainly will not be denying myself any joy from this hobby.
I feel grateful. Some enthusiasts have a grail that they will never see, touch, try or are even sure exists. For me, to have lived with my grail watch for not just a few minutes, but for 3 weeks (1 week Pink Gold, 1 Week White Gold, 1 Week Platinum) I am so lucky to have a mate who trusts me with these timepieces, understands where I am in my collecting journey and just how valuable this will be for me long term. So to you, who has a grail, don’t be afraid to meet it. Don’t be afraid to chase after it, know that it could be everything you’ve ever wanted or come with a serving of guilt that you might not be comfortable with if you spend too large a sum. Moreover, the watch world releases watches consistently and your grail might be subject to change when you least expect it. When you’re ready you’ll know, until then, trust your gut, don’t overextend financially and remember money is not the reason we partake in this hobby, it’s the people.