Platinum has always signified something built to last. Gold necessarily has to be alloyed when used in jewellery and watches, and 18K gold is just 75% precious metal. Platinum, on the other hand, is used at a purity of 95%. In addition, it is far rarer than gold, mined in just a few locations worldwide. It is heavier and denser than other precious metals, making it far more durable. Like gold, it does not oxidize, and so remains untarnished over the years. Platinum hallmarks watches and jewellery of prestige, designed to last a lifetime - or many lifetimes!
Vacheron Constantin have been using platinum for its timepieces since 1820, and today the Collection Excellence Platine, launched in 2006, includes a new model, the Patrimony Contemporaine self-winding Collection Excellence. In this piece, platinum is used for the case, crown and hands, while the dial is in superbly grained sandblasted 950 platinum. Even though it is thin, its weight can be felt, as a result of platinum's high density. In case you had any doubts, there is a tiny rectangle between the four and five o'clock hour markers, bearing the inscription "PT950." The strap is in dark blue alligator, and this is hand-stitched with silk and 950 platinum thread, as you can see from one of the photos. The pin buckle is also in 950 platinum.
The hour-markers are in applied 18K gold. The case is 42 mm in diameter, with a relatively large dial opening that enhances the superb simplicity of the design. This watch is a triumph of minimalism on the face, even simpler than the Jaeger-LeCoultre Ultra Thin 39 that we described in a recent article. This cool and sophisticated simplicity contrasts with the beautiful complexity that can be viewed through the transparent sapphire crystal case back. In fact, all this jewellery encloses an extraordinary movement, the Calibre 1120, an ultra-thin self-winding movement, crafted by Vacheron Constantin and possessing no little tradition in itself.
The 1120 is one of the most famous, sophisticated and beautiful automatic movements ever produced. It is certainly not new: in fact it has a long history, with versions used in watches by a select few other top Swiss brands.
It was designed in 1967 by Jaeger-LeCoultre as the Calibre 920, but the maison never used it in one of their own watches. When Audemars Piguet sold Jaeger-LeCoultre to Richemont, the former brand kept the rights to the movement, and in fact the 920, first launched by Audemars in 1967, is still available today in its calibres 2120, 2121 and 2122. Patek Philippe used the 920 in its Nautilus, manufacturing it in this form (with the Calibre 28-255 C) from 1970 to 1980.
The 920 is just 2.45 mm thick in its simplest form, without date or centre seconds, and in 1970 it was a remarkable achievement, considering that it has a full-sized winding rotor. Still today, no Swiss automatic movements have this superbly refined construction.
The Vacheron Constantin Calibre 1120 is a technological tour-de-force, with a Gyromax balance fitted with eight adjustable weights. These enable the balance to be poised and balanced without the use of a regulator index. The winding rotor - which provides power to the watch - has a 21K gold rim, with a circular beryllium ring, forming the track. The rotor runs on the beryllium track on four ruby wheels, which in turn rotate on tiny axles mounted on the mainplate. This mechanism creates a perceptible sound, yet another source of fascination of this unique movement.
This watch is a classic in every way, and it speaks of sophistication, from the dial to the half Maltese cross on the buckle. Power reserve is about 40 hours, and the watch is tested to 3 bar (about 30 metres). The movement is stamped with the Hallmark of Geneva. Each of the 150 pieces is individually numbered. They retail at around €40,000.