Vacheron Constantin Regulation Chronometer
Behind a delightfully dated name, the Chronomètre Royal (or Royal Chronometer) represents one of horology’s best know models as well as one of the first attempts at serial production of a precision timepiece.
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The Race for Precision
Today everyone takes for granted that a watch should keep precise time, but 100 years ago, in 1907 when the Chronomètre Royal was first launched this was far from being the case. The materials used were not as advanced as today’s and perfect regulation of a watch was almost equivalent to neurosurgery…well maybe not…but you do catch my drift! This is one reason why brands fiercely competed at observatory trials and always proudly announced prizes and results obtained at these contests.
Literally a chronometer is an object which measures time; however in practice it designates a precision timepiece. It seems that this term was first used in this sense by French watchmaker Pierre Le Roy in 1761 and came to generally designate precision timekeepers during the 19th century. In 1925, the Swiss Association for Chronometry defined a chronometer as being “a watch which has received a certificate from an astronomical observatory". Since 1973 the term chronometer designates a watch having successfully passed the Controle Officiel Suisse des Chronomètres (COSC) trials.
However, major brands did not wait until 1925 to set out and compete against one another at observatory trials. In Switzerland, chronometer competitions began in Neuchatel in 1866, and Geneva in 1873 (they ended in Neuchatel in 1975 and Geneva in 1967. For wristwatches, competitions ran from 1945 through 1967). Manufacturers would submit one or several specially prepared watches for competition. Interestingly, these watches were never meant for sale, the purpose of these trials being not only competition but also a testing ground for research on chronometry and of course a marketing and communications tool for the manufacturer in selling their “regular production” watches.
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Prior to being allowed to compete, entrants were tested, and those meeting the rigorous standards were eligible for actual competition. The watches were tested in 5 positions, 3 temperatures (4°C, 20°C and 30°C) and 8 periods for a period of 40 to 44 days. Each movement was graded on a performance scale and awarded a certificate with the final score and rating.
It is important to note that these movements did not have a particularly fine aesthetic finish but were technically the best of the best: the surfaces of pinions and wheels were highly polished with exceptionally even tolerances; springs were pre-tested and hand chosen, the dimensions of shafts and bearings perfectly executed…
To make an easy comparison, these competitions were to watch brands what Formula 1 racing is to car manufactures: a laboratory and a perfect display of their knowhow and mastery. It is interesting to note that these competitions were extremely prestigious and the name of the winners published in newspapers along with the identity of those responsible for regulation who, not unlike master watchmakers today, were put in the spotlight with great pride! One of the most famous at Vacheron Cosntantin being Mr. Batifolier whose movement received 1st prize at the Geneva observatory trial of 1898.
Birth of the Chronomètre Royal
Building on its experience and reputation gained via numerous prizes, Vacheron Constantin decided to take the jump and actually create a precision timekeeper not only destined for competition but for actual use, consequently in 1907 the Chronomètre Royal was born. The name was filed for trademark on May 28 of the same year and on May 8, 1908 trade mark protection was filed for its English translation of Royal Chronometer.
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