When we think of classic vintage chronograph powerhouses Vacheron Constantin might not the first to come to mind... However, VC executed some of the most breathtaking and finest chronograph designs of the last Century. And early (pre-1975) pieces are extremely rare! We're speaking of roughly 2,500 pieces (23 references) produced over a 55 year span. All with third-party supplied movements by either Valjoux or Martel and all of them with two registers.

December 06, 2023

All You Need To Know About Early Vacheron Constantin Chronographs (1916-70) - An Introduction


Marcus Siems     Marcus Siems @siemswatches
    Collector, Author, Data Analyst


When we think of classic vintage chronograph powerhouses what might come to mind are Heuer, Universal Geneve, Breitling, Longines or Rolex... but Vacheron Constantin? Well they were arguably not the biggest player in the market but Vacheron executed some of the most breathtaking chronograph designs of the last Century.


vintage 1940s Advertorial for Vacheron Constantin watchesAn early 1940s advertorial of Vacheron Constantin featuring one of The chronograph references for the watchmaker - the ref. 4178 with its winged lugs, two-tone dial and extroverted appearance (top). Photo Courtesy of HIFI Archiv.


This guide is not only about the rarest or most collectible early VC chronographs but all of them (as far as I know). Between 1916 and the early 1970s only about 2,460* - 134 mono-pusher & 2,326 two-pusher - chronograph wristwatches left the manufacture at Vacheron Constantin. That is less than 45 pieces annually. Moreover, two references (ref. 4072 & 4178) make up for 2,102+ of those chronographs - or about 85%[1-4].

There are two sides to this stat: 1) Vacheron found their design archetype and stayed loyal to these. We can even see reiterations in the recent Historique collections. 2) There's a lot of variance in VC's chronograph design legacy that's not really addressed.


wristshot of a vintage 1950s Vacheron Constantin ref. 6087 chronographExtremely rare yet very recognizable... The Cornes de Vache ref. 6087 chronograph from Vacheron Constantin. Photo Courtesy of Phillips.


So I've put together a guide for Vacheron's chronograph history and tried to answer the following questions: What other designs do we find? What movements did VC utilize? What's the evolution of the vintage chronograph at Vacheron Constantin?


Part I - Mono-Pusher Chronograph Watches

An often forgotten piece of history is that chronograph watches, not only at Vacheron, started with one pusher. Vacheron Constantin themselves started very early with producing their first wrist-worn chronograph watches, in 1916. In comparison, Longines launched the first chronograph in 1913, Breitling the first extra-pusher chrono in 1915 and Universal Geneve started their production in 1917[5].


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Reference Year Production Case Movement
"No.1" 1916-20 3 YG 38mm (round)
Cal. RA15'''
"No.2" 1916-22
6 YG 34.5mm (round)
Cal. RA13'''
1441 1917 3 YG 34.5mm (round) Cal. RA13'''
2554 1926-30 9 YG cushion Cal. RA13'''
3307 1927-30 18 YG, 2 AG, 2 WG 33-36mm Cal. 13'''
3306 1928-31 13 YG, 2 WG cushion Cal. 13'''
2990 1930 1 YG, 1 PT cushion Cal. 12'''
3410 1931 3 YG cushion Cal. 13'''
3466** 1935-38 63 YG, 7 steel cushion Cal. 13'''

Table 1. Mono-pusher chronograph pieces from Vacheron Constantin between 1916-38[1-3]. By the way, VC only introduced reference numbers in 1938 - thus most of these pieces were referenced after the fact.


Arguably, Vacheron's production was quite low on the level of individual commisions. Over the first 20 years less than 100 pieces have been produced. The first pieces with larger production numbers have been refs. 3306 (15 pieces) & 3307 (22 pieces). These were cushion and round cased equivalents featuring a 13 ligne caliber based on an ebauche by the brothers John and Charles Reymond - later known as the company Valjoux[1,6].


vintage Vacheron Constantin ref. 3307 mono-pusher chronographAn early Mono-Pusher chronograph from Vacheron Constantin - a ref. 3307 from 1929. Photo Courtesy of Phillips


Part II - Martel Two-Pusher Chronographs (Caliber 295)

The first revolution of the chronograph design came in the late 1930s with the introduction of the caliber 295. The Martel (UG) ebauche enabled the company to produce two-push piece chronographs at scale... well a scale of roughly 129 pieces but over a period of 4 years that makes over 30 watches annually. Definitely an increase.


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Reference Year Production Case Movement
3564 1936 2 YG round
cal. 13'''
3768 1937 6YG cushion Cal. 295
4075 1937-39 66 YG, 2 PT, 1 WG round Cal. 295
4072 1938-70s 523 YG, 363 RG, 292 steel+bicolor 34mm round Cal.295 (27), Cal.434 (537), Cal. 492 (322) - in gold
4082 1939-40 9 YG 32.5mm round Cal. 295
4083 1939-41 12 RG, 6 YG 32.5mm round Cal. 295
4111 1939 3 YG cushion Cal. RA13'''
4177 1940 28 YG, 24 RG 34.5mm round Cal. 434
4178 1940-64 345 YG, 388 RG, 191 steel/gold*** 36mm round Cal.434 (511), Cal.492 (222)
4305 1943 1 steel 35mm ???
4367 1945 2 RG 36mm Cal. 434
4639 1950 1 YG 35mm Cal. 434
6026 1954-55 19 YG, 6 RG 36mm Cal. 492
6087 1956-65 28 YG, 6 RG, 2 PT 35mm Cal. 492

 Table 2. Two-pusher chronograph pieces from Vacheron Constantin between 1936-70s[1-4].


As mentioned above the caliber 295 was provided by Martel. It is a 2-register manually wound movement. Founded in 1911 Martel supplied the coveted chronograph movements to Universal Geneve (and was likely an extension to UG itself)[1,7]. These late 1930s pieces further featured - common for the era - expressive and architectural lug designs or cushion-shaped cases.


4 examples of rare Vacheron Constantin chronograph references with Caliber 295Four examples of the rare refs. 3768, 4075, 4082 & 4083 (left to right). Photo Courtesy of Phillips, Antiquorum, WatchProSite/The Hour Lounge & Christie's.


Part III - Valjoux Two-Pusher Chronographs (Caliber 434 & 492)

After the brief foray to Martel (and UG) Vacheron Constantin came back to their longtime movement supplier in Valjoux. The caliber 434 (from 1940) and 492 (1943) were based on ebauches of the Valjoux 22 and 23, respectively. The two movements mainly dissociated in their dimensions - coming in at 13''' (29.5mm, cal. 492) and 14''' (31.2mm, cal. 434).


six examples of vintage Vacheron Constantin ChronographsSix example Vacheron Constantin chronograph watches with Valjoux-based movements (Cal. 434 & Cal. 492). Photos Courtesy of WatchProSite/The Hour Lounge, MentaWatches & Phillips.


The interesting bit here is the approach Vacheron took to the idea of reference numbers... The same reference could come with not only varying styles but dissociable movements as well. Add on top the different dimensions of these movements and the concept of a "reference" is rather loose. It's not about the technical details (as it would be today) but more importantly a certain design aspect that is common between the pieces. Thus, for example a ref. 4178 is clearly defined by its faceted shark-fin lugs and the stepped bezel but not the movement inside...


Distribution of chronograph movements from Vacheron Constantin between 1916-70Figure 1. Distribution of chronograph movements from Vacheron Constantin between 1916-70s[1]


Part IV - Quantitative Reference Guide

Thus far we've been tackling the topic of the Vacheron Constantin chronograph mainly from the aspect of its reluctant heart beat - the movement. But now to the distinct designs... how common are certain pieces and how can we put them into perspective?


Distribution of production volume for the relatively more common Vacheron Constantin vintage chronograph watchesFigure 2. Distribution of production volume for the relatively more common Vacheron Constantin vintage chronograph watches[1]. Dashed and solid outlines indicate mono- and two-pusher pieces, respectively. The colors denote yellow gold, rose gold, white metal (platinum, white gold, silver) as well as mixture for the refs. 4072 & 4178. References are ordered according to their approximate launch year.


Beside the archetypical Vacheron Constantin chronographs - ref. 4072 (1,178) & ref. 4178 (924) - no other reference appears to have eclipsed a production volume of 80 pieces[1]! So these are Rare... with a capital R. Which is far from saying that the 4072 or 4178 are common pieces. Overall, Vacheron Constantin produced over the 55 year production span about as many chronographs as for example Rolex produced their Daytona refs. 6263/6265... in yellow gold alone[8]!


rare Tuerler signed Vacheron Constantin reference 4178 chronograph from Menta WatchesOne out of two chronograph archetypes from Vacheron Constantin - the reference 4178 with winged lugs (or faceted shark-fins, whatever you feel suits best) and utterly rare double-signed dial from Tuerler. Photo Courtesy of Menta Watches.


Part V - The Conclusion

This has been a lot of information so let's pool all of it together. First, early (pre-1975) Vacheron Constantin chronographs are extremely rare! We're speaking of roughly 2,500 pieces produced over a 55-60 year span[1-4]. You won't find many of them surviving in good condition anymore, so better hold on to each great example you can find!

Second, Vacheron utilized only about half a dozen different movements for their chronos... sometimes even different calibers within the same reference! Most of them with 13 ligne diameter (~29.5mm), most from Reymond Freres/Valjoux, and all of them with a two-register arrangement.


very rare gold on gold Vacheron Constantin reference 4072 chronographThe second archetypical Vacheron Constantin chronograph - the reference 4072 with hinged lugs, more similar to a classic piece like a Patek Philippe ref. 130 than any other chronograph from the brand. Photo Courtesy of Antiquorum.


Third, even though we identified at least 23 independent chronograph references, two of them made up for about 85% of the overall production volume. In other words Vacheron converged on two stereotypical designs  - ref. 4072 & 4178 - and some experimentation. Both these references were introduced between 1938-40 and stayed in production for over 20 years. That's about 2.5x as long as the next closest reference and over 5x longer than the median production run.

Hence, if you're on the hunt for The classic VC chronograph you basically only got two choices... the classic ref. 4072 and the more flamboyant ref. 4178. Both couldn't be more different - the one with elegant, understated lines and contours and the other with an expressive, almost erotic body language - yet at the same time encapsulate the spirit of Mid-Century Vacheron Constantin in a single pair of timepieces.



* as far as we know

** ref. 3466 was produced both as mono- as well as two-pusher pieces[1].

*** according to the archives had the steel/gold cases an error margin of ~20% - so likely less have been ultimately sold[1].

+ Production volume of steel and bicolored versions of the ref. 4072 are only indirectly known to the author.



[1] Best of The Hour Lounge: Vacheron & Constantin Wrist Chronographs - Part I; TickTalk, WatchProSite; [Link]

[2] The History of Vacheron Constantin Wrist Chronographs; Alex Ghotbi, Vacheron Constantin - The Hour Lounge;

[3] The World of Vacheron Constantin Geneve; Lorette Lambelet & Carole Coen, Editions Scriptar (1992);

[4] For Your Reference: Vacheron Constantin Reference 4072 Dial Variants; Peter Toot & Tony Traina, Rescapement; [Link]

[5] The History of the Chronograph; Crown & Caliber; [Link]

[6] Inside the Movement: Valjoux; Tania Edwards, Collectability; [Link]

[7] A Short History of Martel Watch Co and Zenith; Sempervivens, WatchUSeek; [Link]

[8] A Beginner's Guide to the Early Rolex Daytona (1963-88); Marcus Siems, Goldammer Vintage Watches; [Link]


All rights on text and graphics reserved to the Author.

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1 comment

  • merci pour le travail fourni.

    Rabie Ali BELKORISSAT on

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