When a limited edition of a legendary watch is offered for sale online (an increasingly common practice), don’t be surprised when it sells out in a matter of minutes. This is exactly what happened when in 2017 Hodinkee proposed the Vacheron Constantin Historiques Cornes de Vache 1955 in stainless steel with slate grey dial for $45,000. All 36 were snapped up in less than an hour. Enough to put ideas into the Manufacture’s head? In September this year and after two previous re-releases – one in platinum in 2015 and a second in pink gold a year later -, the brand returned with an Historiques Cornes de Vache 1955 in stainless steel with an opaline dial. Exactly what the (less wealthy) fans of this emblematic chronograph had been hoping for. And they are legion.
Collectors show their affection for a watch by giving it a nickname. When Vacheron Constantin debuted the Cornes de Vache in 1955, it beat them to the chase. This was already the “Cow Horns” watch: poised, so it seemed, to take its place in posterity. First, though, it had to deliver on its promises. Anything less would suggest hubris on the part of the Manufacture, whose image would suffer accordingly. Not that it did. The original Cornes de Vache chronograph (reference 6087) is one of the three most sought-after Vacheron Constantin watches and has earned its place in the Historiques collection which, since 1987, reinterprets the brand’s archetypes.
Its appeal lies first with the technical specifications. When this manually-wound, column-wheel chronograph launched in 1955, it did so with the tried-and-approved Calibre 492 (based on the Valjoux 23). And that wasn’t all. It also had the distinction of being the brand’s first water-resistant chronograph, courtesy of the screw-down caseback and the seals fitted to the round double pushers. This was an era of tool watches, hence the case was anti-magnetic, too. Looks also played their part. Respectful of a classical watch aesthetic, throughout its 260 years of history Vacheron Constantin has nonetheless found ways to add a dash of fantasy to its creations. One such original touch are the lugs on the Cornes de Vache watch whose curvaceous form tapers away from the case. This wasn’t the first time the Manufacture had played around with the lugs on its watches. In these booming mid-century years, it had already proposed “fan”, “chain-link”, “teardrop” and “claw” attachments. This new comma-shaped design was another beautifully mastered, lighthearted touch. Rarity did the rest. By the time production ceased in the mid-1960s, only 36 had been made. Not to mention this was the only time Vacheron Constantin ever used this “cow horn” shape.
The new version in steel remains faithful to the original with a few tweaks, such as the slightly larger case size at 38.5mm compared with 35mm. The heavy lifting is by Calibre 1142 on a Lemania 2310 base, one of the most highly respected, manually-wound chronograph movements of the last century. Visually, nothing has changed to produce a wonderfully classic, bicompax chronograph that wears its horns as a badge of pride.