Combining twin retrograde hands in the form of a compass, the Vacheron Constantin Mercator 43050 was released in 1994, to mark the 400th anniversary of the death of Gerardus Mercator. A pioneering geographer and cartographer, Mercator is most known for inventing the map projection which evolved into the world maps we use today. Over the 10-year lifespan of the model, it is understood that only 638 pieces left the manufacture.
When it was first introduced, the Mercator 43050 was one of very few classically styled watches which featured an unconventional time display. It combines two retrograde hands in the shape of a compass, which display the hours on the left-hand side and the minutes on the right. The minute hand glides across the dial, then instantly changes when the hour transitions, jumping from 60 back to 0. The hour hand makes a more subtle jump as well, so this is a jump-hour watch as well as bi-retrograde – making the time far easier to read on the shorter scale.
Made from solid gold, the dial features a map of Europe, Africa, and Asia, which was first drawn by Mercator himself in the 16th century. The dial is engraved with the shape of the different continents, and then carefully filled out with black enamel by Jean and Lucie Genbrugge. The small details found in the intricate design make the Mercator a pleasure to look at closely and wear. A mystical sea creature appears at 9 o’clock, and the mountains of Europe are subtly represented as small slopes. As is to be expected, all the wording is in Latin, with phrases such as “Antarcticus” or “Tropicus Cancri” appearing throughout. At 4 o’clock, you can find a subtle homage to the pair which first envisioned the project, with a "J&L Genbrugge" engraving, a rare feature for a watch from an established manufacture such as Vacheron Constantin.
The yellow-gold case features a stepped bezel and straight lugs, reminiscent of those found on some vintage pieces, such as the Patek Philippe ref. 2499. At 36mm in diameter, and with a remarkably thin profile, the Mercator sits comfortably on the wrist. The stepped bezel and lugs lend a classic aesthetic to an otherwise distinctive and unusual dial layout. The hallmarks on the caseback are crisp and defined.
If sold within the United Kingdom, this Vacheron Constantin 43050 Mercator will be subject to 20% VAT.