Reviving the Perpetual Calendar
The perpetual calendar has always been one of the most classic complications in horology. It was first integrated into a wristwatch in 1925, by none other than Patek Philippe. For much of the 20th century, perpetual calendars remained scarce, on account of their niche appeal and the specialised skillset needed to design and assemble one. In the wake of the Quartz Crisis, these complicated pieces continued to be exceedingly rare, as their very purpose came under threat. Indeed, this seismic event had decimated the watchmaking industry, with the number of watchmakers in Switzerland having dropped from 1,600 to 600.
However, against all odds, the perpetual calendar experienced a revival towards the end of the 20th century. Within the span of seven years, between 1978 and 1985, Audemars Piguet, Vacheron Constantin and Patek Philippe all introduced their own ultra-thin, automatic perpetual calendars. These were amongst the first perpetual calendars to be produced in a series. This marked a fundamental departure with the past, when each of the manufactures from “Holy Trinity” of watchmaking would only have produced a few dozen of these pieces a year, at the very most. This signified a renewed faith in the future of complicated horology.
Whilst Audemars Piguet were the first out of the gate in 1978, it is believed that Vacheron Constantin unveiled their automatic, ultra-thin perpetual calendar wristwatch in 1983. Rather frustratingly for Patek Philippe, this was two years before they came out with their own reference 3940. As a staring point, Vacheron Constantin used the iconic JLC 920 movement, which was the thinnest automatic movement in the world when it came out in 1967. They then reworked a perpetual calendar module from Dubois-Depraz, a famed module manufacturer, who has supplied Patek Philippe, Audemars Piguet and Vacheron Constantin, amongst others. The end result was the Caliber 1120 QP, which still remains in production to this day, albeit in an updated form.
The reference 43031
The reference 43031, which is understood to have been in production for around two decades, was the quintessential perpetual calendar model from Vacheron Constantin. It was produced in a range of different configurations, with different metals, dials and bracelet options available, including a striking skeletonised version under the reference 43032.
Nowadays, these pieces stand out as a significant step in helping Vacheron Constantin weather the aftermath of the Quartz Crisis, and help revive the interest in complicated watchmaking. Around 2006, the model was discontinued, leaving way for the manufacture's more contemporary pieces.
According to the manufacture, production figures varied quite significantly throughout between 1983 and 2006, from around 20 to 100 pieces made per year. If we assume that annual production was always on the upper range, this would imply that Vacheron Constantin produced less than 2,300 of these perpetual calendars over 23 years. Rather surprisingly, this is almost three times less than Audemars Piguet or Patek Philippe ever produced of their own equivalent references.
An Early Design
This Vacheron Constantin ref. 43031 features a classic, pared back design. This example is understood to be from the "First Series", which was in production between 1983 and the early 1990s. It stands apart for having the most pared back, minimalist dial configuration across the model's lifespan.
The perpetual calendar indications are laid out in an intuitive manner. The date and day are shown at three and nine o’clock respectively, with the months and leap year displayed at twelve o’clock. A moonphase indication is placed at six o’clock, with graduations for the moon position just above. The “Vacheron Constantin” signature sits below the moonphase. It also further features English dial details, which paired with a platinum case, make the watch even more unusual.
This example features a subtly grained opaline dial, which is carried over to the recessed sub-dials. This dial causes an interesting effect on the wrist, when the watch interacts with the light at different angles, and further imbuing this piece with a distinctive "neo-vintage" aesthetic. The hands for the sub-dials are made out of darkened blued steel, which have begun to evolve over the watches lifetime, showing hints of purple and green. Rather interestingly, the moonphase is made out of lapis lazuli, a deep blue metamorphic rock, which adds another rich spark of colour to the otherwise paired back colour palette.
The platinum case features a stepped bezel and straight lugs, reminiscent of those found on some vintage pieces. Four pushers on the corner of the case allow for the various perpetual calendar indications to be set. At 36mm in diameter and less than 8mm thick, this ref. 43031 sits comfortably on the wrist.
This Vacheron Constantin ref. 43031 is powered by the 1120/2, derived from Jaeger-LeCoultre’s mythical, ultra-thin JLC 920 movement. The caliber 920 was an initial project of Jaeger LeCoultre in 1967, funded and contributed by Audemars Piguet, and famous for its adoption by Audemars Piguet, Patek Philippe and Vacheron Constantin.
The ultra-thin automatic 1120/2 calibre features 36 working jewels, and 4 ruby wheels to support the full-diameter rotor, which runs on a beryllium rail for stability. Vacheron Constantin also replaced the free-sprung Gyromax balance from the original Jaeger-LeCoultre movement with an index regulator.
The rotor is decorated with Geneva stripes and edged with 21-carat gold, to increase the oscillating mass. This movement carries the Geneva Seal, which is unique in its accreditation as it focuses on the art of decorating a movement with finesse and skill, in the style of Genevan watchmaking.
This Vacheron Constantin ref. 43031 is accompanied by its Vacheron Constantin service paperwork, from February 2018. Also included is a bespoke grained leather strap in taupe and a black alligator Vacheron Constantin strap.