Haute horlogerie: the history and technical aspects

The Vulcain story began in 1858 The Ditisheim brothers enriched the history of Swiss haute horlogerie, the high-level craftsmanship of watchmaking. Extremely accurate mechanical watches, some with manual winding mechanisms, some automatic, and with additional complications including chronometer, date display, moon phase or tourbillon. Needless to say with a proprietary calibre produced in a watchmaking shop in the Jura Mountains in the Canton of Neuchâtel , the cradle of Swiss watchmaking. Continuous innovation led, in 1947, to the presentation of the first watch in the world to include a working alarm. The manufacturer, Vulcain, equipped it with the legendary Cricket calibre, then later added the Exactomatic system which is still available to this day in a manual-wind or automatic version.
Harry Truman, US President from 1945 to 1953, was the first in a long line of the most powerful men in the world to wear a Vulcain. He was followed in this line by Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953 – 1961), Lyndon B. Johnson (1963 – 1968) and Richard M. Nixon (1969 – 1974). In 2009, when the 44th US President Barack Obama   was presented with a special birthday model, this Vulcain had already been known by the name Presidents' Watch for a long time.

Its technical qualities, accuracy and durability make this watch extremely popular amongst adventurers and explorers too. Since the 1950s the brand Vulcain from Le Locle has been chosen by many a famous expedition and has accompanied teams down to the depths of the oceans and up to the highest mountain peaks.
The legend is alive and marches on. Vulcain continues to produce new models and enjoys an exclusive partnership with the jazz pianist Herbie Hancock as well as Heiner Lauterbach. This represents a kind of marriage between art and exquisite craftsmanship.

The Aviator Instrument Chronograph Steel

Time cannot be paused. But it can be stopped. In this mechanical chronograph with automatic wind we use the Vulcain V59 calibre. It consists of 247 individual components that enable it to perform its diverse range of functions with great precision. Its sapphire glass case-back features a skeletonised rotor that enables you to look into the inner workings of this mechanical masterpiece from a vantage point that is all of 7.9 mm above it.

  • Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; small seconds at 9 o'clock, minute counter at 3 o'clock, hour counter at 6 o'clock, and date display
  • The case: stainless steel, 44.6 mm diameter, scratch-resistant sapphire glass both on top and below, waterproof down to 10 atm
  • Fittings: calfskin watchstrap with folding safety clasp in steel

At its heart lies Vulcain's proprietary calibre.

The inside of a mechanical wristwatch consists of high-precision components assembled by the steady hand of a master watchmaker. Our Vulcain Cricket V10 proprietary calibre consists of 165 individual components. It includes the mechanical alarm function and the Exactomatic system, both of which we developed in-house. A proprietary calibre means that we form part of that exclusive group of watch brands that manufacture movements in-house rather than purchase them pre-assembled.

The history of the Vulcain watch

Enormous clock mechanisms in church towers were reduced in size to become grandfather clocks and then eventually became pocket watches for gentlemen's suit pockets and ladies décolletés. The early years of the 20th century saw the beginning of the conquest of the wristwatch. Vulcain recognised the signs of the times and was one of the first to launch an extensive collection of wristwatches. Both for ladies and gentlemen.
In 1940 Vulcain presented its first chronograph wristwatch, then in 1946 the firm patented its Exactomatic system. The balance wheel bearing is the key component in any watch; it is designed in such a way that it evens out frictional forces in all positions, and this results in greater accuracy when the watch is being worn. Then in 1947 the Cricket calibre was added to the range. This complication resulted in an alarm tone so reliable that US presidents were soon using Vulcain watches to remind them of important appointments or to wake them up.

A precision mechanical wristwatch that remains accurate when the wearer is moving about is, of course, not only ideally suited for world leaders but also for situations involving extreme stress. That's why in 1952, when a team of Italian climbers set out to conquer K2, the world's second-highest mountain, they took the Vulcain Cricket with them. Vulcain also produces the only watch with an alarm that can even ring under water; Vulcain worked in partnership with the pioneering Swiss diver, Hannes Keller, to develop the Nautical, a watch that can precisely display the decompression stages during a dive.
To this day Vulcain has continually developed ever new complications all the way through to the tourbillon, because time never stands still. Time is precious, and Vulcain demonstrates this by reviving the tradition of cloisonné enamelling. Limited edition world-time wristwatches transform the craftsmanship of a mechanical watch into a work of art.

How does a mechanical watch work?

The key factor in any mechanical timepiece is the calibre, or series, of the movement. Vulcain produces a total of 12 series of its Vulcain Cricket calibre. The watch is made up of at least 165 separate components, 25 rubies and two barrels. It also includes the patented Exactomatic system which improves the accuracy of the watch when its wearer is moving around. Needless to say it also features an alarm. In the case of watches with manual wind, they feature a power reserve of 42 hours. In the case of automatic models, of course, there is no need for regular manual winding.
Depending on the additional complications, which may include a 24-hour international time display, chronograph, moon phase, day of the week and date display, or tourbillon, the watch can comprise up to 271 individual components.
Springs, screws, cogs, automatic drive with flywheel, wear-free if possible and assembled in the tightest of spaces - in the case of the Vulcain Cricket with a diameter of 28 mm and a depth of 7.65 mm - this is maximum-precision work using separate components with the most minute tolerances; it all clearly requires the skills of an experienced master watchmaker.
The resulting watch should measure time as accurately as possible not just for a short while, not just for a day, but for years stretching into decades; its timekeeping function must also be protected from the effects of the weather and mechanical stresses. This watch features additional complications and crosses the boundary between craftsmanship and art.
In 2005 Vulcain launched the Imperial Gong, a mechanical timepiece that combines what is probably the most difficult complication for a watchmaker, the tourbillon, with an alarm calibre. The tourbillon is a device that compensates for imprecisions in running caused by the effect of gravity on a wristwatch, and changes its position relative to the force of gravity. Vulcain developed this mechanical alarm with what is known as a cathedral gong whose wonderful sound can be compared with the most beautiful minute repeater watches.

Why a mechanical watch?

It is an incontestable fact: when the wearer is moving about it is impossible to beat a quartz or electronic watch in terms of precision; what's more, they became so cheap to manufacture that they almost brought about the demise of the Swiss watch manufacturers in the 1970s.
Its onward development into a smartwatch, linked up with other electronic devices such as smartphones or the internet, extends possible uses for a modern watch.
A mechanical watch, on the other hand, is a living tradition involving craftsmanship, and represents the absolute peak of precision engineering. A mechanical watch is about more than measuring time, it does in fact embody time itself.
Of course like any other mechanical device a wristwatch must be looked after, requiring maintenance at regular intervals – at least once every ten years but preferably every five years. If it is looked after well, though, it will be a true companion that may count the passage of time but will itself never actually age. A good mechanical watch can be passed on to the next generation. Once a mechanical watch has found its final form it gains a timeless quality. The Presidents' Watch, for instance, still looks contemporary today more than two generations after it was first presented to the world and worn by the first US president.

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We are available very gladly and look forward to hearing from you.

Manufacture des montres Vulcain S.A.
Chemin des Tourelles 4
CH-2400 Le Locle

Tel: +41 32 930 80 10

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