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Review: Vacheron Constantin Cornes de Vache

So, the industry has tried making watches that look cool and modern—with varying degrees of success—but really it makes more sense to go backwards. At the heart of the love of watches, it’s things like the Omega Speedmaster, the Breitling Navitimer and Tudor Heritage Chrono that really hit all the right buttons, acknowledging that the mechanical composition of a watch’s movement is most at home in a design of its time. With that being said, the heritage trend is well and truly on fire right now, with many a brand taking a swing at reviving its back catalogue. For a Vacheron Constantin, we’re going back to 1955.

What is it that we love so much about things that are old? Sentimentality for the older generations amongst us, perhaps? Romantic nostalgia for a simpler time? An idealised perspective of an analogue experience? Taking a record out of its sleeve, browsing the cover art, carefully wiping it down and setting it up, lowering the tonearm and hearing the crackle through the speakers …

It paints a beautiful picture and is sure a wonderful experience, but the fact of the matter is that high-quality digital streaming from somewhere like Tidal is objectively the same or better quality. Feathers, commence ruffling, and I understand the resistance, because my own experience is that records sound better. But they don’t, and here’s the thing—you’re just having a nicer time.

A digital camera can capture a billion pictures per second on a sensor with a zillion pixels that can quite happily shoot directly into the sun—don’t actually do that—or into the darkest abyss. You point, it gives you reams of data to get the shot, you adjust in an instant, you click. You can even just click and let it do all the work for you. A film camera takes time, reveals no data until you hit the dark room, requires a mechanical sympathy and an understanding of the equipment. It’s … much worse.

Multi-Oscar-award-winning cinematographer Roger Deakins, who DP’d on some of the greatest films ever made—including, according to IMDB at least, the greatest film ever made, The Shawshank Redemption—who also invented the bleach bypass film development process, prefers shooting on digital. It’s easier, he knows what he’s going to get without waiting until the next day for the lab to tell him everything’s blown or there was a hair in the gate.

But film is a better experience. More rewarding. You take your time; you think it through. You appreciate the moment. It’s not a means to an end; the very act of exposing, framing and capturing the shot is a pleasure in and of itself. Like the record, the experience is enhanced by the fact it’s slower, more ponderous. This is why we are nostalgic even for periods of history we’ve never experienced, because in a modern world of high-speed, wireless interconnectivity, the idea of taking your time seems like bliss.

This is all true of watches, too. An automatic watch is fine, does the job, keeps the watch ticking. Filling up the dial with information like the date is particularly handy, for sure. A nice, big case so you can see the time without having to lift your wrist up all the way, perfect. In fact, why not make the watch a computer and have it do everything your phone can do as well? Why not, indeed—it would be easier, after all.

This is where the heritage watch comes in. It’s the complete antithesis of modern, does very little and does it without urgency or immediacy. Like a record player, like a film camera, it forces you to slow down, to appreciate the moment, to value the journey and not race to the goal. Never mind rushing a selfie to get it online before your friends, or flicking through a thousand tracks to cut the silence and get the beats bangin’—a heritage watch wants you to stop, take your time, and—when you’re done—make you forget what you were even supposed to be doing in the first place. It’s not easy to get right, and many others have tried and failed. The Vacheron Constantin Historiques Cornes de Vache, however, based on the 1955 reference 6087, does exactly that, and does it very well. Here’s how.

Everything about the Vacheron Constantin Cornes de Vache is designed to keep you from the time, to disrupt your end goal of knowing how many hours and how many minutes have passed in the day. First of all, it’s smaller than you’d expect, the steel case just 38.5mm—which, coincidentally, makes the watch cost £1,000 a millimetre—and that means you need to bring it closer to your face. That takes an extra second or two—but you won’t regret that added time-telling, erm, time being added to your schedule, because with a better view, you’ll appreciate what you see.

For those of you with a basic knowledge of French, you’ll have pieced together that Cornes de Vache quite literally translates to “cow horns”. This isn’t like one of those semi-translations like pomme de terre—ground apple, or potato as we’d call it—it’s called Cow Horns because it really does look like our bovine farmyard friends. Those lugs, teardrops fused impeccably into the case, are yet another demonstration of just how the Swiss name things exactly as they see them. Take the Matterhorn, which quite simply means “peak in the meadows”. Good one, Switzerland.

But you won’t be bothered with any of that once you’ve got those horns all up in your face, however, because the frozen liquid form, deeply polished and curvaceous, will wipe away any thought from your mind immediately. Looking at these horns, I imagine feeling a bit how Neo felt when he reached in and touched the gloopy mirror. It’s like there’s a whole alternate universe in there.

Once you’ve torn your eyes away from those molten pools, you’ll eventually find your way to the dial, where you’ll see a tachymeter scale for the chronograph and a chapter ring have shrunk the main time-telling portion of the watch, making it even harder to read. To add to that, the dial is silver, and so are the hands, so catching a glimpse of the time in a meeting is completely off the cards.

What you will see, however, is the play of finishes across the silver elements that all catch at different angles. You’ll need to watch close and carefully, because they flash by in a second—but with a bit of time and patience, you’ll be rewarded with the breadth and depth of the watch’s beauty. There’s no date, there’s no script listing the watches features—the only thing you’ll see that does stand out are the blued chronograph hands.

It’s worth playing with the chronograph even if you’re not timing anything, because the snap of the pushers is so satisfying. In fact, may as well take the watch off and get to appreciate what’s going on inside as well. And whilst the watch is off, may as well give it a little wind, if anything just to feel the crisp ratcheting mechanism purr through the crown.

In back of the Cow Horns is the calibre 1142, based on the Lemania 2310—a partnership the two brands have fostered throughout history—but here it’s given the magic Vacheron Constantin touch and hand-finished all the way up to Geneva Seal quality. And what a thing to look at. The horizontal clutch, snapping the chronograph into action, the Maltese cross logo’d column wheel directing the feed from the pushers, the big, slow, 21,600vph balance, finely adjusted with a ring of screwed weights, lazily swinging back and forth …

And before you know it, you’ve spent fifteen minutes trying to read the time—and you still have no idea what it actually is. That’s why the Vacheron Constantin Cow Horns is exactly the kind of watch you buy not for the end goal, but for the journey to get there. It’s that nostalgia, that sentimentality, that idealism, all wrapped up with a neat leather strap around your wrist.

The Vacheron Costantin Historiques Cornes de Vache isn’t really a watch, rather it’s a reflection of a state of mind every human being eventually finds themselves in. When the rat race feels like the last lap is nowhere in sight, when deadlines blur into one, when the sound of a new email pinging on your phone haunts your sleep—that’s when you get a Cornes de Vache. You shoot on film, listen to records and don’t tell the time with a Vacheron Constantin.

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