43050 Vacheron Constantin Mercator
Unique time displays, not just two hands in a circle, are really rather uncommon. Brave, even. Journe stunned us all at Only Watch with his hand complication. And you’ll know mechanical digital displays like the Zeitwerk or Vagabondage, jumping Tank Guichet too. Maybe even AP’s Starwheels. But have you seen the Favre-Leuba Harpoon? Urwerk’s UR-111C? Trilobe Une Folle Journée? Ballouard? Halter’s Deep Space Tourbillon? FM’s Crazy Hours? It’s really quite a fascinating world out there when you’re willing to totally ditch convention. Some fail, some succeed. But only with brave experimentation can you defy all odds. Vacheron have experimented more than most with one very simple mechanism: the retrograde. And the Mercator is the summation of that really rather extensive past.
1994 was the 400th anniversary of Gerardus Mercator, the inventor of map projection (precursor to world maps we use today). The dial here is a map of Europe, Africa, and Asia, though many other regions were commissioned as dials by clients. Each dial started as a solid gold blank which has been engraved and then carefully filled with black enamel by Jean and Lucie Genbrugge. Along with many details such as a mythical sea creature at 9, the two enamelers signed their work J&L Genbrugge at 4. I don’t have any personal connection to cartography, the significance of Mr. Mercator escapes me. But I love a world map dial, particularly as out of place as this one is on a non-world-time watch. It was not divisive upon release for no reason.
The movement is a calibre 1120 modified with dual retrograde mechanisms. Despite this, it’s still a very slim case which compliments the classic 36mm size. The case features fully stepped bezel and lugs, quite a traditionally-leaning design for such an atypical dial. That contrast is made more rich by a display caseback, fitting as the 1120 is one of the best finished time-only automatics around. In fact, this is a time-only two hander. Although it may not appear at first glance, this just might be a dress watch in disguise. It is thought that only 638 examples have ever been produced. That’s smaller than a pebble splash in the ocean for VC. This wouldn’t be on wrist on anyone who didn’t know precisely what they were wearing, no one walks in a boutique, uninitiated, and walks out with a Mercator. I do love when the world’s oldest watchmaker in continuous production (since 1755) gets a bit alternative.
This example is in excellent overall condition, case, dial, and the rest. Enamel has no damage visible. The lugs are near perfect, it’s seen a polish, but only very lightly. Deep engravings still and only the finest layer of metal was likely removed. VC know what they’re doing at service. It comes with service papers, noting a hand being replaced in service, with extract, from a well-regarded London retailer.