For at least a decade, I have loathed derivative design. I don’t know what it says about all large Swiss watchmakers that the best ideas they can come up with already passed a half-decade earlier. The Submariner marching on without change like a 911 is one thing, but Omega literally laser-scanning their best designs from 1960 and reproducing them? That’s like going to Kevin McCloud for a new architecturally-trailblazing home and winding up in Balmoral Castle, you’d be a bit confused. Perhaps all new thought in Switzerland is reserved for money laundering or how to shrink the Toblerone bar by another half percent. Then again, it sells. Abject cynicism was my default view of the topic, until about a decade ago when I learned of something called Les Historiques.
The way to do inspired design properly is 50/50 leaning on the past vs innovation. You can’t laser scan the past and reproduce it. That, to my sensibility, is a bit lazy. The past already did it, and better. What are contributing to new thought? But you can take your greats and translate them through a modern lens to much success. This ref. 47111 is a house that has to fit in in a Victorian neighborhood, but built ground-up with central heating, double glazing, and a Wolf range. There’s room for innovation in every detail. In other words, it’s not derivative at all. That’s the genius in the Les Historiques range; every detail is punched up, tightened, and tweaked to still look right the era that gave us quantum computing and Tiktok.
Or perhaps I should say Wolf of Wall Street and Nokia brick phones, because the 47111 debuted in 1989. It was then in tribute of a 1940s Vacheron chronograph which goes by ref. 4178, but with a Lemania 2310 finished by hand. The bezel is wider and more harshly angled. Its registers are slightly closer together. The font used for the Arabic 12 and 6 is more modern. The tachymetre was cleaned up. Its pushers are about twice as chunky. The lugs have a similar profile, but they’re more aggressively twisted and voluptuous. The overall aesthetic is historic-leaning, sure. But if you know watches well enough to know what the 4178 actually feels like in hand, it is a delightful bundle of tiny surprising design tweaks which amounts to a gorgeous modern presence. If only it were more profitable to think so freely, I wouldn’t have to sit through another superhero movie ever again and watches would look like this.
This 47111 is in a great nick. The case has light even surface wear, commensurate with age. No harsh bashes. The dial is excellent, no luminous material to degrade or damage to be spotted. It comes as a naked watch from a well-regarded California retailer.
Find this 47111 here from Grey & Patina for 28000 USD.