May 5, 2016
by Kenny Yeo
This year will be a tough one for watch brands. Watch sales have been declining sharply in some key markets, and brands need to react swiftly if they are to succeed in such an environment. Is a $14,900, steel, time-and-date watch the right answer? With their new Vacheron Constantin Quai de l’Ile Reference 4500S – the first Quai de l’Ile watch to be offered in stainless steel – Vacheron Constantin appears to think it is, so let’s see what a “budget VC” has in store for us.
The first Vacheron Constantin Quai de l’Ile watch debuted in 2008 and was designed to be a highly customizable watch that featured components that would make it difficult for counterfeiters to copy. The new Vacheron Constantin Quai de l’Ile Reference 4500S actually does not have these customization features, but rather attempts to go back to the basics a bit.
The question here really is whether Vacheron Constantin is on point with market expectations in producing a competitively-priced and simpler watch that is not an Overseas (especially since the latter has been priced rather ambitiously with its latest upgrade) in an effort to get a slice of the competitive $15,000-ish price point.
The Vacheron Constantin Quai de l’Ile 4500S features a 41mm-wide stainless steel case with a distinctive design that Vacheron Constantin describes as part cushion and part tonneau. To us, the curved elements on the sides and in between the lugs make the QDI look distinctly cushion-shaped, while the elongated lugs make for an optically longer case, lending it some of that “tonneau vibe.” It is casual, for sure, but just a bit less sporty than the Overseas. Plus, as you would expect from a high-end steel watch, the case is finished with alternating polished and satin-brushed finishes – water resistance, for a watch at this price, is a mediocre 30 meters, though, so other than when washing your hands, be careful not to expose your watch to water. While this luxury watch is not at all the only culprit, for peace of mind, we’d prefer to always see at least a 50-meter rating, especially on simple watches that have no extra pushers or levers built into the case.
While the case design operates with larger, more elegant surfaces, the dial arguably shows less grace in its design. It is bold, but what may appear to be off-putting to the eye is the unusual balance in the sizing of its elements. All the indices are bold, even the minute markers are long and large, and so are the date window’s tall numerals which do appear to get rather cramped between 20 and 30. We understand and appreciate Vacheron Constantin’s efforts to be a bit more modern its design approach – which is in stark contrast to their typically highly refined yet conservative design ethos.
The hands are more “tool” than “style” which seems to be the theme here. They might work well in person or may arguably lack the necessary character for carrying the dial. We hope that in person the hands are bold enough and carry the dial properly to evoke that strong sense of “Vacheron Constantin grace” we look for in these designs.
Closer to the center of the dial is a mineral glass disc that bears all the numerals for the date. This stationary ring is framed by a dark grey one that carries a triangular pointer, moving it around the fixed wheel to indicate the actual date, hence replacing your common date window. It is an interesting tactic and something more on the fresher side for the brand. Recently, we dedicated a feature article to the issue of date windows and how they make for good or bad watch design. In the article itself, as well as in the comments, the questionable design decision of extended date windows is addressed. We will save any final conclusions for this approach until after seeing the watch in person.
Powering the watch is Vacheron Constantin’s in-house-made Caliber 5100, which can be viewed through the sapphire case-back. Composed of 172 components, the Vacheron Constantin Caliber 5100 beats at a modern 4 Hertz and offers around 60 hours of power reserve. It also bears the Hallmark of Geneva (also known as the Geneva Seal), which means it has been regulated and decorated to high standards. Owners can expect to enjoy chamfered bridges, polished screw heads, circular graining on wheels, as well as a healthy amount of Côtes de Genève finishing on plates. It’s also worth pointing out that the rotor is made using tungsten, a dense metal that promises more efficient winding. We feel that the movement is one of the major “plus” highlights of the watch.
This new Vacheron Constantin Quai de l’Ile Reference 4500S will come with two straps, one brown alligator strap and another black rubber strap, but it fails to include a quick strap change system – a convenience we all liked so much in the new Overseas and wish it were somehow re-engineered to fit here.
The Geneva Seal, for a few years now, has meant regulating the execution of the entire “watch head,” and that also includes the case. So, all in all, at a ~$15,000 price point, you are looking at a watch that boasts some considerable assurances regarding the quality of execution – and that sure could make it a tempting option. However, for just a few hundred dollars more, another contender is the Roger Dubuis Excalibur 42, which also has a Geneva Seal-certified case and movement (and a micro-rotor equipped one, at that), and that arguably does a better job at being your exciting dress watch option (which this QDI more than likely wants to be). The amusing irony here is that the Roger Dubuis might win the battle when it comes to restrained elegance – which might be a new victory for the typically “bold & loud” (which is the way they like it) brand.
Furthermore, if all you want is a very nicely finished, restrained, timeless, but not utterly boring-looking dress watch in steel with an in-house movement, Chopard’s L.U.C XPS line is not short of those either – no Seal, but half the price in steel with an in-house automatic, or about two grand more than this but in gold, with a micro-rotor movement. Hmm.
So, how does the Vacheron Constantin Quai de l’Ile Reference 4500S fit into the larger picture? It is priced at $14,900 – and to be fair, and to note what else Vacheron Constantin has put on the table recently, we’ll say that this price is a full $5,000 less than the comparable Overseas model that came in the same case material and offered the same functions, but also had an extra steel bracelet. We understand that for a range of reasons Vacheron Constantin can’t sink prices lower due to things like brand equity, etc., but it would have been thrilling for consumers to see an even more accessible Vacheron Constantin model. Perhaps we will in the future, as the Geneva brand dangles their goods closer to the reach of a new crop of willing consumers. vacheron-constantin.com