One of my favorite under represented Swiss watch brands is Vulcain. I have written about them before, for example here when I discussed how the brand gives one of their watches to each new US president (specifically it was for Obama). That watch happened to be Vulcain’s new Anniversary Heart watch which is pictured here. Isn’t it nice?
Vulcain watches are really rare. I believe there are some authorized dealers in the US, but I haven’t been to any of them. I got to check out these watches at L’Heure Asch in Geneva. Denis Asch, the proprietor of the shop is probably the most respected independent watch dealer in Geneva. He has pretty good taste, and Vulcain is among the select brands that he carries. Actually, I found that Geneva isn’t really a hot-spot for independent or smaller brands. The city is dominated by brands from mostly the Swatch Group, Richemont Group, and select high-end brands (like Audemars Piguet or Patek Philippe). Those looking for interesting stuff that is less common don’t have that many choices. L’Heure Asch is actually in an interest spot, located right in Geneva’s “old city” with many medieval aged buildings.
Vulcain watches I believe feature all in-house movements. The brand is most well known for their “Cricket” movement which has a mechanical alarm. They recently began to offer alarm movements with automatic winding features – apparently a tough feat for a mechanical alarm watch. Using the complication takes some education, but is simple once you get the hang of it, let’s just say that for me it wasn’t totally intuitive. The main crown is used for setting the time and winding. When the crown is pushed in all the way, you can turn the crown to wind the watch. Only there are two barrels in the watch that aren’t linked. One mainspring barrel is for the time, and another is for the alarm. So when you turn the crown clockwise you wind one barrel, and when you turn it counter-clockwise, you wind the alarm barrel. There is a separate pusher to adjust the date.
There is no real way to set the alarm “on” or “off.” If there is power in the alarm barrel, it will operate. But the power in the barrel lasts for just alarm sounding event. You then need to rewind it for the next alarm sound. Setting the alarm involve pressing a pusher above the crown. This then pushes the crown up, and when you operate it, it adjusts the alarm hand, not the time. You’ll need to set the alarm to the 24 hour scale. The sound of the alarm is pretty impressive for a mechanical movement. Being used to sound beeps from a digital watch, the alarm offers a totally different noise. If you are in a loud place you might not hear the alarm, but it is loud enough for most instances. Clearly, people who rely on alarms are going to go with the consistency and precision of the digital alarm that can be set to the minute, and perhaps a few times a day. In a mechanical watch, the alarm is fun complication that you’ll not likely need to use all the time. Vulcain has it pretty good though, and their Cricket movements became very useful for travelers before digital watches were available.
I am not going to go into detail on any of these watches. I simply wanted to discuss my impressions over all. Again, if you want more information these are the Vulcain Anniversary Heart, Cricket Xtreme, and Cloissone. The Anniversary Heart is a gorgeous watch and a solid value around $6,000 (in steel) I believe. The watch comes in a few varieties, in gold or steel cases, and there are manually wound or automatic movement versions. At 42mm wide with a fluted side, the polished case is really well made, and a great size. Here, the dagger style hands in blued steel are just lovely, and the partially skeletonized dial not only retains legibility but shows off the decorated movement below. Vulcain does a solid job design movements in a unique manner, and they aren’t too bad in the decoration department either.
The Cricket Xtreme is a really cool looking watch. It has a fun, masculine design with a dive watch feel. There is also another model called the Cricket Diver Xtreme. The names are silly, but the watches are cool. I first wrote about the Cricket Xtreme collection here. What is weird is that both models are water resistant to 100 meters only. Most people consider true dive watches to be at least 300 meters water resistant. Part of that might have to do with the ability for the alarm to sound. The Xtreme has a double caseback, meaning there is a hollow section between the two backs for sound to travel and reverberate. This collection also comes in a few styles, and have 44mm wide cases that are done in both steel and titanium (at the same time). I believe the Xtreme collection watches cost around $10,000.
Last is an example of Vulcain’s more elegant enamel dial collection watches, called the Cloisonne (for the type of enamel application). This is the Tiger model, and features a hand-made enamel dial (which takes about 20 hours to make I believe). These watches have Cricket alarm movements and world time bezels. I believe that each has a 18k pink or white gold case (at least this Tiger model does), and come in 42mm wide cases. In this instances, the dial is first guilloche machine engraved (for the texture), and then the enamel painting is applied. I got to check out the dial with a loupe (magnifier), and enjoyed the detail and precision of the painting. Given the special enamel dials and the gold cases, these Cloisonne watches are likely rather expensive.
Thankfully L’Heure Asch has a wide selection of Vulcain watches so I got to check a number of them. The watches are quite nice, well designed, and certainly unique having high quality with prices that aren’t too bad compared to some of their Swiss neighbors. If you need a mechanical alarm watch (or just like the idea of them), the Vulcain Cricket movement is a good option – especially being exclusive to the brand.
See Vulcain watches on eBay here.