One of the things I’ve learned as I continue my journey in the watch collecting and watch hobby world, is that there really was a “golden age” of watchmaking. This golden age reached its summit somewhere around 1970 after Seiko released the world’s first commercial Quartz wristwatch on December 25, 1969, which in turn started what was dubbed the “Quartz Crisis” (how's that for a Christmas present!).
The “Quartz Crisis” referred to the fact that many manufacturers of mechanical watches, some that had been around since the 1800’s started to disappear by the hundreds as people started buying Quartz watches in favor of mechanical ones. Some companies survived of course, but the majority that did were gobbled up by large conglomerates such as The Swatch Group, who bought Omega, Longines, Breguet, to name just a few, or Financière Richmond SA who bought IWC, A. Lange And Sohne, and Vacheron Constantin, again to name just a few.
Of course, without these conglomerates these legendary companies would have disappeared as well. To that end, there was some consolidation that took place. This is why a company like Omega, which used to make all of its movements in-house pre-1970 started to slow down their manufacturing program, to a point where they make none. Instead, their movements are either off-the-shelf ETA movements, which Omega decorates/modifies, or they are “made exclusively for" Omega by ETA (which is another deceptive term). ETA being the movement manufacturing division of The Swatch Group. Either way, this resembles nothing of how things used to be done at Omega pre-1970s.
With all that being said, my goal wasn’t to discuss the Quartz crisis or it’s effects, but rather to discuss the movement in Vacheron Constantin’s latest edition of the Traditionnelle Chronograph Perpetual Calendar, also known as reference 5000T, and its roots to that Golden Age of watchmaking.
The 5000T is of course a masterpiece, and its movement (caliber 1142), like the one it replaced (caliber 1141), is also a masterpiece. Both are based on the Lemania 2310/2320/2612 series of movements, specifically the 2320.
The Lemania 2310/2320/2612 was developed by Lemania *and* Omega in 1942 when both companies and Tissot were already part of SSIH. SSIH was a group the three companies formed with Omega at the helm back in 1932. Therefore, if you haven’t guessed already, this same series of ébauches is exactly what was used by Omega (specifically the 2310), in their Speedmaster and became known as their legendary c.321.
Later, when the Lemania c.1873 was developed (an evolution of the 2310/2320/2612 series; see accompanying photo), Omega gave it the reference number c.861/1861/1863, which is still in production today.
In other words, the Omega Speedmaster containing the manual chronograph movement c.321, the first movement certified by NASA for space flight, and the Vacheron Constantin Traditionnelle Chronograph, which used their c.1141 previously, and now the updated c.1142 are based on the exact same Lemania ébauche 2310/2320/2612 movements. In fact, Patek Philippe’s c.2872 and c.27-70 also use the same series of ébauches (specifically the 2310 just like the c.321), and both are considered legends!
However, something Omega does not have in common with the Vacheron Constantin or any of the Patek watches is price!
Despite the fact all the watches mentioned use the exact same ébauche as their base motor (or the evolution c.1873, a.k.a Omega's c.861/1861), a new Speedmaster has a retail price of about $4500 (as of this writing). A pre-owned version about $2500. On the high end, any of the c.321 Speedmasters will range from $5000-$10,000. Going over the $10,000 means you’re looking at one of the very first references, which are almost impossible to find in any kind of “good” condition. Either way, those too would pale in comparison to the 5000Ts $150,000 price tag, or the “sky’s the limit” price tag the aforementioned Patek’s would undoubtedly get at auction, new, or whatever.
Of course, Vacheron and Patek do finish and decorate their movements like no other, and specifically to a level the Omega’s have never reached. The 5000T also has their in-house Perpetual module added on, and yes, there are many other additions or modifications or enhancements they’ve made depending on the particular model. But, the point is that despite all those enhancements, modifications, etc., those watches are still nothing without their base ébauche, which is worth repeating, is exactly the same as the ones used in the Speedmasters.
This is not a put-down of the 5000T, or a Petek 5070, but rather me trying to demonstrate what an incredible value and the kind of serious pedigree the Speedmaster is and has.
Remember, Vacheron and Patek don’t need to buy ébauches from anyone. They’ve got serious watchmaking chops and could make anything they want in-house, and yet they chose not to (in this case). They chose to use the Lamania 2310/2320/2612 ébauches instead. They also could have chosen to use other ébauches, such as the Valjoux 72 (at least when it was still in production), but they never did. Again, they specifically chose the Lemania ébauches instead, and they continue to do so today, because of how good those ébauches are. In fact, the only manual wound chronograph that could compete is the 13Z made by Longines, but like the Valjoux 72, its no longer in production.
Furthermore, the fact that the Valjoux 72 and the Longines 13Z are no longer in production also says something significant: Its been nearly 75 years since the 2310/2320/2612 was developed, and its still being used at the highest level of watchmaking today, while the other two are not.
Some may ask why the difference in price then? Especially if they are essentially "the same" at their core. The answer is multifaceted, to be sure. Finishing and decorating play a part, the added-on modules play a part, but those things explain why a Vacheron and Patek is priced so high, not why an Omega is in comparison so cheap.
To answer that is as simple as understanding one of the basic principles of economics: supply and demand. In other words, the biggest factor in the price gap is because Omega still makes the Speedmaster in large quantities - and this is a very good thing for us consumers!
It's a great thing, because this means you can literally grab your Speedy, which has the same base caliber as the the 5000T or the Patek 5070 chronograph, and literally go toe-to-toe despite the huge gap in price. This is undeniable. Anyone who says different isn't understanding the big picture, and thats their problem.
Indeed, even the most seasoned Patek or Vacheron collector will consider a manually wound Speedmaster a must if their collection is to be considered complete in any way. All thanks to thanks to the Lemania based 2310/2320/2612 series of movements.
One final thought on the subject: yes, its a wonderful thing to see these movements finished and decorated the way Vacheron and Patek have done. But, there is also something pure and honest about the way they are delivered as ébauches or the way Omega chose to finish theirs.
They are more “tool” than "jewelry", more manly, more accessible, and in many ways they are a better representation, or do a better job at defining the era known as the “Golden Age” of watch making.