Jensen heritage for the next generation

VULCAIN CRICKET ALARM WATCH – RARE BLUE DIAL – £975

The President’s Watch

 

Vulcain Cricket alarm watch, nick-named ‘The President’s Watch, on account of the number of US President’s that wore a Vulcain Cricket. This is a much sought after stainless steel example with the preferred blue dial – one of the favoured Crickets for collectors.

 

Item description: Large stainless steel Vulcain, dating from the beginning of the 1970s.  This distinctive timepiece features a very pleasing modernist case design from the Cricket series. The case with a satined sunburst top, along with highly polished sides. Complementing the case, is a glossed blue sunburst dial with silver applied batons, and the brand / model name, Vulcain Cricket.

 

The reverse with classic Cricket case-back with  6 circular alarm resonating holes, along with two special openers. The case-back fully marked up with the Vulcain Cricket names, along with the model reference ‘1858’.  The watch retaining the earlier caliber 120 movement. The watch complete with a brown leather strap and stainless steel buckle.

 

Size: 40mm x 37mm without crown.

 

Condition report: Case in excellent condition with original finish remaining (free from major scratches or other damage). Dial original. Movement clean and in working condition (no warranty implied). The strap and buckle remaining in excellent condition. The timepiece may have been opened, so it should not be used near moisture or water without being checked by a qualified watchmaker.

 

Background to the Vulcain Cricket: Named the ‘President’s watch’, on account of a number of US Presidents wearing one, the Vulcain Cricket remains a solid investment for collectors.

 

Vulcain was founded in 1858 in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland, by the Ditisheim family—Jacque, and his sons Maurice, Gaspard and Aron. Originally creating fine pocket watches, it wasn’t until the early forties, in the midst of WWII, that the company turned its attention to the manufacture of wristwatches. By then, the maison was controlled by Ernest-Albert, the son of Maurice Ditisheim, who had died in 1891, and it was he who renamed the house Vulcain, after the Roman god of fire and volcanoes.

 

But it was another of the family’s offspring, Robert, who had the idea of a mechanical alarm watch. Although there had been two other attempts, in 1910 and 1920, by rival firms, the technical challenges had rendered them of little use; the alarms were too quiet to be worthwhile and the vibrations ruined the accuracy of the timekeeping. By 1942, Robert had produced a prototype which went someway to overcoming these previous obstacles. His Caliber 120, a 22mm, manually-wound mechanism, solved the problem of the vibrations by utilising two separate barrels, one for the movement itself and the other for the alarm function. By keeping the two independent of each other, the alarm not drawing energy away from the movement, it meant it could sound for up to 25 seconds when fully wound. However, it was the issue of the volume which proved most difficult to crack. Robert consulted with physicist Paul Langevin on the task, who suggested that if a tiny cricket could produce enough noise to carry long distances, then the same must be possible for a watch mechanism in a small case.

 

It would take another five years before all the pieces were in place. Robert patented his method of using a hammer to strike an internal membrane, which would resonate under the impact, and he introduced a perforated double case back to act as an echo chamber and amplify the sound. The noise it produced had a strident note, reminiscent of the call of the cricket. The Caliber 120 was a groundbreaking piece of architecture; a 17-jewel movement with a 42 hour reserve, beating at 18,000vph. The only downsides were slight; because of the pioneering complication, the watch hands could only be set forwards, for instance. But the Cricket, presented to the public in 1947, was a significant success and went on to win the international Chronometry Competition the following year a the Neufchatel Observatory.

 

The Cricket only had to wait until 1953 before it was given the sort of image boost money can’t buy. The White House Press Photographer’s Association presented Harry S Truman with a 14k gold version of the watch on the eve of him leaving office. They had the back engraved with the legend; ‘One More Please’, a phrase often shouted at the president during photo-shoots. It was the start of the Cricket’s connection with U.S premiers, Vulcain perhaps learning from Rolex’s example of bestowing various heads of state with some of their finest.

 

Truman’s successor, Dwight Eisenhower, more commonly associated with the Day-Date, was given one, as was his vice president Richard Nixon, who received his from the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors in 1955. Lyndon Johnson was possibly the watch’s biggest fan, buying his personal piece in Geneva and having his signature included on the dial. He also acquired a bulk order of 200 Crickets to give away as gifts during his term. But while the president may have been an admirer, with rumors stating he would often set the alarm to go off during meetings to give him an excuse to leave early, it caused those around him nothing but headaches. The mechanism’s constant droning noise was mistaken for a bomb on several occasions, terrifying his secret service detail.

 

The president’s watches were so successful, Vulcain were able to diversify the range. The Cricket Nautical, a 42mm diver rated to 300m, emerged in 1961 and was able to indicate when decompression stops were needed and even featured an alarm that could be heard underwater. And the Golden Voice, essentially a smaller version of the watch for women, was introduced in 1964.

 

But all Vulcain’s early triumphs came crashing to the ground, as they did across the rest of Switzerland, in the 1970s, when the quartz crisis started knocking. Refusing to adopt the new technology coming in from the east, the brand decided to stick with mechanical movements, and it would prove their downfall. It wasn’t helped by the replacement to the original Caliber 120 movement, the Caliber 401 which, although it had a seconds sub dial and the added convenience of a date function, did so at the expense of a separate barrel for the alarm, which was subsequently reduced to just 15 seconds. It impacted sales and, after more than 100 years, the company was forced into liquidation.

 

Special notes: n/a

 

Provenance: n/a

 

Ordering: shop@jensenmuseum.org or telephone: +1694-781354

 

VULCAIN CRICKET ALARM WATCH – RARE BLUE DIAL – £975