To say that Vianney Halter’s Antiqua is a milestone in the history of watchmaking is an understatement. First previewed at Baselworld in 1998, this timepiece is often considered the link between traditional and contemporary watchmaking. Now, more than 20 years later, a “restomod” version of this rare timepiece is on the market again with a movement updated by the man himself.
With its steampunk aesthetic and wildly inventive movement, the Antiqua perpetual calendar was the first of the eponymous watchmaker’s “Futur Anterieur” collection. Featuring a distinct case construction and four portholes to indicate the time, date, month, days of the week, and leap year indication, the Antiqua quickly established Halter’s credentials as one of the greats of contemporary watchmaking.
The present example is cased in white gold and was originally produced 17 years ago. Acquired recently by the Geneva-based Salon Des Horlogers, a retailer representing indie brands, the watch found its way back to Halter’s atelier in Sainte-Croix for a servicing. However, Halter has gone beyond a mere servicing job and given the VH198 movement some important updates. Halter says that this was possible thanks to the technological advancements over the last 20 years. It’s not just the movement that benefits from updates, the case too has been subject to some modifications.
A case maker in Geneva made the complicated case of the first 20 odd Antiqua models. Halter eventually started making the cases himself in Sainte-Croix but this particular timepiece (Number 11) was made in Geneva. Halter was never happy with the way the initial cases were assembled, so he has made some changes to this timepiece. The bezel is now fixed from the inside and helps protect the movement better against exterior elements like dust and humidity.
He also changed the way the movement is fixed to the case to ensure it does not bend. Despite its complexity, the VH198 is still a relatively thin movement. In the early timepieces, because the movement was perhaps not fixed as well to the case, it would bend ever so slightly thus effecting accuracy. The stability of the movement has now been reinforced thanks to the way in which it is rooted to the case.
When it was launched in 1998, the VH198 movement was notable for its “mysterious mass rotor” - an oscillating mass lies hidden behind a peripheral ring and appears with no visible link to the central rotor. As mentioned earlier, improvements in manufacturing process has helped Halter upgrade the original movement now. Some of the more fragile components of the caliber, like the date disc (from 1 to 31) have been replaced. Halter reckons the disc’s teeth did not have the right geometry for it to function smoothly. He has been changing them every time a watch comes in for service.
The click and spring of the perpetual calendar ring used to be located above the mainplate, but that caused vertical slippage. In the update, the spring and click that position the date disk have now been recessed into the mainplate and constrained between pivots, ensuring perfect vertical security.
One of the features of the movement was how all the indications instantaneously switched (day and date) at midnight. The jumping wheel of the perpetual calendar that triggers the jump has been changed too. It now has a safety feature that ensures that the wheel is not damaged when handled incorrectly by clients. Again, this was a recurring problem with Antiqua timepieces that came back in for service.
The shape of the star that sits below the month and leap year sub-dial (specifically the first three months of the year) have also been changed to work better with the jumping wheel. Most of these “modifications" were reportedly done to improve functions and make the movement more durable.
Halter has also skeletonized some of the internal bridges, specifically the ones that hold up the gear train for the time indication. By removing excess materials from the bridge, he has also eased the process of disassembly and assembly of the bridge. It takes him about 30 minutes now when it used to take three hours, up to a day if not done right. The wheels of the gear train have also been re-polished to ensure its smooth functioning.
Halter’s retrofits draws comparisons to the restoration of classic cars. "I try to keep it in the most original state possible. I leave some marks of its age and history but the result is “vintage-modern" watch,” says Halter. Even the white gold pin buckle of the strap is different now, what with a VH logo hand-engraved on it.
The distinct wooden winder presentation box has also received some upgrades. Featuring the same porthole display, the winder rotates every 70 minutes for two minutes to feed the power reserve. The winding mechanism was designed in such a way that the watch would always be upright when the winding stopped, thus allowing for the Antiqua to be used as a desk clock too. Halter has now built a metal plate under the box that can be moved to set the right angle for optimum viewing on the table.
This unique Vianney Halter Antiqua is now up for sale at Salon Des Horlogers and is priced at CHF145,000 (Approx. $152,322 or AED559,463).