Talk to me about the Vulcain Cricket…

Kes

Kes Crockett | Watch Department

Intro

Knowing the time can be a very useful piece of information as you go about your life. However, it hasn’t always been as easy as it is now. During the olden days, the passage of time was tracked in much cruder terms. There was the bit when it was really cold and you lit fires so you didn’t die. The bit when it was really hot and your hut got invaded by flying ants. The bit when all the leaves fell off the trees, and the bit when everyone ate chocolate eggs and daffodils popped up. Nice and simple.

But, as tends to be the case, some people decided this wasn’t good enough and extra detail was needed. They wanted to schedule gladiator fights and get jobs, so the great Roman Empress Dollyus Partonus invented “9 to 5” and intellectuals from across the globe competed to create a magic clock machine and win her heart. It was the aptly named Viscount Down who was declared the winner, after making an instrument that reliably counted up from 1 to 12. Following just two million years or so of mechanical fine tuning, the early nineteen hundreds saw the first miniature wrist clocks, and within five decades every Tom, Dick and Harry had the latest ‘must have’ gadget strapped to their arm.

However, as with all great leaps forward, there were some downsides. The once mighty town of Hull, which was the sundial capital of the world experienced a severe economic decline from which it has never quite recovered. It was also bad news for the last of the dinosaurs, the crocodile, who now faced extinction at the hands of unscrupulous clock strap tycoons and their illegal poaching squads. Whilst these issues were no doubt serious, the average mini-clock wearer was just too far removed from them to care.

What couldn’t be ignored though was the NHS crisis of 1946 which saw hospital beds at full capacity. So transfixed was society with their personal timing devices, that they had completely lost all sense of self preservation. Walking around like zombies, watching the hands tick round. The Daily Telegraph on Feb 30th that year led with the headline “Clock lemmings on the loose – Pedestrian Road Deaths up 800%”. A government campaign was put out on the wireless, with people urged to shout “WATCH OUT!” whenever they saw a Wrist-clock-wally veering off the pavement into traffic. This warning sound was unfortunately a little too wordy in such an emergency, and so was understandably abbreviated to “WATCH!”.

The Vulcain Cricket

cricket

And that is how the personal mini-clock got its now familiar name: The watch.

Well, that’s my version of the history of timekeeping anyway. Maybe reality was a bit different but whatever happened, the result was the Vulcain Cricket, which in 1947 became the first mass produced wrist watch with an alarm feature! The days of anxiously monitoring the time and missing appointments would now be over, replaced instead by a gentle reminder buzzing on your wrist.

The Vulcain company was formed in 1858 in La Chaux-de-Fonds and was manufacturer of pocket watches until the mid-1940s where they switched their attention to wrist watches. The idea of an alarm watch wasn’t new, with attempts made by rival firms at the turn of the century, but they were unsuccessful due to the technical challenges involved. Namely, an alarm which was too quiet, and inaccurate timekeeping caused by the inclusion of the alarm itself.

The accuracy problems were resolved by the use of two barrels instead of one. This meant that the power needed to run the alarm was not being drawn from the same source responsible for the timekeeping. The quietness of the alarm however was a trickier issue to fix, but physicist Paul Langevin was consulted and he looked for inspiration in the world of nature. If a little tiny cricket could make a sound that would carry large distances, then surely it would be possible in a watch.

Following a number of years development, Vulcain patented its method which used a hammer to strike an internal membrane. A perforated double case back was utilised which would act as an echo chamber to amplify the noise. The only slight negative side effect was that the time could only be set forward. Not much inconvenience really.

Vulcain Cricket – The Watch of Presidents

With such technical prowess, all that was needed now was some sort of slick marketing campaign but something even better happened. In 1953 President Harry S Truman was presented with a 14k gold version of the Cricket on him leaving office, and at that point the connection between the Vulcain alarm watch and US presidents was born. Successors Eisenhower and Nixon also received Crickets and Lyndon B Johnson secured an order of 200 watches to gift to other dignitaries during his spell as leader. LBJ would often set his alarm to go off during meetings so he could leave early, a role which is now fulfilled by getting your mate to ring your mobile at a predetermined time, pretending there is an emergency at home. Such was the ferocity of the Cricket’s alarm, the secret service on more than one occasion believed there to be a bomb in the room.

Sadly though, by the 1970’s Vulcain had gone the way of many other Swiss manufacturers who refused to adapt to the threat of quartz watches from the east, and was liquidated after over 100 years of operation. Fortunately though, a Finnish chap called Keijo Paajanen spotted an opportunity and resurrected the brand by reintroducing the practice of gifting Vulcain Crickets to US presidents visiting his country. Since this 1980’s revival, Ronald Reagan, George Bush Sr, Gerald Ford, Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter, Barack Obama and even the uncontroversial Donald J Trump are believed to have received one.

Conclusion

The Vulcain brand is still very much alive and well, with a healthy selection of models in its line-up. The Cricket still a highlight, now with automatic movement and date feature to satisfy the demands of todays wrist-clock enthusiast. Although these modern iterations may be technically superior, for many people an old-school Cricket is the one to have and our next Watches and Watch Accessories auction taking place on February 21st has such an example. With an estimate of £250-350, this 33mm gold plated, manual wind classic is an affordable way to own a real piece of horological history.

Lot 236

The Vulcain Cricket. The watch that doesn’t need watching.

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