In the world of respected Swiss watchmakers, there are maisons and then there’s Vacheron Constantin, a brand we’ve long respected. As a company that has been designing and building watches since 1755 – which makes it the oldest continuously operating watch brand in the world – it serves as a remarkable testament to the power of good design and quality craftsmanship. At the centre of the brand’s operations, with a hand in historical conservation, promotion and design, is Christian Selmoni. We spoke with the watch industry veteran about Vacheron Constantin’s past, present and future.
Heritage & Style Director is one of the more unusual titles in the watch industry. What are some of your day to day responsibilities?
I have spent most of my career at Vacheron Constantin in the field of product concept, creation and design. In my current position, I am still active in the process of design and creation: my main responsibility is making sure the design of new models is relevant and faithful to the style and aesthetics of our Maison. In parallel, I am in charge of Vacheron Constantin Heritage, which means conservation, and promotion. This is a fascinating challenge, as we have been in non-stop activity since 1755, and consequently there are many incredible stories to tell.
Finally, we have developed an exclusive assortment of vintage Vacheron Constantin watches that we restore in our workshops, and we offer these for sale through dedicated events around the World in our boutiques. This program – named “Les Collectionneurs” – is a great tool to demonstrate Vacheron Constantin legitimacy, creativity, durability, innovation and long term value through the prism of vintage watches.
Considering the very long heritage of Vacheron Constantin, how do you and your colleagues decide which pieces to revive? It must be a difficult decision.
Indeed it is! Our history is paved with very exciting models, and iconic designs, which are sought-after by collectors. Such models tend to be our favourites and we have re-designed some of them within the “Historiques” collection. As an example, the “American 1921”, a very early kind of driver’s watch with a diagonal reading of time that we produced in very few examples almost 100 years ago. And the 1955 chronograph “Cornes de Vache”, another rare timepiece and one of the earliest waterproof and anti-magnetic chronographs. Additionally, we have a list of famous designs from the past that we would love to re-design. It’s a matter of being quite patient.
Watches are an unusual thing to design because design objects are influenced by trends, but watches are designed to last decades, and sometimes much longer. How does this push and pull of trend and timelessness affect the brand’s approach to new products?
We have the chance to be a Maison with a very long history, and our style – globally speaking – is classic. We are also very present on the secondary market with vintage watches and this is why we insist on creating watches that – ideally speaking – demonstrate a “timeless elegance”. It’s very demanding, we sometimes have to ignore trends and instead concentrate on our identity, our roots. But in the long run, we get a much higher recognition for our work. An interesting example would be the Patrimony model from 2003: inspired by a model from the 1950’s but with dimensions adapted to today’s taste, the Patrimony was an instant success and is still one of our best-sellers, more than 15 years later.
I’m envious of your access to the Vacheron Constantin archive, which must contain so many unusual and interesting artifacts. What surprising things have you learned or discovered by delving into the company’s archive?
First of all, the size of our archives measure approximately 420 linear meters! Our archives are a real treasure, containing some 1,300 Vacheron Constantin watches, and they are a source of endless discovery and stories. We’re able to trace the history of Vacheron Constantin from the very early years in the 18th century. We have so many stories to tell that we decided to create our Instagram account – @thehourlounge – in order to upload some of these stories. And we are discovering new facts every week…
Similarly, how does Vacheron Constantin’s long heritage make it unique among Swiss watchmakers?
I will start with our seniority: no other watchmaker has a 265-year long history without any interruption, that’s quite an achievement. I think that’s what makes Vacheron Constantin so special – our constant quest for creativity and innovation, together with a quest for beauty too. Speaking about creativity, I’d have to mention the “classic with a twist” attitude of Vacheron Constantin, which is our ability to create, for example, a classic round design for a calendar watch, with a strict and very readable dial, however with surprising design choices such as a three gadroons decoration on the case flank, and spectacular claw lugs – such is the case for the “Historiques Triple Calendar 1942”.
Our quest for beauty is seen in the “Métiers d’Art” decorative crafts that we incorporate into some of our timepieces – notably from “Les Cabinotiers”, our workshop for unique pieces and bespoke watches.
These “Métiers d’Art” crafts can be seen in the Maison’s collections since the very beginning. In the 18th century our “Métiers d’Art” was enameling, engraving, “Guillochage” and gem-setting. We are not looking to repeat what was made in the past, but rather to innovate, year after year, and to develop new techniques and combinations of crafts – even if we sometimes use century-old machines. Innovation has been at the heart of Vacheron Constantin since our very early years. An excellent example of this innovation spirit is the “Traditionnelle Twin Beat Perpetual Calendar” timepiece from last year. It is a major technical innovation – 65 days of power reserve in a timepiece which is not bigger or thicker than a standard watch – a true game changer. Twin Beat is housed in a classic round case, mixing classic design with state-of-the-art manufacturing techniques on the dial, revealing partly the complexity of its movement.
The watch world has ties to many others, like automobile racing, sailing, flight and even music. Does your personal interest in areas outside of watchmaking influence your work?
As far as I am concerned, I am inspired by many different and various universes. I would say that I am attracted by details more than design universes like cars, for example. I would rather be inspired by a wallpaper in a friend’s apartment, or the architecture of a plane cabin, or more generally urban architecture. There is no limitation except – maybe – the fact that I am more interested in human creations than pure nature itself!