It’s an unmatched record and a well-known fact: Vacheron Constantin is the most established of all watch brands, in continuous operation since 1755.
Equally impressive and less widely known is the fact that Vacheron has been selling watches in the United States, continuously, since 1832 – longer than nearly all other luxury watch brands have been in existence.
In the early 1800s, Vacheron Constantin expanded beyond Switzerland, successfully branching out to Italy and France. Following turmoil caused by the Second French Revolution in 1830, its founders, Jean-Marc Vacheron and François Constantin, set their sights on the United States.
Two years later, in 1832, the brand established its first presence outside of Europe, setting up an American agent and distributor in lower Manhattan in New York City. Prior to 1832, only British-made timepieces were imported into the United States, making Vacheron Constantin the first brand to introduce Swiss-made watches to these shores.
The company’s decision to enter the U.S. was wise and well timed. The Erie Canal, completed just a few years prior in 1825, now provided any firm in New York City with access to clients and markets directly into the center of the U.S. The Erie Canal was a major enabler for America’s Industrial Revolution, which quickly fueled the success of the nation.
By the mid 19th-century, America had more millionaires than all of Europe combined. Vacheron Constantin, through its agent in New York City, was perfectly positioned to provide its high-grade, luxury watches to these newly minted American millionaires.
In the 180 years since that time, Vacheron Constantin continued to thrive and entered new markets throughout the world almost exclusively as partners with select retailers. Recent years have seen the brand open Vacheron Constantin boutiques. By 2011 Vacheron Constantin had opened twenty-seven brand-owned Boutiques across the globe – with the exception of the Americas.
So it was only fitting that in 2011, approximately 180 years after Vacheron set foot in the U.S., the brand’s first official boutique in the Americas was opened, delighting America’s many Vacheron Constantin fans.
Located on the corner of Madison Avenue and 64th Street, the two-story boutique is a must-visit destination for any watch enthusiast. Its elegant, modern, and understated décor, with its wood, glass, and leather display cases and Vacheron Constantin-branded decorative items throughout, is worthy of the brand’s timepieces.
With a library, lounge area, and private viewing rooms, the Boutique was designed for maximum customer comfort. A full-time master watchmaker is staffed on the second floor – befitting the company’s dedication to world-class customer service. Most watches, including moderately complicated timepieces such as perpetual calendars, can be repaired, serviced, and refinished on-site, enabling rapid turnaround times.
The selection of Vacheron Constantin watches on display at this boutique is unparalleled in the Western hemisphere. Due to meticulous hand finishing and highest quality decoration applied on all parts, the company’s production capacity is inherently limited.
This is one major reason the firm is constructing a wholly new manufacturing facility in Switzerland, and while it will lift production figures somewhat after 2014 (from 19,000 today to 25,000 in the upcoming years), demand will likely continue to exceed supply in the years ahead, especially for the most complicated pieces.
In the showcases
At the New York Boutique, some of Vacheron Constantin’s newest and most desirable models can be found, including the Métiers d’Arts Les Univers Infinis announced at this year’s Salon International d’Haute Horlogerie (SIHH).
This set of three watches is inspired by works by the Dutch artist Maurits Cornelius Escher, featuring exquisite, tessellated-motif dials that combine enameling, gem setting, engraving, and guilloché. The watches, named “Dove,” “Fish,” and “Shell” for the patterns found on their dials, are a limited edition of twenty pieces, each housed in 18-karat white gold cases measuring 40 mm in diameter.
Also available at the Boutique are limited edition American-themed Boutique New York watches released last year to commemorate its opening: An Overseas Chronograph Perpetual Calendar (left) limited to twenty pieces, the Patrimony Traditionnelle Caliber 2755 Boutique New York and a 64-piece limited edition of the Historiques American 1921 – commemorating the Boutique’s 64th Street location.
The Historiques American 1921 Boutique New York, seen on this month’s cover, has been the most talked about due in part to its fascinating, all-American pedigree. Launched in 2008, the award-winning Historiques American 1921 was based on a very small series of similar-styled cushion-shaped, offset watches produced by Vacheron in the early 1920s for the American market.
It was the first watch to use Vacheron Constantin’s state-of-the-art caliber 4400–an in-house designed and manufactured manual winding movement with Geneva Seal.
Measuring a substantial 28 millimeters in diameter, the movement features a power reserve of 65 hours provided by a single mainspring barrel.
The limited Boutique New York edition incorporates a silver-grained dial with beige-colored Arabic numerals and rail track minute chapter ring around its circumference, closely matching one of two dial variants found on the 1920s models.
Details of its skeletonized, beige-colored hands are nearly identical to an original example from Vacheron’s museum – right down to the heart-shaped tip of the hour hand. Offered for the first time in a yellow gold case, it measures 40 mm in diameter.
The source of considerable excitement this year, in April, the New York Boutique launched “Vacheron Constantin Les Collectionneurs” which is a new initiative in the boutique offering Vacheron-certified vintage watches.
The New York location is only the third Vacheron Constantin boutique to offer vintage watches, and each watch is certified by the company’s Heritage department in Geneva. All vintage timepieces are fully serviced, restored, and sold with a Certificate of Authenticity.
The excitement stems from the appeal of Vacheron Constantin vintage watches. With the exception of very rare and/or highly complicated models, vintage watches are more affordable than their modern counterparts.
However, finding the right watch can be extremely difficult and time-consuming. Some collectors wait years for a desired vintage watch to appear on the market. Upon finding a hard-to-find model in the right condition, the level of satisfaction felt is about as high as it gets in the world of watch collecting.
If a client isn’t satisfied with all these impressive offerings, a unique service offered at the New York Boutique, the ability to purchase a truly custom made watch through Vacheron’s Atelier Cabinotiers Special Order, is sure to please.
Previously available only at the Maison Vacheron Constantin in Geneva, clients in the U.S. can now design a watch with a custom case, dial, and/or movement, including complications.
Vacheron’s Atelier Cabinotiers service, which has received overwhelming demand, will never reproduce any customer’s design or idea for a regular production model. Clients can rest assured their custom watch will remain a unique piece for eternity.
Simultaneous with the opening of the New York Boutique, Vacheron launched another initiative demonstrating its strong commitment to the American market. The American Heritage of Vacheron Constantin, an interactive, online event, was unveiled to showcase the brand’s deep American roots.
The interactive timeline includes descriptions of Vacheron watches owned by famous American patrons, including Presidents Harry Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower, and Henry Graves and James Ward Packard – the renowned American collectors whose legendary rivalry gave birth to some of the most spectacular complicated watches ever produced.
For example, in 1919, Packard, founder of the Packard Motor Car Company, commissioned a unique Grand Complication pocket watch cased in 20-karat gold combining a chronograph, half-quarter-hour repeater, and grande and petite sonnerie complications.
Almost a century later, this watch sold at auction for $1.8 Million (in 2011). In 1928, Henry Graves, an American banker and Packard’s watch collecting rival, ordered a Vacheron pocket watch with tourbillon. The watch was awarded 1st prize at an annual timekeeping competition at the Geneva Observatory.
The online site also includes stories sent in by American owners of Vacheron Constantin watches. Among the most fascinating is a very personal story from an owner who inherited a Vacheron Constantin wristwatch from his grandfather.
As the owner describes, his grandfather was an airline pilot and General Manager of Ethiopian Airlines from 1962 to 1964. In 1963, he personally flew Haile Selassie, the Emperor of Ethiopia, from Addis Ababa to Washington, D.C,. to attend the funeral of John F. Kennedy Jr. In appreciation, the Emperor gave him this watch engraved with the Royal monogram under an imperial Ethiopian crown. The watch inspired his grandson’s passion for fine timepieces.
Vacheron Constantin is tapping into that passion with this in-store and online initiative–which will be repeated at a selection of the brand’s U.S boutiques. By year’s end, three U.S. boutiques will be open (including New York) with a fourth set to open next year on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills.
How would you characterize Vacheron
Constantin’s relationship with America
and with New York?
America helped create the revolutionary spirit in Europe in the 18th and 19th century. In Geneva, we had a similar spirit, of freedom, with Voltaire and Rousseau. In this period Francois Constantin went to America, at the beginning of the 19th Century.
Vacheron was the watchmaker and Constantin was the salesman. He went to America with the spirit of Geneva, of freedom, and that was exactly the same the sprit of the brand. We can find freedom, liberty and respect within the U.S. Constitution.
When did you first consider opening the New York Boutique?
We were close to many customers in the United States for our 180 years here. For a while we forgot America in terms of marketing, but not in terms of customers and watches. Six years ago we said we have to come back into America and invest in America because the American customer understands the brand.
They know more and more about watches, are more educated. It’s why now its time to push America, why we decided to open this boutique in New York. It’s going fantastically well.
I have seen our friends in the boutique. Salespeople speak with customers about technique, about design and about history–– exactly the same spirit that 260 years ago arose in the atelier of Jean-Marc Vacheron in Geneva. Speaking about not only watchmaking but also about politics, science and many things. We can find that in our boutiques now.
That’s the point. It’s where customers can find a place to sit, have a coffee and share. It’s not a competition between collectors; they are proud that the brand they chose is enjoyed by others. I’m totally confident that America could become a number two sales market in the world after China.
We have added human resources and the right retail partners, but we cannot open boutiques everywhere, only in a few spots. And we continue to support our friends in the area.
We will continue to push in America with new people and boutiques in Los Angeles, in South Coast Plaza, and maybe even Miami. It is all we need. We have good retailers and we think we help the retailers near our boutiques. If we don’t have a piece, we send them to the retailers and sometimes they send people to the boutique. We are working for the same future.
How has the American Heritage site
We have received a lot of stories for the American Heritage site. Vacheron Constantin is a brand with stories that are linked to other stories. We have received fifty so far. I am so surprised at the deep passion. It gives us more energy.
How will the new Manufacturing facility in Switzerland affect U.S. collectors? Tell our retailers to expect more pieces. We need perpetual calendars, minute repeaters. We need to hire watchmakers. The first act of Jean-Marc Vacheron in 1755 was to hire a watchmaker.
We have twenty-five apprentice watchmakers at our facility right now, and you know one hundred percent of our apprentices have stayed with us over the years. Some are heads of our departments now and some are in R&D. We want to continue this with enamel, guilloche and engraving.
Will the new facility allow you to
Thirty five years ago I started in the Swiss watch industry and many said then that 10,000 pieces was a lot, and when Patek Philippe was producing 45,000 people said that is a lot. I asked ‘how many people and new markets are there now?’ A billion and a half more now than thirty years ago. China was zero, South America and India too really.
Russia was the same. We are guilty if we don’t give our customers satisfaction. We must satisfy demands.
In 2014, the new chronograph will be ready, and we’ll be making 20,000 to 25,000 pieces with the new Manufacture in place. Now we make about 19,000 to 20,000. It’s a big challenge.
We are re-organizing for the Geneva Seal, which will cover all our pieces. We will have two Geneva Seal people staying in our facility in a specific room with their own machinery.
Which Vacheron Constantin pieces have been U.S. favorites?
America is a real melting pot, and that means they like the full range of our products. I can’t say that about other markets. In Italy, they like three hands and small complications. In Russia bigger watches and high complications, but in the U.S. it’s the full range.
We just sold a minute repeater perpetual calendar in platinum to an American in New York. We are going to bring in more tourbillons, more perpetual calendars. Next year, we will focus on guilloche techniques with the Métiers d’Art collection and then later in the year you’ll see an important technical piece.