Vacheron Constantin

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Vacheron Constantin Tour de l'Ile, presented at the 250th anniversary
© Vacheron Constantin

The Swiss company Vacheron Constantin is the oldest continually active watch manufacturer in the world, founded in 1755 and currently one of the Specialist Watchmakers of Richemont.

Overview

Founded in the year 1755, the company has remained active ever since, making it the oldest continually active watch manufacturer in the world. It became known as "Vacheron & Constantin" in 1819 and was renamed "Vacheron Constantin" after a 1985 takeover by the former Saudi oil minister, Sheikh Yamani. Vendôme Luxury Group, a subsidiary of Richemont, purchased the company in 1996, bringing it together with Cartier, Piaget, and Baume & Mercier. Today, Vacheron Constantin operates as a "Specialist Watchmaker" under Richemont, along with A. Lange & Söhne, IWC, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Panerai, and others.

Vacheron Constantin is one of the most respected makers of luxury watches today and has won nine awards from the prestigious Grand Prix d'Horlogerie de Genève. The company does not have a signature model like some competitors, though the Overseas sports line and simple Patrimony dress watches are well known. Most of the company's products feature the trademarked Maltese Cross motif, including many of their movements.

History

Founded by Jean-Marc Vacheron

Jean-Marc Vacheron founded his own watch workshop in the Geneva district of Saint Gervais in the year 1755. In 1785 his son Abraham took over the then still small company. Their watches were favored by nobility and clergy, as well as wealthy merchants. Sales deteriorated dramatically during the French Revolution and Abraham Vacheron found himself confronted with numerous problems. He married and attached to his name, according to tradition, the surname of his wife: Thus the name of the manufacture changed to Vacheron-Girod.

At the beginning of the 19th Century, Abraham's son Jacques Barthélemy Vacheron took over management of the company, which now carried the name, Vacheron-Chossat. On numerous business trips to Italy, France and Germany, Vacheron found new customers for their sophisticated products, including pocket watches with very flat movements for the time, hunting watches, and minute repeaters, built into expensive and elegant cases. In 1819, Vacheron brought in the son of a cloth merchant, Francois Constantin, as a partner to support the distribution of watches, and the company became known as Vacheron & Constantin. Constantin had gained his first experience in the watch industry as a salesman for Jean-Francois Bautte and his exceptional abilities soon overcame the company's previous financial difficulties. Sales figures rose significantly and Vacheron & Constantin began selling in New York by Jean Magnin and in New Orleans by Brey by 1830.

Innovative serial manufacturing

Georges-Auguste Leschot

Growing sales meant that Vacheron & Constantin had to rationalize production. In 1839, Jacques-Barthélemy found the right man for the job in the Geneva watchmaker, mechanic, and brilliant designer Georges-Auguste Leschot. He invented production machinery which allowed automation of high-quality movement and housing components that were previously made individually by hand. Series production of movement components brought an enormous cost benefit, allowing the company to produce quality watches at reasonable prices and in greater numbers. In addition, Leschot emphasized interchangeability of components, another factor that reduced costs and improved production.

After the death of Abraham Vacheron in 1843 the manufacture relocated its headquarters to the Tour d'Ile in the center of the city, where the Rhone flows into Lake Geneva. César, the son of Jacques Barthélemy, assumed management of the company. In 1845, Leschot and the manufacture were awarded the coveted "Auguste de la Rive" by the "Geneva Societé des Arts" as a special prize for pioneering achievements in the field of watchmaking.

Increased production allowed the company to expand abroad. Agencies were established in Rio de Janeiro (1849), the Dutch East Indies (1847), Calcutta (1850) and New York (1864). The company also introduced a cheaper line of watches at that time, bearing the signature of Abraham Vacheron and using the brand names, Abm. Vacheron Geneve and Chossat & Cie.

Under the leadership of two widows

César Vacheron died in 1869, and his son Charles changed the company name to Charles Vacheron & Cie. When Charles also died at the age of 25, the manufacture came into the possession of the widows, Catherine Etierinette Vacheron, then eighty years old, and Laure Vacheron Pernessin. They renamed the company to V.ve César Vacheron & Cie. The watches remained high-quality, as evidenced by an 1872 award received from the observatory in Geneva.

In 1875 Philippe-Auguste Weiss was engaged as a director and Jean-Francois Constantin returned to the executive level of the manufacture and the company moved into the vicinity of the Quai des Moulins. The company's name again became Vacheron & Constantin in 1880, as it would be known for over a century, and established the now-familiar Maltese Cross logo. After the death of Catherine Etiennette (1883) and Laure (1887), Vacheron & Constantin was converted into a stock company. The company continued to win awards and medals, including the Swiss National Exhibition in 1896 and a first prize in the precision competition from the Geneva Observatory that same year. The first Vacheron & Constantin movement to earn the Geneva Hallmark was produced in 1901.

Vacheron Constantin Métiers d'Art, presented at the 250th anniversary in 2005
© Vacheron Constantin

The first wristwatches

Vacheron & Constantin introduced one of the first series-produced wristwatches in 1889, a ladies bracelet watch. In 1911, Vacheron & Constantin introduced their first wristwatch designs for men, but the company remained focused on pocket watches. Military sales became important during the first World War, including a large 1918 tender order from the U.S. military for 3000 pocket watch chronographs produced by Vacheron & Constantin. Still, a tonneau-cased wristwatch introduced in 1912 would set the standard for future models. Another important model of the era is a cushion cased watch for the American market with the dial and crown rotated clockwise.

Between 1920 and 1930 masterpieces are created, such as the Grand complication with minute repeater, rattrapante chronograph with counter, perpetual calendar, moon phases and alarm function or the rattrapante chronograph with power reserve. The perpetual calendar and moon phase were shown later at the show in Zurich. In 1938 king Farouk of Egypt ordered a Grande complication which combines all the previous outstanding achievements in the art of watchmaking.

Industry Consolidation

As the world rebounded from the Great Depression, the boards of Jaeger-LeCoultre and Vacheron & Constantin merged the two companies to allow greater access to capital. The holding company Société Anonyme de Produits Industriels et Commerciaux (SAPIC) was formed and Vacheron & Constantin used ebauche movements from Jaeger-LeCoultre for decades to follow. This collaboration foreshadowed the transformation of the Swiss watch industry in general and Vacheron in particular in the coming years. Vacheron Constantin and Jaeger-LeCoultre remain closely linked to this day.

A financial crisis in the late 1930s forced Charles Constantin to sell the majority of shares in the company and it passed out of the Vacheron and Constantin families for good. George Ketterer became the main shareholder of the company in 1940. In 1965, Ketterer was able to purchase a controlling interest in Vacheron & Constantin and dissolved SAPIC.

Vacheron & Constantin recovered in the 1950s, introducing a "square circle" case, "Aronde" case, and modernist watches that the company has continued to reissue. Vacheron & Constantin became known for ultra-thin watches in the 1950s as well. Cal. 1003 from 1955 measured just 1.67 mm thick, and Cal. 1120, developed by Jaeger-LeCoultre, was one of the thinnest automatic watches on its introduction in 1968. The now-iconic Overseas watch grew from "Project 222", introduced in 1977 on the company's 222nd anniversary. This porthole-style watch competed with the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak and featured a similar screwed-down bezel. The first true Overseas model would follow in 1996.

In 1985 the Ketterer family sold their majority share to the former oil minister of Saudi Arabia, Sheikh Yamani. The company's management still remained in Swiss hands but the company was no longer a family business. At this time the company removed the "&" from the name, becoming simply Vacheron Constantin. The company was purchased in 1996 by the French Vendôme Luxury Group, a subsidiary of Richemont. This brought it together with Cartier, Piaget, and Baume & Mercier. Shortly after, Officine Panerai was purchased and Montblanc began producing watches. A. Lange & Söhne, IWC, and Jaeger-LeCoultre were added to the Richemont group in 2000.

Notable Products

The jewelry watch 'Kallista'

Among the jewelry watches, whose value is determined mainly by its gems, the Kallista is one of the outstanding models. It was completed in the late 1970s after 6,000 hours and sold for the incredible sum of five million dollars to an undisclosed buyer. Case and bracelet are made ​​out of the solid material: the raw material was a 1 kilogram block of solid gold. 118 diamonds of 1.2 to 4 carats were used as paving , and the total weight of the diamonds was 130 carats. All jewels were provided with an emerald cut.

1994 the Vacheron Constantin Museum in Geneva is opened, where beneath interesting historical watches also a reconstructed watchmaker's workshop from the 18th Century is to experience.

Vacheron Constantin Mercator
© Vacheron Constantin

Les Complications, Les Essentielles, Les Historiques

Also in 1994, at the 400th anniversary of the death of the mathematician, philosopher, geographer and cartographer Gerardus Kremer (1512-1594), now better known as Gerardus Mercator, a jubilee clock is launched that looks unlike any previously known wristwatches. The enameled dial shows a map of Mercator with Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia, also there are two hands in the form of a card circle, which display the current time by retrograde hours and minutes. The production of these watches require an unusually large expense. Just for the enamelling process 35 heatings at 700-800°C are required. Meanwhile the various versions have become coveted objects and obtain high prices at auctions.

The series "Les Complications" contains a wealth of watches with complications such as perpetual calendar, tourbillon, power reserve or retrograde display - sometimes even in particularly complex skeletonized versions. The series "Les Essentielles" could be called as its simple counterpart because it is focused upon the essential: that is simple dial design, only two hands - "simple" would be correct, if not in another, profound way an impression of the utmost luxury and of extreme elegance would be achieved. These watches are held flat and provided with manual winding movements. As a third series there are the "Les Historiques" in classical design.

The Elegant Patrimony

Main Article: Vacheron Constantin Patrimony

In the 1950s, Vacheron Constantin introduced an elegant yet modern dress watch model to compete with the famous Patek Philippe Calatrava and similar models. Today, this has become the Patrimony line, which has expanded to include complicated and ladies models but remains faithful to the original concept.

The Overseas Sports Watch

Vacheron Constantin Overseas
© Vacheron Constantin
Main Article: Vacheron Constantin Overseas

To position the company as a manufacturer not only of classic and conservative models, the sporty Overseas model was launched in 1996. The rugged case construction is reminiscent of the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, with screws passing through from the case back to the bezel, and was previewed by the model 222 from the 1970s. The angular shape of the bezel echoes the company's Maltese Cross logo. The Overseas line combines exclusivity and value: An unusual movement with a gold segment on the winding rotor, fine detailing, and high-quality workmanship are notable in the sports watch class.

The Overseas model has grown into a full line of sports watches today. In addition to classic models in multiple sizes, Vacheron Constantin has produced a Chronograph, World Time, Dual Time, and Perpetual Calendar.

The 250-year anniversary

Vacheron Constantin Quai de l'Ile
© Vacheron Constantin

In 2005 Vacheron Constantin celebrates the 250th anniversary of the company, and at the same time being also the oldest continuously active watch manufacturer in the world. On the occasion of this anniversary three special watches and watch ranges are presented, including the Tour de l'Ile with numerous complications. It costs around 1.9 million francs, which catapultes it to the rank of the most coveted wristwatches the world. The grandfather clock "Pendule L'Esprit des Cabinotiers", an unique piece produced at the occasion of the 250th Jubilee, achieves a sale price of 2.206 million francs and thereby registeres a new world record in her class.

Current Models

The most important recent series of the brand are called Malte (classic), Patrimony (elegant/simple), Overseas (sporty) and Vacheron Constantin Historiques|Historiques]]. With the new watches range Quai de l'Ile one dares the first step in the current avant-garde. These models are manufactured with a transparent dial. On the basis of two manufacture movements and with the three housing materials red gold, titanium and palladium 400 custom versions can be created.

The special edition Métiers d'Art attracted much attention. First four models were launched 2005 on the occasion of the jubilee, but now the three-year collection "Les Masques" and the collection Hommage to the Great Discoverers (Christopher Columbus, Marco Polo)‎ are gradually added. Similar to the legendary, already mentioned Mercator here the highest state of the art of watchmaking is demonstrated by means of hand-made "masterpieces", both in terms of their appearance and their inner values ​​in the form of sophisticated manufacture movements.

Current Collections:

Literature

Adresses

Vacheron Constantin, Branch of Richemont International SA
Chemin du Tourbillon 10
Case postale 95
CH-1228 Plan-Les Ouates
Tel. +22/930 20 05
Fax +22/930 20 06

Route du Canal 14
Case postale 319
1347 Le Sentier
Tel. +21/845 12 50
Fax +21/845 12 51

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