History of Vacheron Constantin

A History of Vacheron Constantin

"Fair mieux si possible Ce qui est toujours possible."
("Do better if possible and that is always possible".)
– Francois Constantin's motto, 1815

One of the earliest and greatest names in Swiss horology, Vacheron Constantin, is 258 years old, making them one of the oldest watchmakers to continuously remain in business. Now owned by the Richemont Group, and still located in Geneva and Vallee de Joux, Vacheron is known for the Maltese cross logo on the crowns of their prestigious luxury watches with wonderful complications. Among Vacheron owners were Harry Truman, Napolean Bonaparte, the Duke of Windsor, and Pope Pius XI. Vacheron Constantin has always been committed to precision, a tradition of meticulous craftsmanship, elegant design, and the advancement of high technology that puts them in that small group of the best of the best.

The Eighteenth Century

Jean Marc VacheronJean-Marc Vacheron (1731-1805) opened his workshop in Geneva in 1755. A younger contemporary of pioneering watchmaker Abraham-Louis Breguet, Vacheron was a superb craftsman, cabinotier, and an eager horologist. His first notable creation, the Silver Watch, had its key-wound movement secured to the solid silver case. In 1770 Vacheron made his first complication timepieces and in 1779 he produced the first engine-tuned dials, an innovation eventually adopted by every great watchmaker. In 1785 Jean-Marc's son, Abraham, took command of the business and saw it through the decade of the French Revolution from 1789 to 1799.

The Nineteenth Century

Jean-Marc Vacheron died in 1805, and in 1810 his grandson, Jaques-Barthélemy, became the head of the company. He expanded the realm of Vacheron by initiating exports to France and Italy. In 1812 the company debuted their first quarter-repeater watch that chimed at hours and quarter-hours. The dials were marked with "Vacheron Chossat & Comp. A GENEVE," and had yellow gold cases made in the French empire style with enameled dials, blued-steel serpentine hands, and plentiful decorative engraving. They had an experimental escapement; to trigger the hour and quarter strikes one pressed a bow above 12 o’clock.

Jaques BarthelemyIn 1819, Jaques-Barthélemy came to the fortuitous moment when he could no longer run the business by himself. He needed to travel overseas in order to sell his watches, and so he teamed up with the visionary business strategist François Constantin (1788 -1854). The Vacheron name had proven successful, but a new level of business acumen was required to take the firm higher, and Constantin had the necessary skillsets and connections. The company name became "Vacheron et Constantin". Constantin proved wonderfully adept at marketing and selling their watches in foreign lands, bringing the brand all over the world, including a strong trade to the United States. The 1831 pocket watches were highly decorative, with yellow gold cases whose backs were ornamented with colorful enamel designs and beautiful engraving all around. Enameled dials had gold hands, and inside the crown-wheel movement and balance cock were delicately open-worked to create the letters of the name VACHERON.

PantographeIn 1839 Vacheron & Constantin employed inventor and watchmaker Georges-Auguste Leschot to develop machine tooling for the making of ebauches (up to 1850 an ebauche consisted of the raw mechanisms for a watch, including two plates with bars and pillars, the barrel, fusee, pawl, ratchet-wheel, index, and the appropriate screws for assembly). Leschot had worked for years designing lever escapements that could be manufactured using machines. Serial production was the key to the future and soon he was the supervisor of manufacturing and the technical director, making Vacheron & Constantin the first modern industrial watch manufacture in Switzerland by 1842. Leschot was also the first watchmaker to standardize movements into calibers, and by 1845 the company was making its own, selling escapements and ebauches to other watchmakers. Leschot was also the first to invent a pantographic device that mechanically engraved dials and other small watch components, and allowed for the mechanical duplication of various watch parts. This brought watchmaking into the industrial age; Leschot was awarded a gold medal from the Arts Society of Geneva in 1844. This tremendously enhanced Vacheron's reputation and prestige.

Francois Constantin died in 1854, followed by Jaques-Barthélemy Vacheron in 1863. A series of inheritors took over the company, keeping it alive if temporarily uninspired, while the gifted employees preserved the continuity and effectiveness of the business. In 1862, displaying a keen interest in scientific advancements, Vacheron & Constantin joined the Association for Research into Non-Magnetic Materials. They were aware of the needs of the blossoming scientific community; anti-magnetic watches were becoming essential to research scientists and laboratory technicians for use in or near magnetic fields. In the late 1860's the company was still technically a family business with someone from either the Constantin or Vacheron families in control. With things being in a state of flux, they changed the name three times to suit the whims of different family members.

Vacheron Constantin Logo The official company name was once again changed in 1877 to "Vacheron & Constantin, Fabricants, Geneve." In 1880 they began using the symbol of the Maltese cross, getting a patent on it in 1890. It's their logo to this day; while people are always curious to its meaning, it was actually inspired by a component of the watch barrel, which had a cross-shape, designed for governing the tension in the mainspring. In 1885 the firm made the first nonmagnetic timepiece that included a balance spring, lever shaft, and balance wheel made from palladium, bronze lever arms, and an escape wheel in gold. 1887 marked the incorporation of “Vacheron & Constantin,” the name fixed by legal charter. It was then reorganized into a stock company, spurred on by the winning of a gold medal from the Swiss National Exhibition in Geneva (another gold medal for achievement was awarded to them at the Geneva exhibition in 1896).

The Twentieth Century

Vacheron & Constantin Geneva1n 1906 Vacheron & Constantin opened their boutique on the Quai de L’Ile in Geneva, which is still open in the same location. That year they brought out a yellow gold calendar-minute repeater that utilized the Breguet-overcoil spring with the movement visible through a transparent dial. The date and day calendar only required a correction by hand on February 29thevery four years. In 1935 Vacheron made one of its most complicated pocket watches, a masterwork commissioned by the colorful Egyptian King Farouk that took five years to complete. The rest of the world's citizens were invited to buy Vacheron's gold pocket minute repeater, with a slide-bolt on the case that actuated the minute strike. The Depression began affecting the company and in 1936 Charles Constantin became the first member of his family to become president of the company since the 1850's. In 1938 Vacheron & Constantin was purchased by the Jaeger-LeCoultre family facilitated by the SAPIC holding company, of which Georges Ketterer served on the board of directors.Vacheron & Constantin never wavered in quality during the entire Depression. They emerged from the 1930's as the epitome of luxury watches, along with Patek Philippe.

In 1940 Georges Ketterer bought a majority portion of the stock from Charles Constantin, thus ending the 119-year dynasty of his family. Ketterer proved to be an effective leader, keeping intact the essential soul of Vacheron & Constantin. He kept the company alive and profitable enough to last through World War II. In celebration of the end of the war in 1945, Vacheron introduced a pink gold pocket watch with a tourbillon regulator that could be viewed through a circular window in the case back. A sunray pattern was engraved around the aperture where the 19-jewel rhodium plated movement could be observed. The famous triple-coil ladies' serpentine watch appeared in 1948, a yellow gold bracelet with a clever spring that wrapped around a woman's wrist three times. It had a lateral escapement with gold stars and figures embellishing the dial.

Thinnest watchIn 1955 Vacheron & Constantin turned two-hundred years old and celebrated by introducing one of the thinnest watches ever made with a caliber movement only 1.64 mm thick. The Big Four Summit Conference was held in Geneva with President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Edgar Faure, N.A. Bulganin, and Sir Anthony Eden. A group of prominent Swiss executives commissioned Vacheron to make four special, matching wristwatches as gifts to the four heads of state.

When George Ketterer died in 1969, his son, Jacques, who kept the company going through the Japanese quartz movement revolution, sustained the business. In 1970 the company dropped the “&,” becoming Vacheron Constantin. In 1972 they presented the radical watch that won the coveted "Diplôme du Prestige de la France," in Paris. It was a skewed, asymmetrical tonneau shape that was an aesthetic smash. Vacheron produced Kallista in 1979, one of the world's most expensive, complicated watches. Kallista required 6,000 hours for the Vacheron masters to make, while the jewelers spent an additional 20 months enhancing it with 118 supreme emerald-cut diamonds. The original asking price was $5 million, a stunning amount, but nowhere near as shocking as the $11 million it'ss valued at today.

Jacques Ketterer died in 1987, and Vacheron Constantin changed hands as watch aficionado Sheik Ahmed Zaki Yamani – the former Oil Minister of Saudi Arabia and Harvard MBA – became the majority stockholder, at which time the company became a part of Investcorp. In 1994 Vacheron paid homage to the 400thanniversary of the death of mathematician, geographer, and master cartographer, Gerhard Kremer, called Mercator. They debuted a limited edition pair of watches with hand-enameled dials painted with Mercator's navigational hemisphere maps, and with compass-shaped hands made especially for the timepieces. In 1996 the Richemont Group, who is still in control today, purchased the share capital of Vacheron Constantin.

The Twenty-First Century

Patrimony Line2000 began the 3rd century of Vacheron watchmaking and to celebrate they created their Patrimony line, some of the thinnest mechanical watches in the world, measuring only 5.25 mm thick. For the millennium, they were focusing on more contemporary, modern designs. In 2003 they presented a sports line named Overseas, as well as their first collection just for women, called Egèrie. They moved into their newly renovated manufacture and corporate headquarters in Plan-les-Ouates, Geneva in 2004. It contains a patrimonial space and the master watchmaker's workshops, as well as their famous, exclusive boutique.

In 2005 Vacheron Constantin celebrated its 250th anniversary by creating two outstanding timepieces: The Tour de L'Ile is the most complicated double-faced wristwatch ever made. It has astronomical dials, 16 complications, and 834 parts that took over 10,000 hours of development and research by the technicians. They have produced seven watches so far, each selling in the $1 million range.

The Saint Gervais had a tourbillon and a permanent calendar, with more than 10 days of reserve power. The caliber 2250 movement had four barrels that upped the power reserve to an astonishing 250 hours. Fifty-five of these were produced.

Patrimony LineJuan Carlos Torres was made CEO of the Richemont Group in October 2005. 2006 was the 100th anniversary of the first Vacheron Constantin boutique, still located "en L’Ile," the original birthplace of the company in the center of Geneva, in the same building that contained the first production workshops. The Metiers d'Art "Les Masques" watch collection premiered in 2007. These are ornamented with miniature facsimiles of twelve primitive art masks from a private museum. The masks are in the center of the dials.

 


Current Vacheron Constantin Watches

The currently produced lines of Vacheron Constantin watches are still some of the finest in the world:

The Patrimony collection

The Patrimony collection includes 18 watches in the Patrimony Contemporaine line, and 82 models in the Patrimony Traditionnelle (43075/000R-9737). Since being introduced in 2000, they have become as thin as 3.6mm. They have signature polished bezels and round, classic cases in either traditional or contemporary motifs, made in 18K white, pink, or yellow gold, as well as platinum. Patrimony complications options include minute repeater (30110/000R-9793), tourbillon (89000/000R-9655), world time (86060/000R-9640), chronographs (47192/000R-9352), and perpetual calendars (47292/000P-9510).
Image: www.vacheron-constantin.com

The Malte series

The Malte series is comprised of 19 watches (82130/000R-9755). It's named for the Maltese cross, the house of Vacheron Constantin's emblem since 1880. The signature cases have bulging rectangular tonneau profiles that offer an amazing array of complications including moonphase (83080/000R-9407), tourbillon (30130/000R-9754), dual time (47400/000G-9100), and open-worked skeletons (30067/000R-8954). The Malte watches for women can be heavily adorned with jewels.
Image: www.vacheron-constantin.com

The Quai De L’Ile

The Quai De L'Ile models include 21 watches (86050/000r-i0p29). These get their name from the original headquarters of Vacheron Constantin in the heart of Geneva. There are several dials, movements, and metals including palladium, titanium, 18K white or pink gold, and platinum. They can have day-date power reserves (85050/000r-i0p29), skeleton (86050/000d-9343), or annual calendars (86040/000G-M936R).
Image: www.vacheron-constantin.com

The Overseas

The Overseas is one of the world's greatest sports watches (47040/000R-9666) There are 24 different models with four categories – complications, classical, diamond-set, and open worked. The case design has a signature contemporary shape; material choices are Platinum, Paladium, white, pink and yellow 18K gold, titanium, and stainless steel. There are 16 possible functions including, chronograph (49150/000R-9338), perpetual calendar (49020/000R-9753) and dual time (47450/000R-9404).
Image: www.vacheron-constantin.com

The 1972

The 1972 series is enigmatic and beautiful (33172/000G-9775). It won the coveted "Diplôme du Prestige de la France" in Paris in 1972, and even after 40 years the asymmetrical proportions of the tonneau still have an amazing appeal. There are 13 watches in categories including diamond-set, feminine, and a beautifully simple pair of classics. Quartz and manual movements are used; they come in Platinum, white, yellow, or pink 18K gold, titanium, palladium, and stainless steel.
Image: www.vacheron-constantin.com

The Historiques

The Historiques are Vacheron Constantin designs that recall the past in an updated, contemporary version. There are eight different shapes in homage to some of the great, classic Vacherons. These include the American 1921 ( 82035/000R-9359) with its angled dial, the art deco tonneau Toledo from 1952 (86300/000R-9826) the simple round Chronometer Royal of 1907 (86122/000R-9362), and five more. They are automatic and manual winding; there are complications and time-only configurations in white, yellow, or pink 18K gold, platinum, palladium, titanium, and stainless steel. The functions include power reserve, moon phases, month, day, date, and seconds.
Image: www.vacheron-constantin.com

The Metiers D'Art

The Metiers D'Art watches are fascinating marvels; currently there are 26 models. This is a miscellaneous collection that allows the brilliant designers at Vacheron Constantin to go wild (47070/000J-9086). These are some of the most creative and elegant timepieces in the world. Both automatic and manual-winding movements are utilized and there are 5 styles – Classical, complications, feminine, diamond-set, and open-worked. The metals available are stainless steel, titanium, palladium, platinum, and white, yellow, and pink 28K gold. There are power reserve, day, date, and seconds functions. Some of the standouts are the open worked American $20 Gold Eagle watch (33059/0000J-0000), the diamond encrusted Kalla Duchesse (81750/S01G-9198), and the Legend of Chinese Zodiac (86073/000P-9752).
Image: www.vacheron-constantin.com



Other Patrimony Watches

Perpetual Calendar (47292/000P-9590, 47292/000P-9392, 43175/000R-9687, 43172/000r-9241, 43172/000p-9236), Chronograph (47192/000G-9504, 47192/000B-9828), Retrograde (86020/000r-9239, 86020/000g-9508), Tourbillon (80172/000r-9300), Traditionnelle / Contemporaine ( 81180/000r-9159, 81180/000j-9118, 82172/000g-9383, 82172/000r-9382, 82172/000g-9605, 87172/000g-9301, 87172/000j-9512, 87172/000r-9302, 85180/000g-9230, 85180/000j-9231, 85180/000r-9248, 43075/000r-9737).

Other Malte Watches

Malte Moonphase ( 83080/000G-9408), Malte Tourbillon (30067/000P-8953, 30067/000R-8954, 30080/000P-9357, 30080/000R-9257, 30669/000P-8953) , Malte Dual Time (42005/000j-8901, 42005/000G-8900, 47400/000R-9101, 47400/000R-9417, 47700/000G-9416).

Other Quai De L’ile Watches

Day Date (85050/000t-k924i, 85050/000d-9341, 85050/000d-09o00, 85050/000d-g9o00, 85050/000r-i022i, 85050/000r-20p2a, 85050/000r-i0p2a, 85050/000r-20p29), Skeleton (86050/000d-9343, Quai de L'Ile Date).

Other Overseas Watches

Chronograph (49150/000R-9338, 49150/000R-9454, 49150/000W-9501, 49150/B01A-9095, 49150/B01A-9097, 49150/B01J-9215, 49150/B01R-9338, 49150/B01R-9454) Automatic (47040/000W-9500, 47040/B01A-9093, 47040/B01A-9094) , Perpetual Calendar ( 49020/000W-9656) , Dual Time ( 47450/000W-9511, 47450/B01A-9226, 47450/B01A-9227, 47450/B01J-922847450/B01R-9404).