Bridging past and present with Vacheron Constantin
Vacheron Constantin’s Heritage department plays a vital role in shaping the Swiss watchmaker’s future. Here the maison’s style and heritage director, Christian Selmoni, tells us more. Enjoying the title of ‘the world’s oldest watch manufacture in continuous production’ (263 years and counting), Vacheron Constantin boasts a legacy that reflects the highest standards in fine watchmaking. And its core philosophy, “do better if possible, and that is always possible” perfectly encapsulates the very essence of the luxury maison.
Over generations Vacheron Constantin has proved to be an industry pioneer, creating timepieces that raise the bar on exceptional craftsmanship, aesthetics and functionality. Through this commitment, the maison has developed a unique savoir-faire for respecting the rules of traditional watchmaking, while still holding dear the determination to bring about constant innovation.
Style and heritage director, Christian Selmoni, explains: “Heritage is a key asset when considering product design. We are considered as a benchmark in the field of haute horlogerie, and the style of our watches – elegant, classic, sophisticated, refined – finds its roots in the maison’s tradition.” Born in Vallée de Joux, one of watchmaking’s historical birthplaces, into a family of Swiss watchmakers no less, Selmoni’s profession seems predestined.
Part of the Vacheron Constantin team since 1990, when he joined as a sales administration manager, the watch aficionado worked his way up through various departments within the company, finally settling into his current role in 2017.
“I have dedicated most of my time at Vacheron Constantin to the field of product concept, design and development. The Heritage department counts more than 400 linear metres of archives – letters, sketches, designs, technical files, pictures – and for us, it represents a unique source of inspiration for future creations.
“My role is to support, develop and promote the outstanding heritage of Vacheron Constantin through various forms of communication, such as digital.
“In a nutshell, digital allows a closer link with our clients and supporters. As an example, we have created The Hour Lounge (@hourlounge) on Instagram, our dedicated account for vintage Vacheron Constantin watches and stories. It’s a dynamic way to communicate and interact.
“I also work with the Les Collectionneurs team, providing an exclusive offering of selected, vintage watches. Furthermore, we also participate in the concept and design phases of future models by researching and extracting products and product elements sourced from the Vacheron Constantin archives. It’s an immensely interesting and fascinating job.”
The Heritage department spans an exceptional timeline that dates back to 1755, and its research teams oversee this unique treasure trove of timepieces, each offering a boundless source of inspiration when it comes to creating new collections.
The inventory currently comprises around 1,500 timepieces, some from as early as the 18th century, and it’s the team’s responsibility to search through the archives and highlight, or “bring to light” as Selmoni likes to say, those pieces that prove to be pivotal to Vacheron Constantin’s evolving legacy.
He explains: “We are not only talking about re-editions of timepieces from the past, as we also extract product details from our archives and elements such as dial designs, hands, bracelets and so on, supporting the design teams with components from the past that are in line with Vacheron Constantin’s heritage and style.”
Expanding on what the maison’s sense of style translates as, Selmoni says: “I think that “classic” fits well with Vacheron Constantin’s style. Often, this classicism is mixed with a little twist, such is the case with our Historique American 1921, with its crown at one o’clock and its inclined dial. Beyond this classic aesthetic, watch connoisseurs also consider the authenticity of our timepieces.
“This authenticity is again rooted in the long history of the maison and its ability to maintain and transmit all its know-how and traditions, generation after generation.” It’s this point that brings us to the incredible passion and skill displayed by Vacheron Constantin’s many talented artisans, another element that Selmoni discusses with much pride.
“Our artisans all have a solid academic background – art schools mostly – and are experienced specialists in their respective fields. In addition, they work together in the same workshop, which makes dialogue and emulation permanently possible. They are directly associated in the creation of our Métiers d’Art watches.
“As Vacheron Constantin’s artistry covers a wide range – from the simplest to the most complicated watchmaking movements – young watchmakers therefore have the possibility to evolve within the different workshops, with the ‘holy grail’ being the Grand Complications workshop, where we manufacture rare timepieces such as minute-repeaters and other striking designs. To join the Grand Complications workshop usually requires prior professional experience of around 18 years in other workshops.”
It’s thanks to this special talent that Vacheron Constantin continues to thrill watch connoisseurs each year with a new collection of awe-inspiring creations.
Talking us through some of his favourite pieces, as well as this year’s most significant launches, Selmoni says: “I have been in charge of, or associated with, many exciting watchmaking projects over the last two decades. Firstly, the Patrimony model, created in 2003, really stands out as it combines Vacheron Constantin’s timeless design with contemporary dimensions and character. Now some 15 years later, this piece remains unchanged and a maison icon.
“Secondly, I must mention the Tour de L’Ile, presented in 2005 for Vacheron Constantin’s 250th anniversary. Featuring 16 complications displayed across the watch’s two faces, at the time it was the world’s most complicated wristwatch. “Finally, the 2007 Métiers d’Art The Masks, a highly creative collection based on the theme of primitive arts, combining watchmaking complications and traditional decorative crafts such as hand engraving.”
Earlier this year, the Swiss manufacture released several new timepieces, including new models, to its iconic Overseas collection. Additionally, there were several other releases that caused much excitement at the 2018 Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie.
“This year has been an important year at Vacheron Constantin, as we launched our new collection, Fiftysix, a cosmopolite, retro-contemporary collection of watches. Simple yet complicated, they are inspired by one of our heritage timepieces from 1956. In addition, we have presented Métiers d’Art Les Aérostiers, a truly magnificent collection of hand-engraved and enamelled complicated watches inspired by the story of early balloonists during the 18th century.”
Both collections, although vastly different in their aesthetic and craftsmanship, showcase the maison’s ability to deftly balance the old with the new. As Selmoni concludes, “clearly, such longevity wouldn’t have been possible without innovation”.
Discover more at the Vacheron Constantin boutique in The Dubai Mall 04 3308033.