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Interview with Laurent Perves, Vacheron Constantin

ARCADE EUROPA STAR

Français
July 2018


Interview with Laurent Perves, Vacheron Constantin

Vacheron Constantin’s launch of the Fiftysix line at the latest SIHH had its name on everyone’s lips. This coincided with a generational change at the helm of the majestic Geneva-based watchmaking house which produces around 25,000 timepieces a year. Is this the sign of a new ‘low-cost’ offensive (notwithstanding the entry price of more than 12,000 Swiss francs)? Breakthrough or continuity? Europa Star met Laurent Perves, the brand’s new CMO (Chief Marketing Officer).

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oes the launch of the new ‘entry-level’ Fiftysix collection at Vacheron Constantin signal a strategic turning point for the brand?

Nobody expected it of us and, in this sense, it’s a big ‘coup’ and the offshoot of a deliberate and determined policy which began a year and a half ago before I arrived at the company. But this very public introduction may have somewhat disguised the fact that it comes within a wider context. We have optimised the Overseas family, for instance, making it livelier with bolder features, such as the ‘black dial’ Overseas – and our other lines have all been refreshed.

Laurent Perves, the brand's new CMO (Chief Marketing Officer) of Vacheron Constantin
Laurent Perves, the brand’s new CMO (Chief Marketing Officer) of Vacheron Constantin
© Fabien Scotti

Is this because of a need to seek out younger customers for a brand whose image remains very traditional?

It all depends on what you mean by ‘traditional’. We are undoubtedly an understated brand. There’s a definite simplicity, formal harmony and classic, timeless dimension. So, yes. But, don’t be fooled. Our average customer is around 40 years old. Generations move and get rich quickly, especially in Asia and the Middle East where our results are buoyant. It’s a dynamic, very well-educated generation thanks to the distribution of information. An interest in watchmaking can quickly develop into expertise, much more so than before. In 263 years, Vacheron Constantin has continued to ‘revamp’ itself, staying in tune with the times.

What is the present time?

There’s a breed of customer looking for an everyday steel piece with a strong, distinctive, yet understated design for informed enthusiasts. Entry to the circle of connoisseurs. We have also observed a clear spike in interest among these young yet mature customers for collections such as the Historiques and some Métiers d’Art segments.

Is this another way of responding to the vintage trend?

The vintage style is hardly a new development. Vacheron Constantin began faithfully revising some of its historic icons 15 years ago, including the Chronographe Royal from 1907, the American 21 from 1921 and the Corne de Vache from 1955.

Generations move and get rich quickly, especially in Asia and the Middle East where our results are buoyant. It’s a dynamic, very well-educated generation thanks to the distribution of information.

These are all recent dates for our house. The vintage trend has come as no surprise for us. We’ve also created the Les Collectionneurs department which restores and, if necessary, repairs real vintage pieces in our restoration workshops and gives them new two-year warranties. They’re sold during one-time events and special occasions and they’re exceptionally popular.

Fiftysix day-date
Fiftysix day-date

But, going back to the Fiftysix, does its “group calibre” not immediately move it into another category?

The group calibre we use is a base movement used in Swiss watchmaking. We put our own spin on the movement and decorate it in line with our brand hallmarks. The watches are made from gold and we have five different types of finish. It’s a Vacheron Constantin in its own right, assembled in our workshops. Believe me when I say it’s highly anticipated and will go on sale in September.

But is this nonetheless a sign that your offerings are drifting away from complications?

Not at all. We can work successfully with shared base movements while developing our own complications on a completely independent basis. Our work is ongoing and we’ve lost none of our expertise in this area. It was on show at the last SIHH with our Traditionnelle Tourbillon, a very clean automatic watch with a peripheral rotor. This piece is very much the result of a real demand among customers for a lightweight, simple tourbillon in a flat watch with contained proportions. This led to the peripheral rotor in a mix of demand, aesthetics and watchmaking art.

We will keep our ear to the ground but we do not intend to withdraw from complications nor from the Métiers d’Art. And our range of unique and customised pieces in the Cabinotiers category is another laboratory and a very fertile field of experimentation. The demand for made-to-order pieces is growing.

In the field of applied arts, Vacheron Constantin has released some exceptional series such as the Masques and others, demonstrating a wonderful, coherent creativity.

We have in-house expertise in many trades, allowing us to fully exploit and continually explore this area. We’re pushing the Métiers d’Art in several directions at once. The themes are varied. We’re combining disciplines, inventing and mixing arts and crafts with watch complications. We’ve developed movements with a window display for greater freedom and others are in the pipeline. But we’re prioritising themes linked to our long history of travel, discovery, culture and artistic excitement. Needless to say, we intend to continue in this vein.

We can work successfully with shared base movements while developing our own complications on a completely independent basis. Our work is ongoing and we’ve lost none of our expertise in this area.

We often discuss ‘new materials’ from ‘laboratories’.

There’s an expectation of us. We are, however, working on all the topics that ‘mould’ the watchmaking process. So we’re taking a very close look at steel and its developments, as well as the Fiftysix and Overseas. We regularly work with platinum and we’ve designed a silk and platinum wire bracelet as a sample. But the bulk of our research is focused on watchmaking itself and complication development. Ultimately, the real judges are the customers.

THE OBJECT: “My dad was a big record collector. He loved jazz and passed this on to me. I inherited his collection and I've always loved it, especially Sidney Bechet who is magical. The irony of this little tale is that when I arrived at Vacheron Constantin, I discovered that the House had Sidney Bechet's autograph in one of its guestbooks. He signed it in New York in 1953 when he came to purchase a watch from the store.”
THE OBJECT: “My dad was a big record collector. He loved jazz and passed this on to me. I inherited his collection and I’ve always loved it, especially Sidney Bechet who is magical. The irony of this little tale is that when I arrived at Vacheron Constantin, I discovered that the House had Sidney Bechet’s autograph in one of its guestbooks. He signed it in New York in 1953 when he came to purchase a watch from the store.”
Photo©Fabien Scotti/Europa Star