In the chorus of the great brands active in the haute horlogerie sector, Vacheron Constantin has long been the guardian of the temple of tradition. Its image has certainly been irreproachable, even if the brand was considered somewhat old-fashioned, viewed perhaps like a very respectable grand dame (the company was founded in 1755) who was a little out of touch.
Gradually, however, its image has been changing. The inauguration in 2004 of the new manufacturing facility in Plan-les-Ouates, near Geneva, whose daring ultra-modern architecture is quite impressive, rapidly contributed to the repositioning of the brand. On a more inconspicuous level, the Vacheron Constantin ateliers in the Vallée de Joux have risen in strength and stature, becoming veritable lab-oratories for the research and development of movements. And, of course, the products themselves have played a large role in transforming the image of Vacheron Constantin.
Juan-Carlos Torres and his team have made great efforts to differentiate and clarify the brand’s offer, which, admittedly, has been a bit muddled in the past. The products are now centred on four major pillars each with its own distinct identity: the Patrimony line, the Malte line, collections with round cases, and tonneau collections. Besides refocusing the offer, the brand has also created a number of special projects. In celebration of its 250th anniversary in 2005, Vacheron Constantin presented pieces from the Tour de l’Ile collection, which, with its 16 complications, demonstrated the brand’s great mastery in the art of timekeeping. In 2007, the company made another huge hit with its highly acclaimed series of watches in the ‘Les Masques’ collection. As original as they are precious, this collection testifies to the emergence of new opportunities in watchmaking art as exemplified by combining the most traditional craft of three-dimensional engraving with cutting-edge new technologies: 3D modelling, laser engraving, and the micro-metallization of printed words on sapphire crystal. The collection of ‘Les Masques’ also offered a new approach in the treatment of dials by creating a play of semi-transparencies on the movements, evoking an aura of mystery and fascination.
Key words: personalization, service, security
This year, the presentation of the brand’s new ‘Quai de l'Ile’ collection, which has taken watchmaking even further into the future, is perfectly emblematic of the successful revitalization of Vacheron Constantin. (The name ‘Quai de l'Ile’ comes from the company’s historic address in Geneva.)
Taking the lead over some of its competitors, the brand is now moving full force into the timekeeping of the 21st century. This import-ant evolution is fully observed in the conceptual consistency of the new Quai de l'Ile collection. The brand’s global approach takes into consideration all of the aspects that are important for a contemporary haute horlogerie product. These centre not only on the watch itself and its most innovative features, but they also focus on the option—for the first time at this level of exigency—of personalizing the timepiece and of providing inno-vative service and security. This truly original approach takes into account the expectations of those clients who seek exclusivity.
Understanding these new expectations, Vacheron Constantin has established a closer and more active relationship with its clients, offering them personalized service that is quite unique in the universe of haute horlogerie. The relationship between client and brand has again become the centre of attention since the watches can at last be produced to meet the desires and expectations of the customer. In a very modern manner, then, Vacheron Constantin has revitalized the long and historic tradition of the Geneva ‘Cabinotiers’, the watchmakers of yesteryear who created custom watches upon request. While the spirit of the Cabinotiers lives on in the Quai de l'Ile line, the techniques used in the personalization process are radically new.
Pink Gold Titanium
Creating one’s own watch—virtually
To create their own personalized watch, clients can go to one of the brand’s 100 sales points around the world (out of a total of 500), which have the capability of offering the Quai de l'Ile. Once in the boutique, they will be shown an interactive computer graphic tablet on which they can virtually create their own timekeeper. With the assistance of a specially trained salesperson, who will show him some samples and demonstrate examples of the nearly 400 possible combi-nations—not to mention the variations in colour and the types of strap—the client can thus create and view a complete virtual image of the watch of his choice.
This new type of personalization has been made possible because of the many combinations of the various components of the watch: the middle case can be separated into several distinct elements; dials can be made in different colours (grey, white, or black); the movement can be finished in different ways; and various straps may be selected. In addition, the back of the bezel can be engraved with a personal choice. Very importantly also is the fact that Vacheron Constantin is committed to the production and delivery of the chosen watch within a reasonable period of time.
A case divisible into combinable elements
One of the central elements in this personalization process is undoubtedly the case and the middle. Very visual in nature, both bold and fluid, the case was inspired by the cushion shape and has a middle that is composed of seven different elements: the two lateral flanks, the two pairs of horns, the two between-horns, and the support plate. Besides these seven elements, the 41-mm case includes the main inner case, the bezel, the back, and the crown, which are all variable. The watch’s personalization is primarily focused on the three groups making up the case: the core of the case (horns, between-horns, and back), the bezel, the lateral flanks and the support plate, plus the crown.
For each of these groups, Vacheron Constantin proposes three different metals, also available in mix and match combinations: pink gold, titanium, and palladium (the inner case, however, remains in titanium). It is quite possible, therefore, to make for example a full pink gold, titanium, or palladium watch. But it is also possible to mix the metals, for example, having the horns and bezel in pink gold and the lateral flanks in palladium, or the horns in titanium, the bezel in pink gold, and the flanks in palladium, or basically just about any other combination desired.
The various combinations do not stop there. Spectacular dials in the Quai de l'Ile line are also offered in a choice of various colours, in dark or light shades. As for the movements, two automatic calibres have been specially developed for the occasion. The Quai de l'Ile Day-and-Date and Power-Reserve and the Quai de l'Ile Date are each proposed with two different movement finishings: rhodium (light) or ruthenium (dark). When combining the dial and type of finishing for the movement, you thus can get three sep-arate looks for each one of the calibres: a grey look resulting from a dark dial on a rhodium-plated calibre, a white appearance resulting from a light dial on a rhodium-plated calibre, or a dark appearance resulting from a dark dial on a ruthenium-plated calibre.
Totally innovative dials
The dials are a particularly innovative and sophisticated element of the Quai de l'Ile and merit a bit of time on their own. First off, they are intriguing and really quite amazing. While being perfectly readable, they offer a striking play on their depths and transparency, while alternating between amazing relief effects and elements that hide or reveal themselves depending on the angle you view them. The microscopic detail of some of the markings on the watch is also quite incredible, especially in the way that a certain minuscule text (an English reproduction of the letters exchanged in 1819 and 1829 between Jacques-Barthélémy Vacheron and François Constantin) forms a horizontal ‘figure of eight’ (symbol of infinity) at the centre of the dial. These texts are impossible to read without a magnifying glass.
The very special and fairy-like beauty of the dials is made possible thanks to the use of advanced processes and treatments developed for recent printing techniques in security documents such as bank notes (security printing). These techniques include laser engraving with and without ink, the galvanic layering of gold on metal, metallization, the printing of micro-signs, the utilization of security inks, and even ultraviolet marking using invisible ink. Beyond the personalization of the Quai de l'Ile timepieces, these high-tech processes also provide an added measure of security and are a safeguard against counterfeiting.
The dials are composed of two elements: a sapphire crystal and two security transparent films, one on the top and one on the bottom of the crystal. The indications ‘Swiss Made’ and ‘Automatique’ appearing on the crystal are made by laser engraving without ink, while the indications ‘Vacheron Constantin’, the day, date, and certain other numbers are made by laser engraving with ink. The large numbers, 3, 6, 9, and 12, as well as the symbol of the Maltese Cross are created by the galvanic growth of gold plated metal, a sophisticated process whose end product looks like an appliqué (unrealizable on sapphire crystal). Finally, the micro-texts are made using a process of metallization involving white gold.
If you look closely at the dial, you can see a small sun between 1 o’clock and 2 o’clock. It was inspired by the clock tower on the Tour de l'Ile, next to the historic headquarters of Vacheron Constantin. Created using a metallization process, the small sun is placed inside a disc printed with invisible ink that is affixed to the security transparent film attached to the sapphire crystal. This disc is only visible under ultraviolet light, and thus serves as one of the key measures of security, since the dial cannot be copied. Hundreds of minuscule Maltese Crosses and concentric circles, either in white or black ink depending on the model, are also printed on this security transparent film. (This film is ident-ical to that used in the creation of bank notes and is created using a specific chemical com-position.) The dial is also covered with this same film, except that it has been printed with concentric rays that serve as the second markers. The rays alternate either with light grey ink and sepia or light grey and white.
Two new calibres
The Quai de l'Ile comes with a choice of two automatic calibres, which have been designed, developed, and produced in-house specifically for this new collection. The calibre 2460QH, the self-winding Quai de l'Ile Date, displays hours, minutes, and seconds at the centre, while the date is shown on a moving disc. The calibre 247SC/1, the self-winding Quai de l'Ile Day-and-Date and Power-Reserve, also displays the hours, minutes, and seconds at the centre but, in this case, the added indications of the working reserve as well as the day and date are shown by additional hands.
Stamped with the prestigious Poinçon de Genève (Geneva Seal), these latest generation movements are finished and decorated in the great tradition: circular and straight CÔtes de Genève patterns; chamfered and rhodium-plated bridges; and circular-grained plates. They also come with two different types of finishing: rhodium-plated for a lighter look and ruthenium-plated for a darker appearance.
A secure passport
As stated above, the design of the Quai de l'Ile has been carefully thought out, right down to the slightest detail, in keeping with the considerations for personalization and security. The watch is delivered in a vertical packaging case with a glass cover allowing it to be displayed all the time. This particular case also has a series of specific accessories, including a travel case, USB key (that comprises the instruction manual, maintenance and technical information, and an exhaustive presentation on the manufacturer), tools (loupe, corrector, cloth), a second strap (alligator or rubber), and the watch’s own personalized and veritably tamper-proof passport.
Created for each individual timepiece, this passport serves as a guarantee card, identification record, certificate of authenticity, maintenance schedule, and the documentation of the Poinçon de Genève. Just like a real passport, it incorporates all of the latest techniques used in the domain of security printing: the number of the watch that has been laser-perforated into a special paper (not available to the general public); ultraviolet marking with invisible ink; taille douce engraving; secur-ity ink printing; optical variable ink; hot stamping silvered; micro-printing; among others. The passport of the Quai de l'Ile is thus as secure and tamper-proof as that of its owner.
Juan-Carlos Torres himself assures that the in-itial design of the Quai de l'Ile collection, as ambitious as it may be, is only the beginning. The future of haute horlogerie, he believes, will comprise even more personalization.
Source: Europa Star June-July 2008 Magazine Issue