ow can you bring archives back to life – and make a living from archives?
Vacheron Constantin has come up with an unusual formula; via its Collectionneurs line, the brand is buying back, restoring and reselling its own vintage timepieces – dating from before 1970. A dedicated Instagram account, @thehourlounge, has even been set up for the purpose, the company being well aware that today social media are the prime vector for information – and even sales – where models of bygone days are concerned.
- Christian Selmoni, style and heritage director at Vacheron Constantin
“There is a constancy of style and this awareness comes from the archives.”
“A classic company like ours quite naturally feeds on elements from the past,” remarks Christian Selmoni, style and heritage director at Vacheron Constantin. “Today, our business has 263 years of continuous documented history. There is a constancy of style and this awareness comes from the archives, which for us are a gold mine in more than one way.”
The brand archives add up to 420 linear metres of paper, or four million pages, and 200,000 letters. Its private collection encompasses 1,500 horological items dating back to the eighteenth century. A double handful of around ten “investigators” are employed by Vacheron Constantin to maintain, conserve, safeguard and ultimately digitise this vast corpus – no mean task. The brand has currently digitised around ten percent of its total archive.
- Pocket watch quarter-repeater dated 1812, 18K pink gold, fluted bezel, “guilloché” case and back, engraved centre and back, enamel dial. Vacheron Constantin private collection.
The power of vintage on social media
“Our documents go back to the first watch made and sold,” Christian Selmoni adds. “The archive has numerous uses, whether presenting our heritage to customers, or maintaining and restoring items for them.” Today, Vacheron Constantin offers a twoyear guarantee on models from the Collectionneurs series, which it sells in its network of boutiques at dedicated events. All items are accompanied by documents attesting to their origin and history, the direct result of the work done by the heritage department. With the help of the after-sales service team, these documents also make it possible to rebuild from nothing missing or age-damaged components.
- A Vacheron Constantin wristwatch from 1921, and the company’s workshops in 1900
“The customer base for this kind of product is really global,” underlines Christian Selmoni. “For example, via Instagram we’ve just sold to a Korean customer a pocket watch dating from 1924 which was used to time horse races.”
Vacheron Constantin chooses to internalise the resale of its historical timepieces – thereby exercising a kind of direct control over its heritage that is now being emulated. F.P. Journe, through its Patrimoine deparment, created in 2016, buys back, restores and also resells its old watches. And on its website, the kind of model the watchmaker is seeking is clear. Even a brand as contemporary as MB&F, founded in 2005, has begun restoring its own “old” (so to speak) products this year. Other companies will no doubt follow suit. Within the Richemont Group, which has just acquired the second-hand watch sales platform Watchfinder, Vacheron Constantin is for the moment the only company to do so.
- Vacheron Comstantin workshops 1900
The archive department also plays the role of guarantor for the legitimacy of re-editions, re-interpretations and relaunches of historical models, as is the case this year with the Fiftysix collection, the name of which is self-explanatory... Moreover, the 1956 catalogues have been made available by the brand’s archives department to accompany the market launch of the models.
“Sometimes we also veto certain current developments,” explains Christian Selmoni. “For the past few years, our role has really gained importance within the company. The heritage department has gone from being a simple service provider to a genuine sales, promotion and communications tool.”
With such accomplished work on its heritage, why not open a museum? Their direct competitor, Patek Philippe (see article :The generations of Patek Philippe), has established what is probably the world’s number one museological reference in the global watchmaking capital – which has gained even more importance since the Musée d’horlogerie (Museum of the Watch and Clock Industry) in Geneva closed in 2002 following a serious robbery. “Opening a museum isn’t as easy as all that,” replies Christian Selmoni. “It poses numerous legal questions. We’ve opted rather to reorganise tours of our site at Plan-les-Ouates by including the heritage department. We’re also in the process of developing innovative solutions in collaboration with the EPFL to create three-dimensional experiences based on our archives and private collection.” The battle of the archives is only just beginning!