Watchmaking icon Vacheron Constantin traces its history back to 1755, but there is far more to the company's horological importance than just date or time.
Its founder, Jean-Marc Vacheron went from being a cabinotier, one of the craftsmen of Geneva specialised in particular components and crafts, to opening up his own shop and selling timepieces that bore his own name. He then went on to make his own complication and to produce his first engine-turned dials. His company passed on to his son and then his grandson.
His grandson Jacques Barthélémi Vacheron began exporting to other countries, and realised that other expertise was needed to handle the travel and development of new markets. François Constantin came on board to help with this, and the company sought an increasingly global audience under the name Vacheron & Constantin.
In many ways, the company did then what they and the other participants of Watches& Wonders are doing today.
Collectors and connoisseurs can expect to be enchanted, as Vacheron Constantin brings several pieces to the show that almost span their horological history, and reveal the brand's mastery. Jacques Barthélémi Vacheron was first a watchmaker with an expertise in the repeater mechanism, that complication which gives time not just visually but by sound as well.
The Sound of Time exhibition held during Watches&Wonders will be showing some of the company's enchanting pieces.
On hand will be exhibits such as a red gold quarter-repeater pocket watch from 1812 that features the mastery of the gongs combined with the wonderful guilloché dial work for which the company is well known, and for which it still uses old machines for its modern watches.
Other timepieces will highlight the company's skills as well, with pieces such as an ultrathin minute repeater with an entirely open-worked and hand-decorated movement.
Just as in the days of early watchmaking, the attempts to educate and excite are combined with a way to let the audience satisfy their appetite, particularly important in the Asian arena where buyers are quite likely to want to walk out with at least a firm order, if not a special piece itself.
"Given the nature of accessibility and timing of Watches&Wonders, we hope to use this platform not only to share our brand's history and heritage with the Asian markets, but also to launch a unique new timepiece - a debut in Hong Kong," explains Julien Tornare, managing director of Vacheron Constantin Asia-Pacific. "Watches&Wonders is an important acknowledgment of the significance of Asian markets."
The extraordinary piece being offered for this occasion highlights the long history the manufacture has had with the melodious striking watches, yet also brings forth the mechanical craft as well.
The Patrimony Contemporaine Ultra-Thin Calibre 1731 (ref 30110/000R-9793) takes the name of its calibre from the year Jean-Marc Vacheron was born.
The design was inspired by an earlier ultra-thin model from 1955 to celebrate the bicentenary of the house. Vacheron Constantin proudly proclaims both the movement and the watch itself as the thinnest minute repeater calibre and minute repeater watch on the market today at 3.90mm and 8.09mm respectively.
The movement took four years to develop and produce, and includes recent developments by the company such as the silent flying strike governor that evens out the energy supplied by the barrel spring to create more discernible musical notes while still maintaining a power reserve of 65 hours.
This mechanical complexity, horological mastery and aural wonder are all carefully cocooned inside an elegant 41mm 5N pink gold case. The dial is crisp and clean, silvered opaline with a convex external zone and 18ct 5N pink gold hour markers that produce a wristwatch that is a wonderful nod to the past while still being the subtle, elegant product that the modern market has come to desire. The side actuator and the small seconds offset at 8 o'clock will distinguish the watch to those that know. The minute repeater's design is refreshingly clean.
Another piece being showcased is the Patrimony Traditionnelle 14-day Tourbillion Collection Excellence Platine (ref 89000/000P-9843), which combines several key aspects that both highlight the watchmaking history and mastery of Vacheron Constantin and also appeals to the much cleaner aesthetic so sought after by more modern collectors. Visually, the watch is elegant and balanced.
A 950 Platinum case with a subtle 42mm diameter frames a dial in sandblasted 950 Platinum with hands and indices that are easily read yet do nothing to jar the watch out of a truly classic and elegant look.
The Tourbillon mechanism with the traditional VC Maltese Cross is visible and located at 6 o'clock and incorporates a small seconds indication. The 14-day power reserve supplied by four barrels coupled in pairs is visible at the 12 o'clock position on the face, visually balancing the Tourbillon below it. The watch is powered by the Calibre 2260 mechanical manual-winding movement developed by the house.
This watch is part of the Collection Excellence Platine family, which was started in 2006 to honour the precious metal material that draws only the most serious of collectors because of its rarity and the skill needed to produce and work the substance. The entire watch, not just the movement as in most cases, bears the Hallmark of Geneva. It will be produced in this form in only 50 pieces.
And just in case 49 other similar pieces are still not rare enough, the company has a bespoke service to design and produce something to clients' exacting demands. "Vacheron Constantin's bespoke service, Atelier Cabinotiers, exists to accommodate each unique individual's wishes," Tornare explains. It is wonderful way to link all the way back to the company's roots.