Vacheron Constantin can pride itself on being the oldest watch manufacturer in the world in continuous activity since its establishment in Geneva in 1755. How much has it drawn from the artistic styles and trends which have come and gone during its 250 years of existence? The answer with Julien Marchenoir, whose responsibilities include overseeing the heritage of the company whose private collection has assembled some 1,200 historic pieces.
Julien Marchenoir, Marketing and Heritage Director, Vacheron Constantin: There is a deep-rooted connection which, in a certain way, is specific to Geneva’s watchmaking. This is evidenced in the exhibition, Voyages & Ornements, that is currently running at Vacheron Constantin’s historical headquarters on Quai de l’Ile in Geneva. The forty-some ornamental watches chosen to illustrate this theme maintain an ongoing dialogue with artistic currents from different eras. They are influenced by the mood of the day; they go beyond their purely functional role to become immersed in their aesthetic environment. Perhaps acanthus leaves are popular for ornamentation, as they were in the eighteenth century? Perhaps artists are inspired by the Byzantine Empire or India? Watchmaking will reflect this, just as it echoed the Art Deco trend. In this respect, art in the widest sense has always been a source of inspiration and creative exploration for watchmaking as it developed in Geneva from the seventeenth century.
Beyond the object itself lies a group of individuals whose work we also wish to bring to the fore.
Art and watchmaking share common values that warrant our attention. There is a reason why Vacheron Constantin supports the Paris National Opera ballet and school, New York City Ballet, the Royal Ballet School in London and the ballet company of the Grand Théâtre de Genève. Ballet, like watchmaking, strives for perfection, with movements repeated over and over until they becomes second nature, and calls on a form of selflessness and dedication to a higher cause. This year, for example, we sponsored a new documentary by New York City Ballet that follows the young choreographer Justin Peck in his creation of the 422nd ballet for the company, from the first rehearsal to the opening performance. This is a very interesting angle as it highlights the huge amount of work that goes on behind the scenes, from the very inception of the piece which, as it progresses, becomes the creation of an entire group, from the dancer to the musician to the lighting technician. The work of a company that is dedicated to excellence. The same is true of watchmaking. Beyond the object itself lies a group of individuals whose work we also wish to bring to the fore.
Not necessarily. We often meet people who love the ballet and know nothing about watchmaking. By way of an example, we staged an exhibition illustrating the decorative arts in watchmaking at Sotheby’s in New York, during the last auction session there. Each floor had its own theme. We met some people who, before paying us a visit, had taken in the floor below which was given over to the eighteenth-century masters. These were people who were open to art in general, and painting in particular, yet they had never encountered enamel miniatures, a speciality of Genevan watchmaking. What I mean is that to appreciate art, sometimes the door must be held open. An observation that works both ways: many of our guests at the events we sponsor have confessed to being complete newcomers to the ballet. Once again, we can observe how important initiation and perspective are if we are to fully appreciate the spectacle unfolding before our eyes.
Some Maisons do feel a greater affinity with sport, for example. At Vacheron Constantin, we are considerably more at home with art whose values and certain techniques we share. You could say that art is our natural environment and part of our DNA. With respect to our customers, we feel this is an essential heritage, one that fits within the historical continuity of the firm, because it conveys meaning, expertise and ultimately emotion. This permeability between art and watchmaking, which is gaining prominence at Vacheron Constantin, is an endlessly renewed tribute to the measurement of time. Let us not forget our principal objective, which is to produce precise and reliable watches. Watches made to last for ever.