In Switzerland, the easing of lockdown restrictions has been the opportunity for a handful of brands to present their new watches “in person”. Of them, Vacheron Constantin is one of the most prolific. Despite sluggish markets, the brand has come up with a rich and varied offer for 2020 that celebrates the power of the imagination, “a source of creativity and innovation, both technical and artistic,” observes Style and Heritage Director, Christian Selmoni. After hosting a virtual booth at the Watches&Wonders digital fair in April, Vacheron Constantin presented these new pieces “for real” in its boutique in Geneva; a reminder that a watch’s appeal is even greater on the wrist.
“Personally, I found the Watches&Wonders digital experience most enriching,” says Christian Selmoni. “I was able to communicate directly with customers and collectors whom I would never have been able to meet otherwise. The opportunity to actually touch and hold the product, which is essential, isn’t there but contrary to what one might think, digital tools enable a certain degree of proximity with the customer. It was of the utmost importance, regardless of the dramatic context, that Vacheron Constantin present its new watches. It’s an act of faith.” The highlight of the presentation in Geneva were the Les Cabinotiers watches, part of the “La Musique du Temps” theme. “The watch market has become somewhat polarised in recent years, with strong demand for affordable watches on the one hand, and on the other unprecedented interest in personalised, even bespoke pieces,” notes Christian Selmoni. “In hyper-exclusive watches. Les Cabinotiers caters to this.”
Established in 2015 and initially making only privately commissioned pieces, the Les Cabinotiers department has progressively expanded its scope to now create some of the most complex timepieces in contemporary watchmaking, when it isn’t exemplifying the splendours of the métiers d’art. This year’s releases are examples of both: a showcase for the métiers d’art in the form of the four The Singing Birds watches with their miniature-painted, champlevé enamelled dials, and exceptional mechanisms for the “Ode to Music” and “Tempo” unique pieces with, respectively, 19 functions driven by 600 parts and 24 complications driven by 1,163 parts. The latter is in fact the most complex wristwatch ever to come out of the Geneva firm’s workshops.
Chiming (literally) with the Music of Time theme, both these masterpieces incorporate a minute repeater, joined by virtually the full range of astronomical complications, “functions which can be personalised to the owner’s place of residence and its particularities, which is highly appreciated,” adds Christian Selmoni. Nor should we forget the tourbillon regulator and split-seconds chronograph that add a further layer of complexity to the Tempo; a double-sided watch, like its “sibling”, which can be worn with either side uppermost thanks to a reversible strap attachment system.
Such a brief description cannot do justice to the endless hours of work that went into these one-of-a-kind creations nor the knowledge required to bring them into being. It does, however, point to where Vacheron Constantin’s intentions lie. “Whereas the 2008 crisis put an end to a period of exuberance and extravagance, the focus today is on demonstrating expertise,” concludes Christian Selmoni. “Brands are engaged in highlighting their skills as a means to bring out the full importance of their heritage.” Something Vacheron Constantin has down to a fine art.