AS early as the 15th century, Geneva, Switzerland flourished as a center for crafting the highest quality of gold and jewelry. However, a famous French theologian and Protestant reformist by the name of John Calvin arrived in the city and prohibited manifestations of luxury. With his teachings, many goldsmiths and jewelers turned to making watches.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Today, Geneva is the famous capital of fine watchmaking where the most intricate and most luxurious timepieces are still made by hand.
One such prestige brand offering Geneva’s rich heritage and renowned craft is Vacheron Constantin, which is celebrating its 260th anniversary this year. Considered to be oldest manufacturer of traditional watches in the world, the company was founded in 1755 by horologist Jean-Marc Vacheron.
To mark the occasion, the watch manufacturer has introduced an entirely new collection of luxury watches. Called Harmony, it offers seven limited edition designs for both collectors of luxury watches and lovers of the finer things in life.
These are the Harmony Chronograph and Dual Time for men, and Harmony Chronograph Small Model and Dual Time or Dual Time Small Model for women, as well as the more premium Harmony Tourbillon Chronograph and Chronograph Ultra-Thin Grande Complication for men.
Reviving the chronograph
On Tuesday, Vacheron Constantin unveiled five of the seven Harmony pieces in the Philippines through an exclusive media preview hosted by its local distributor, Lucerne Luxe.
Flying in from Singapore to grace the event and a VIP party for clients afterward was Ellen Sorensen, the brand’s managing director for Southeast Asia.
In her presentation, Sorensen proudly revealed that the collection took seven long years of development and manufacturing before it was finally launched in the global market—a proof of Vacheron Constantin dedication to every watch it creates.
The regional executive then discussed the inspiration behind the seven-piece suite, one of which was the distinctive design of company’s first ever wrist chronographs made in 1928. This monopusher chronograph with a yellow gold cushion-shaped case was equipped with a 13-ligne caliber displaying a pulsometric scale around the rim of the white dial punctuated by leaf-type hands and painted Arabic numerals.
Originally a medical instrument, the pulsimeter chronograph enabled doctors and nurses to take fast readings thanks to the chronograph hand showing the pulse rate after 30 beats on a graduated scale.
This 1928 watch gave rise to its 2015 counterpart, the Harmony Chronograph. When placed side by side, the aesthetic reference is immediately apparent like the cushion shape of the case, the dials and the numerals. But as Vacheron Constantin is always driven by the time, its designers and developers managed to modernize the vintage model into a contemporary piece.
The overall aesthetic of the first Vacheron Constantin wristwatch also served as the inspiration of the six other models with other features like the dual time for both men and women.
Even the premium pieces were derived from it too but only more sophisticated. The first one comes in an ultra-thin compilation, while the other carries a tourbillon, an addition to a watch mechanism that counters the effects of gravity.
Sorensen also highlighted the exclusive movement decoration specifically dedicated to its 260th anniversary. The design team, which normally focuses in the watch exterior, had the privilege designing an original motif inspired by the arabesques that adorned the balance-cock of the oldest pocket watch belonging to the House and signed Jean-Marc Vacheron in 1755.
Also referred to as “fleurisanne engraving,” this decoration appears on the balance-cock, the bridge of the tourbillon carriage, or the oscillating weight of the Harmony anniversary models.
The Harmony collection also runs from new calibers or movements. With the 3500, 3200, 3300 and 1142 calibers, Vacheron Constantin once again paid tribute to the chronograph—a complication first seen in 1852 with the house’s first pocket watches.
With the goal of developing a more functional, reliable and user-friendly caliber for the modern times, the manufacturer perfected even the smallest details like a cone-shaped gear between the winding pinion and the crown wheel in order to achieve pleasantly smooth, gentle winding.
Moreover, the new movements also benefit from a cutting-edge technology: an extremely precise wheel profile with the teeth separated by barely 0.03 mm.
Entirely hand-crafted by specialized artisans, all Vacheron Constantin Harmony watches are certified bearers of the Hallmark of Geneva, one of the most prestigious and most demanding watchmaking certifications.
Behind the label
In a separate interview with The Manila Times, Sorensen talked more about Vacheron Constantin and why it is one of the world’s most prized horological brand.
Asked what is the first thing that comes to mind when one says Vacheron Constantin, she answered, “The name is associated with quality. Why? There is this very absurd dedication to the highest level of quality that sets us apart from other brands. Because it’s unnecessary . . . to spend so much time delivering a watch. That’s what makes it more absurd in a way that it’s like art. It’s the search for something beautiful, and more beautiful, and more beautiful.”
Because of this “absurd dedication,” the managing director expressed that the company manufactures only 28,000 watches a year.
She explained, “While 28,000 watches a year is a lot, it’s also very few watches for the world. We actually distribute to 70 countries around the world. However way you do the math, it’s a very finite kind of business.”
Moreover, she said that while other luxury watches have made a million watches in a year, Vacheron Constantin in its 260 years has not even made a million watches.
“It’s very rare. While some people will prefer something more known, our customers appreciate what we create in a deep sense,” she enthused.
On future plans in the Philippines, Sorensen revealed that since coming here two years ago, Vacheron Constantin and partner Lucerne Group had already talked about developing a limited collection to be made available only for Filipinos. However, because the Swiss company always pushes for perfection, the said collection may be available another two years from now.
Was she always confident that there is a market for such a luxury watch brand in the Philippines? “I’ve been overwhelmed because I never thought Manila had such a sophisticated watch culture. The Filipino clients have knowledge, interest, passion and even personal collections,” she candidly concluded.