In this guide, we’re going to discuss one of the world’s oldest and most revered watchmakers: Vacheron Constantin. Since the mid-1700s, Vacheron Constantin has been producing some of the finest timepieces in the world. We’re going to discuss their history, the models they’ve produced, and the works that have led them to become one of our top two recommended watchmakers, the other being Patek Philippe.
The 260 Year History of Vacheron Constantin
Geneva, 1755. There are few companies in the world that can chart their lineage as far back as the reign of King George II; even fewer that can do so consistently. Vacheron Constantin in the only watchmaker in the world that can do this. For 260 years, they have enjoyed an uninterrupted history devoted to horological excellence, and it’s their status as the world’s oldest continuous watchmaker that has led to their stellar reputation and placed them amongst the holy trinity of watchmakers alongside Patek Philippe and Audemars Piguet.
In 1541, Calvin’s religious reforms transformed Geneva into what was known as the “Protestant Rome,” where many Protestants traveled from Germany, Italy and France to seek refuge. With many of them being skilled craftsmen, these men became the backbone of Switzerland’s luxury jewelry industry as we know it today. As such, they formed the fabrique genevoise. One such family to seek refuge in Geneva was the Vacherons, and in 1755, master independent watchmaker Jean-Marc Vacheron formed his manufacturer thanks, in part, to his belief in the entrepreneurial spirit. And, even more so, in his ability to craft watches that were far superior in comparison to other watchmakers. He felt that by forming a company, he could take his business to the next level, and he did.
With the operations in his neighborhood of Saint-Gervais, he crafted what is known as the oldest Vacheron timepiece in the world today. The silver pocket watch, which bears his signature of J: M: Vacheron A GENEVE on the movement. The timepiece, far ahead of its time, featured exquisitely crafted hands made from gold and a verge escapement. Even the balance cock is a testament to Vacheron’s abilities as he crafted it in delicate arabesques, which give it both a technical advantage as well as a beautiful aesthetic that became the signature of the Maison.
Conquering the French Revolution
As the French Revolution began, Jean-Marc started training his son Abraham as his apprentice in the hopes he would take over the manufacturer. In 1770, they crafted the world’s first complication, which means the watch does more than simply keep time. Fifteen years later, Abraham took over the company. His dedication, expertise, and understanding of his father’s craft gave him the unique ability to keep the Maison in business despite the Revolution and occupation of Geneva by the French Directory. Just as he had learned from his father Jean-Marc, Abraham took his son Jacques Barthélémi under his wing to keep the family-owned company alive.
In 1785, Jean-Marc Vacheron’s son, Abraham (1760-1843), took over the workshops.
Global Interest Prevails as Future Kings Delight in Vacheron Watches
Following the company’s incredible survival of the French Revolution, Jacques Barthélémi was handed the reins in 1810 and immediately began arranging exportation of their timepieces to France and Italy. They also began to increase production and ventured away from their classics in hopes of creating more complicated timepieces, such as musical watches that would appeal to French and Italian composers and artists. The new timepieces worked, and Vacheron began to see increased sales and popularity amongst Europe’s wealthiest consumers. They immediately became a favorite of Prince Charles-Albert of Carignano, the future king of Sardinia.
A Partnership is Born
Despite Vacheron’s success, Jacques-Barthélemi realized quickly that he couldn’t continue to run the business by himself with such rapid expansion overseas. He decided to seek out a partnership and in 1819, François Constantin joined the organization and it was rebranded as Vacheron & Constantin.
As Vacheron continued to run the business from Geneva, Constantin set out to travel the world and showcase the Maison’s timepieces. Immediately, the world took notice, and as new markets began to flourish, consumers in North America quickly became the company’s largest market. Legend has it that Constantin sent Vacheron a letter on July 5, 1819, while traveling. In the letter, he wrote, “Do better if possible and that is always possible.” It is this line that was adopted as the company’s motto and has remained as such for more than two centuries.
Sales skyrocketed and in 1824, Vacheron & Constantin launched the newly developed Jumping-Hours pocket watch. Encased in red-gold and fitted with an incredibly technical movement, it featured a cylinder escapement with a three-armed monometallic balance. An aperture at the 12-o’clock mark shows the jumping hours and it’s large central minutes hand was quickly noted as a very desirable feature. Quite the achievement, this watch quickly became a trademark piece for the company.
Not to be outdone, VC also launched a beautiful yellow gold watch with a case that shows a map of Italy handcrafted in blue champlevé enamel. Following its release, Vacheron & Constantin became known as artists as well as watchmakers thanks to the attention to detail and superlative design.
Offices Launch in America
With the success overseas in America, and Constantin having to travel the world over, the Maison retained the services of John Mangin, a salesman in New York who opened their first American offices and represented the Maison in North America. Business flourished and by 1835, Vacheron & Constantin had local sales representation in Brazil and Cuba as well.
The Biggest Asset Joins Vacheron Constantin
With the continual growth of the brand and the owner’s interest in maintaining quality despite larger quantities, they hired an inventor named Georges-Auguste Leschot in 1833 to oversee manufacturing. Although initially considered a rather risky move to hire an inventor instead of a watchmaker, Leschot proved to be a valuable commodity for the Maison and his inventions have had a huge impact on the watchmaking industry as a whole. Leschot was the driving force behind the standardization of watch movements into Calibers. He also created the pantographic device, which allowed watchmakers to engrave their smallest parts and dials. In fact, it was the pantographic device that really pushed Vacheron & Constantin past all the competition. The pantograph won the Rive Prize’s gold medal in 1844 from the Arts Society for “the discovery of the most value to the Genevese industry.” Leschot was arguably one of the most important people in the Maison and one of the leaders of the Swiss watch industry which propelled the brand into the future.
The Death of Legends Proves to Become a Resurgence
In 1854 Constantin died and Vacheron passed just nine years later in 1863. Following their deaths, the company was taken over by a series of heirs, including women, which was unusual for a company in those times.
The year before his death Vacheron pushed the company to become a member of the Association for Research into non-magnetic materials. Always interested in scientific watchmaking, Vacheron & Constantin launched the pocket chronometer in 1869 and by 1872 entered their watches in the inaugural chronometry competitions at the Geneva Observatory. They won distinctions, and this began a quest that saw them win many record-breaking achievements over the course of the next century.
By 1875, the company had expanded and could no longer continue work in its current facility. Jean-François Constantin, François Constantin’s nephew and the Maison’s leader, hired Jacques-Elysée Goss, an architect who was known for his design of Geneva’s Grand Théâtre opera house. A new facility was built on an island across the road from the former one. It immediately became the most modern manufacturer in Switzerland, and is today still home to the brand’s boutique and heritage museums.
Thanks to Vacheron’s interest in joining the Association for Research into non-magnetic materials before his death, ten years later, in 1885, the company created the world’s first nonmagnetic timepiece made from materials that could completely withstand magnetic fields. They made the balance wheel, balance spring and lever shaft from palladium, the lever arms from bronze and the escape wheel in gold. They changed the name of the company from Vacheron & Constantin to Vacheron & Constantin, Fabricants, Geneve in 1877 due to their ever-increasing global demand. Three years later, the Maltese cross was adopted as its official logo. It continues to be the symbol of Vacheron Constantin to this very day. Inspired by a part of their barrels, the component had a cross that would limit the tension of the mainspring.
1884 was another exciting year for the brand. They created the very first double-faced pocket watch fitted with a perpetual-calendar lever movement in gilt brass that is regulated by a bimetallic balance. Then, five years later, in 1889, the brand decided to launch a ladies wrist watch, which unbeknownst to them at the time, would be the birth of their popularity in the wrist watch market.
In 1901 history was made when the Hallmark of Geneva was created, and Vacheron Constantin became the first watchmaker to bear its name. A momentous occasion for the Maison, the hallmark is used to this day as a symbol of Swiss watchmaking excellence. Just five years later, the first boutique was launched, and Vacheron Constantin entered the modern world of wrist watches.
Although they continued to create some outstanding pocket watches, with the success of the ladies’ watch VC launched the curves tonneau case in 1912 and continued producing the wrist watches which they are now known for. By 1921, they began creating wrist watches exclusively for the American market. Pocket watches became more artistic whereas the wrist watch was designed with practicality and beauty in mind. In 1952, Vacheron Constantin launched a more modern shape of wrist watch but subsequently produced a pocket watch design with miniatures handcrafted in enamel. By the mid-1950s, VC produced ultra thin movements for their wristwatches and were known as a luxury watch brand for dress watches.
In 1957 Vacheron Constantin launched the classic style dress watch which became the symbol that they are known for today. Since then, their classic lines like the Patrimony have changed in appearance very little, and much of their current lineup takes its appearance from the 1957 launch that focused on simplistic elegance. Although the brand is renowned for their classic and elegant dress watches in the Patrimony range, they have also produced many other timepieces that focus on complicated functions, artistic appeal and even specialty watches for global travelers. Unlike most watch manufacturers, the designs of Vacheron Constantin watches don’t change drastically. Instead, the brand releases new models and technology but repeatedly come full circle, paying homage to the classic designs that made the brand what it is today.
Since 1996, the company has been owned by Richemont. They continue to operate separately from other manufacturers in the conglomerate and are still considered one of the finest watchmakers in the world, second in quality and prestige only to Patek Philippe. They continue to create some of the most iconic watches, which have included many of the world’s most expensive timepieces, as well as the most complicated wristwatch in the world: the “Tour de I’lle” was created in 2005 to mark the 250 year anniversary of Vacheron Constantin. The watch features 16 complications and is powered by 834 parts, all of which have been handcrafted. It is one of the few watches to sell brand new for over a million dollars.
This past year, Vacheron Constantin outdid themselves, creating the world’s most complicated mechanical watch, simply called the Reference 57260. It is the cumulative work of three watchmakers that spent almost a decade building the 57-complication bespoke timepiece. The watch is priced privately and estimated between $8 and $20 million.
Models and Collections
Currently, there are ten ranges of watches produced by Vacheron Constantin.
The purist of all Vacheron Constantin watches, the Patrimony timepieces of today pay homage to the classic stylings of 1957. A quintessential dress watch, there are multiple models available within this range and the ability to select various styles, precious metals, straps, and complications. Click here to get a beautiful Patrimony for daily wear or click here for one that’s perfect for an evening out to the opera or a black tie affair.
From simple and elegant dress watches to world timers, chronographs and diamond-encrusted wrist watches, the Traditionnelle range is a vast selection of various timepieces that all reflect the traditions of Swiss watchmaking. Despite an incredible array of aesthetics and styles, each of the watches within this family of timepieces pay tribute to the quality and craftsmanship Vacheron Constantin is known for. A perfect example of how Vacheron Constantin pushes the envelope but leaves individual models looking similar, this showcases their ability to group multiple watches in a family based on what the timepiece means to the men and women who built it. Click here to get this exquisite world timer if you’re a frequent traveler.
A smaller collection of just six current models, Harmony focuses on a very contemporary appearance, unlike their other models. All Harmony watches look like a cushion and unlike the Traditionnelle lineup maintain a similar semblance.
Another smaller seven-model range, the Malte line evokes the symbolic emblem Vacheron Constantin is known for. Highly technical, all the watches within the collection look similar with a unique barrel shape. Click here to get one.
Quai de l’Ile
A bespoke and made-to-measure experience for the customer, this range is also rather small and has a very modern appearance. However, despite similar aesthetics, the models are specifically designed for and curated by the customer who is able to customize the timepiece based on their desires. Visit your local or closest boutique to learn more.
Sleek and sporty, the Overseas collection was designed with the active gentleman, sports and world travel in mind, this is one of the few timepieces produced by Vacheron Constantin that isn’t intended as a dress watch. Currently, there are nine collections in the range with a few models and options in a number of the collections. Click here to get one in classic blue.
Creative, asymmetrical and designed with the dandy in mind, this range is unlike anything else sold by Vacheron Constantin. Uniquely bold, there are just three collections in this range, with the Small Model having six model options to choose from.
Playing on its reputation for bringing back its historic timepieces, this collection is a series of modern watches based on their historic and most iconic pieces.
A line dedicated to women, this focuses on recreating versions of the grand timepieces produced by the Maison in the 1920s, 1930s, and 1970s.
This collection of museum pieces is truly a work of art that showcases Vacheron Constantin’s relationship with the fine art world. It is truly a testament to the quality and expertise of their master watchmakers.
Perfect for the distinguished gentleman, the Patrimony in its most simple form with a steel case and cream dial make it the ideal dress watch for the corporate tycoon. Click here to get a beautiful Patrimony.
If you travel frequently for work or pleasure, having a watch that can keep up with your jet set lifestyle is mandatory. The Traditionelle World Time is the ideal watch for anyone moving through multiple time zones.
For the gentleman who enjoys an evening out, the brown or black dialed Patrimony is ideal for black tie events at the opera, symphony or just a formal dinner at home. To learn more about black tie watches, click here.
There is no watchmaker quite like Vacheron Constantin. Since the dawn of Swiss watchmaking, they have done things their own way and been successful at it. Their designs are vast, their knowledge unparalleled and the quality of their work is utterly superlative. To own a Vacheron Constantin is to own an original work of art. It is the Picasso or Van Gogh of the watch world, and whether it’s a classic Patrimony or an eccentric Métiers d’art, it is a watch capable of being passed down from generation to generation. Stay tuned for a feature all about the Patrimony.