Vacheron Constantin is a Swiss manufacture of prestige watches and a brand of the Richemont group. It employs around 400 people worldwide, most of whom are based in the manufacturing plants in Geneva and Vallée de Joux
The company was founded in 1755 by Jean-Marc Vacheron, an independent watchmaker in Geneva, Switzerland. This makes it one of the oldest watch manufacturers in the world with an uninterrupted history. Besides being a young businessman, Vacheron was also a talented craftsman. In 1770 his company created the first complication, and nine years later he designed the first engine-turned dials.
The son of Jean-Marc Vacheron, Abraham, took over the family business in 1785. During this period, the company was able to survive the French Revolution (1789–1799). Later, in 1810, Jacques-Barthélemy Vacheron, the grandson of the founder, became the head of the company. He was the first to initiate the company’s exports to France and Italy.
Later, Jacques-Barthélemy realized that he was not able to handle his business alone. In order to travel overseas and sell the company’s products, he needed a partner. Consequently, in 1819 François Constantin became an associate of Vacheron. The company continued its activity under the name Vacheron & Constantin.
François Constantin traveled around the world and marketed watches. Thus he helped the company to open new markets. The main market was North America. The company’s motto (which remains today), “Do better if possible and that is always possible,” first appeared in Constantin’s letter to Jacques-Barthélémy. The letter was dated July 5, 1819.
In 1839 Vacheron and Constantin hired Georges-Auguste Leschot. His job was to supervise the manufacturing operations. Leschot was an inventor and his creations turned out to be successful for the company. His inventions had a great impact on the watchmaking industry in general. He was the first person to standardize watch movements into Calibers.
In 1844 Georges-Auguste Leschot was awarded with a gold medal. The Arts Society of Geneva highly appreciated his pantographic device, a device that was able to mechanically engrave small watch parts and dials. This invention pushed Vacheron & Constantin forward much further than other watchmakers.
Later, after Constantin’s death in 1854, and Vacheron’s death in 1863, the company was taken over by a series of heirs. At one point, the company was headed by two women.
In 1862 Vacheron Constantin became a member of the Association for Research into non-magnetic materials. Later in 1885, the company created the first nonmagnetic timepiece which included a complete lever assortment made of materials able to withstand magnetic fields. Its construction included a balance wheel, balance spring and lever shaft that were made of palladium, the lever arms—in bronze and the escape wheel was in gold.
In 1877 “Vacheron & Constantin, Fabricants, Geneve” became the official name of the company. In 1880, Vacheron & Constantin started using its symbol, which is kept till nowadays, the Maltese cross. The latter was inspired by a component of the barrel. The part had a cross-shape and it was used for limiting the tension within the mainspring.
In 1887, Vacheron & Constantin was reorganized into a stock company. For the remarkable achievements of the company it was awarded with a gold medal at Swiss National Exhibition. The event took place in Geneva in 1887. Fabergé’s 1887 Third Imperial Egg contained a Vacheron Constantin Lady’s watch as the surprise.
The first boutique in Geneva was opened by Vacheron Constantin in 1906. This store can be seen today on Quai de l’Ile. During the Great Depression Vacheron & Constantin found itself in a difficult situation and the only one to bring hope was Charles Constantin. He became the head of the company in 1936 and it was the first time since the 1850s that a representative of the Constantin family received the position of Vacheron & Constantin’s president.
During World War II the company’s sales decreased considerably. However, Vacheron & Constantin was able to come back on the watch market due to Georges Ketter
To outline the beginning of the 3rd century of its watchmaking the company created Patrimony—the world’s thinnest mechanical watch at that time which was only 5.25 mm thick.
In 1970 the “&” was dropped from Vacheron & Constantin.
In 1979 Vacheron Constantin made Kallista, one of the most expensive wristwatches. Its initial price was $5 million, but today the watch is valued at about $11 million. Kallista had 118 emerald-cut diamonds. It took about 6,000 hours for the watch masters to make this watch and about 20 months for jewelers to enrich the watch.
When Jacques Ketterer died in 1987, Vacheron Constantin changed hands. However its sales increased and today the company produces about 20,000 timepieces per year. Sheik Ahmed Zaki Yamani, former Oil Minister of Saudi Arabia, Harvard MBA, and avid watch collector, became majority shareholder, who then folded VC into his personal portfolio of holdings. There are those that would argue that VC stagnated during this phase. As with any subjective generalization, this may not be entirely fair or accurate. In 1996 the entire share capital of the company was bought by Richemont Group.
In 2003 Vacheron Constantin introduced a new sports line called Overseas, and a collection called Egérie, the first to include watches for women.
In 2004 Vacheron Constantin opened its new headquarters and manufacture in Plan-les-Ouates, Geneva.
The Richemont Group named Juan Carlos Torres as the Chief Executive Officer of the company in October 2005. Vacheron Constantin is considered to be company that was able to create one of the most complicated wristwatches in the world entitled “Tour de I’lle”. It was created in 2005 to mark the anniversary of 250 years of Vacheron Constantin. The watch includes 834 parts and 16 horological complications. It was only available through the Vacheron Constantin shop in Geneva, Switzerland and sold for more than $1 million.
In 2007 Vacheron Constantin introduced the Metiers d’Art ‘Les Masques’ collection of timepieces featuring miniature reproductions of primitive art masks. The company selected twelve masks from a private museum collection and reproduced the masks on a small scale. The miniaturized masks are featured in the dial center of every watch from the ‘Les Masques’ collection.
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