For 267 years, the master watchmakers and artisans at Vacheron Constantin have been giving us creations that stretch the imagination. Christian Selmoni, the heritage and style director at the Maison, gives us an insight into its success and the iconic piece in this year’s list of novelties
According to the Watches & Wonders official website, this year’s watch fair saw “38 leading watch brands showcasing their new products to an audience of nearly 22,000 visitors, combined with a global digital reach of more than 300 million.” It is no wonder Christian Selmoni, the heritage and style director at Vacheron Constantin, admits good-naturedly that he is tired.
“I know it looks like I haven't slept for a while, but it’s okay,” he quips, as he takes another sip of his morning coffee in Venice, Italy. He continues his hectic schedule from Geneva to Italy as Vacheron Constantin is participating in the 2022 edition of Homo Faber, an international exhibition celebrating artisanal talents in a wide range of disciplines. The Maison is present with its master artisans — a watchmaker, a gemsetter, an enameller and an engraver.
Selmoni’s excitement over his love for Vacheron Constantin comes across very clearly over zoom as he explains his role at the Maison. He took on his current role in 2017 but at the same time, he has kept one foot firmly set in the field of product design by being a style director. He adds, “In a nutshell, I wear two hats, one which is linked with creation, like supporting the design team, and also bringing a new ID, new concept, things from the archive. And the other is to communicate about the heritage, the legacy of Vacheron Constantin which is still relevant even though the company was founded 267 years ago.”
Selmoni joined Vacheron Constantin in 1990 as the sales administration manager, then became purchasing manager in 1992 and the production and purchasing director
in 1996, during which time he played a key role in overseeing all aspects of manufacturing and sourcing.
In 2001, he was tasked with incorporating all product-creation aspects of Vacheron Constantin — from concept to final prototypes and product launch — into a unique product department, notably responsible for the design and development of the company’s famous 250th-anniversary elements.
Selmoni was appointed the artistic director at Vacheron Constantin in 2010, with responsibilities including the long-term definition of products and future “product” tendencies for the Maison; its creative aspects as well as the development and consolidation of the Métiers d’Art workshops (artistic crafts such as enamel, engraving, gem-setting and guillochage), together with Les Cabinotiers workshop which includes design and development of made-to-order timepieces. In 2017, he was appointed style and heritage director, a position he has held until now.
A retrospective look
The website of the Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie (a not-for-profit foundation to promote and spread the reputation of watchmaking excellence around the world) says that the world’s oldest watch manufacturer has been in continuous operation since 1755 and the founder of the spirit of technical and precious Haute Horlogerie, Vacheron Constantin has been making horological history for over 260 years.
From the beginning, Vacheron Constantin devotes its every effort to perpetuate the spirit of Fine Watchmaking. The tradition of excellence that defines the Manufacture originates in the quality of execution of each of its watches. Its expertise is reflected in timepieces whose exceptionally refined finish goes beyond the demands of the Poinçon de Genève.
With such a rich history, there are ways to tell if a timepiece by Vacheron Constantin bears historical status. As Selmoni explains: “When you create a new watch, it’s very hard to say whether or not this watch would become important from the historical point of view. I think that some creations are particularly appreciated when they receive a lot of good feedback or comments or writings or commercial successes. It really depends. We have numerous watches, which are important from a historical perspective, or which became iconic. This is a successful watch that creates the status of being historically important.”
Someone like Selmoni who has longevity in the industry is able to answer how much the world of timepieces has changed over the last 20 years.
He begins by telling us that until the naughties, fine watchmaking was something for specialist collectors, it was a niche in the luxury world. It was at this time too, in early 2000 that fine watchmaking became much more recognised because some of the important Maison has been taken over by larger luxury groups.
He continues: “In addition, some fashion brands came into fine watchmaking as well and that has put a spotlight on our activity and I think watchmaking became much more connected with the luxury world. When we speak about changes in watchmaking in the last 20 years, we have seen the arrival of what I would call the modern history of watchmakers.”
This is in reference to the rise of many independent brands that have sprouted over the last 20 years that in Selmoni’s opinion “has been very much disruptive compared with the classic brands.” This he sees as a major change in the sense that it is just not about one or two changes in fine watchmaking but a shift toward sports watches versus dress watches, but also the arrival of great creativity in terms of shapes, material design, even functionality.
The good news is that the biggest change for Selmoni has been the fact that there are much more expressions in watchmaking since 20 years ago. “I think it gives the possibility to the public to know, to acquire, to address the interest in various styles of watchmaking. I think this puts this incredible popularity of fine watchmaking here since 20 years has been the major change.”
A very important segment
Not many people know this but Vacheron Constantin has been, for two centuries creating timepieces for women. The Maison has observed that women took a very early interest in watchmaking, these often come in the form of objects that would adorn their garments from the very first ladies’ pocket watches made at the turn of the 18th century to elegant contemporary creations of today.
Through Vacheron Constantin’s archives, the evolution of women’s watches can be traced from the origins of ladies’ watches commissioned very early in the history of the Manufacture, including a sculpted yellow gold watch with a quarter repeater and off-center small seconds dating from 1838. With the advent of the 20th century, the Maison’s feminine creations embody the spirit of the times, initially inspired by Art Nouveau, then Art Deco with jewelry watches. Cooperating with Vacheron Constantin’s French
agent Verger lasted until 1938 and also brought its share of new models dedicated to women — some of which featured cameos inspired by Asian art or Ancient Greece.
From the 1940s, women began wearing watches almost exclusively on the wrist. The geometrical lines of the Art Deco period gave way to more voluptuous shapes. Designed as jewels that tell the time, ‘secret’ watches with covers concealing the display of time were particularly popular at the time, and Vacheron Constantin displayed skills to create such designs.
In the wake of the excess of the 1970s, Vacheron Constantin experimented with new, uninhibited shapes for ladies’ watches, before adopting the sportier lines of the Overseas range dedicated to the contemporary woman. In addition, the Traditionnelle and Patrimony collections were designed to convey the technical sophistication and aesthetic refinement of women. This approach was seen in the launch of the Égérie watches: inspired by Haute Couture.
Selmoni says: “The ladies segment has always been very important for us. It is true that since the 1990s, when Vacheron Constantin came back on the track, after a difficult couple of decades, we made our comeback with more masculine and more technical pieces. But we always wanted to carry on with the feminine watches. And since 2020, we really have a strategy or a product strategy, which is to address ladies' watches through different expressions.”
“Yes, it’s very important for us and we are going to carry on in this direction, I think women are more and more interested in fine watchmaking and they are more interested in our watches. I think we have a lot of room to express ourselves in this area,” he adds.
Before letting Selmoni go about his very busy day, we ask him about this year’s Vacheron Constantin novelties at Watches & Wonders 2022 and what stood out for him. “It would be difficult not to mention the Historiques 222. It stands out in the collection because this is a kind of homage and we have reinterpreted this timepiece in 2022.”
He cites the Maison has been very much faithful to the original design with only slight improvements in terms of technicality and wearability. “The bracelet of this timepiece, the gold bracelet, is just amazing. It is very fluid, it is very supple. It’s very thin. And you know, it’s like a second skin and I think it’s a great success from the design point of view.”
Vacheron Constantin launches complex mechanical timepieces, Traditionnelle perpetual calendar ultra-thin and the Patrimony self-winding timepieces
The new Traditionnelle possesses fine details such as the guilloché work on the dial; the gem-set minutes track; the contours of the Maison’s Maltese cross emblem on the links of a bracelet; the small flame-blued screw serving as a seconds indicator on a tourbillon carriage and the mirror polish of a minute-repeater hammer.
The timepiece houses the in-house Calibre 1120 QP that elegantly plays on the distinctive aspects of the Gregorian calendar. It displays the days, dates, months, and years on a four-year cycle, including a leap-year indication, without any need for correction before 2100. This calendar display is complemented by a moonphase indication at 6 o'clock. Another distinctive feature of this movement is its thinness: measuring only 4.05 mm thick, it is housed in an 8.43 mm-thick case with a 36.5 mm diameter, ensuring perfect visual harmony.
The Patrimony self-winding watch is inspired by a historical 1957 Vacheron Constantin piece with a classic round, ultra-thin style, and timeless elegance. Since its launch in 2004, the proportions of the new Patrimony models have been revisited. The timepiece seduces with the curve of the 36.5 mm-diameter case in 18K white gold or 18K 5N pink gold have been redesigned, while the crown has been subtly rounded.
The slightly convex dial swept over by leaf-shaped hands following its curves features subtle shades of deep blue for the white gold version and blush pink for the pink gold version. These colours appear in a gradient-effect composition that highlights the depth of the display of the hours, minutes and seconds. The date disc at 6 o'clock has the same colour as the dial and in the subtle play of gemsetting on the models.
A fan favourite Historiques 222 makes a comeback
Vacheron Constantin presents a contemporary re-edition of the 37 mm-diameter yellow gold 222 "Jumbo”: an iconic timepiece from the 1970s. The 222 was an emblematic "sporty-chic" model launched in 1977 that marked a turning point in Vacheron Constantin's classic creations.
With its monobloc flat-based tonneau-shaped case topped by a fluted bezel, this timepiece with integrated bracelet displayed a robust, functional and sporty spirit with elegance stemming from the purity of its lines and the finesse of its curves. This re-edition in the Historiques collection is faithful to the original model, albeit with a few adjustments in the interests of comfort and enhanced reliability. The case adorned with a Maltese cross emblem at 5 o'clock has an exhibition back serving to reveal the new-generation in-house Calibre 2455/2 featuring an oscillating weight redesigned for this model. Operating at a rate of 28,800 vibrations per hour.
It offers optimal precision with a level of finishing just as meticulous as that of the original model. The aesthetic codes of the initial 222 model have been respected: a gold-toned dial with straight hour- markers and baton-type hands whose luminescence takes on a green-tinted hue at night, in reference to the tritium used on the original 222. The articulation of the bracelet has been redesigned to ensure a more ergonomic feel.