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Vacheron Constantin - Interview: Juan Carlos Torres

Vacheron Constantin Interview: Juan Carlos Torres

At the SIHH, Juan Carlos Torres, current CEO of Vacheron Constantin, but non-executive president from 1st April, answered our questions.

Last year, Vacheron Constantin launched a number of entry-level watches. This year, everyone is talking about two bespoke pieces that go for over a million euros. So, why is 2017 so different from 2016?
We do have products at lower price levels; they are part of our Patrimony Moon Phase and Retrograde Date ranges, as well as the new Overseas. We also have some products that we have presented to our clients but not to the press, which will be made public in the second half of the year. But these aren’t entry-level products. Our mission is to pay tribute to watchmaking excellence. Following on from the 57260 [the most complicated pocket watch in the world], we are focusing on the two main elements of this piece: the chiming function and astronomy. For the chimes, we are taking a classical approach, placing the emphasis on purity of style and purity of sound, with the Symphonia Grande Sonnerie 1860. As far as astronomy is concerned, we are using modern surface treatments and a contemporary approach to information, providing 23 complications in the Celestia Astronomical Grand Complication 3600.

The movement of the Symphonia is not exclusive to you, however.
We developed this project from the ground up. Ten years ago, we had a meeting with Robert [Greubel, through his development unit CompliTime, a sister company of Greubel Forsey] and I said to him, “Why don’t we develop a product together?” He said yes, and we gradually defined our requirements and how we would work together. We started out with a joint team; a watchmaker from us would go over to him, and then come back. We have many things in common, but we each wanted to prioritise a different aspect. I wanted it to sound good; he wanted safety features. This is one of the only minute repeaters that can’t go wrong. Our clients won’t be coming back to us with a broken movement, because they tried to adjust the time while it was striking. We also made the aesthetics, the purity, a priority.

What was your aesthetic inspiration?
We drew inspiration from the late 1920s, the start of the Art Deco movement. This style can be found in Vacheron Constantin watches from that period. We have already sold the first one, and have enough orders to keep us busy for three years.

But it costs over a million euros!
That’s why we chose to go for joint development. Inventing a product like that costs millions. It’s an investment, but if you look at it another way, it’s just time. And it helps us to maintain our savoir-faire. Young watchmakers, working their way up through the ranks, work on minute repeaters before moving on to a grande sonnerie, and then others come in take their place. They pass on their expertise. This creates an internal climate of emulation and evolution.

“Watchmaking excellence is our business.”

Where are you in terms of integrating your manufacturing operations?
Ten years back we produced very few movements. Last year, we reached the point where we now make 100% of our own movements, as well as 100% of our escapements and 100% of our balance springs. It’s what people expect: that the oldest watch manufacture in the world should be fully self-sufficient. And now that we are 100% manufacture, we’re telling people about it. We make our own balance springs. A. Lange & Söhne ships us the raw materials, and we prepare them, shape them and temper them. They’re our balance springs. It makes things simpler when we have bespoke projects, and it’s more appropriate for the quantities we produce.

And yet you are once again using the 1142 movement, based on the Lemania CH27.
These are very small quantities, and we make them, finish them and assemble them. We concluded a licensing agreement with Lemania [now known as the Manufacture Breguet]. We also modified the movement to make it compliant with the Geneva Hallmark, in line with 100% of our output. We are used to working collaboratively, but we only work with the very best.

Could you give us some idea of the size of your distribution network?
We currently have 364 retailers and 63 boutiques (31 Vacheron Constantin boutiques and 32 external) making a total of 427 points of sale. We have no plans to grow further. We want to establish a benchmark, to become a reference from which we can control our network. We also wanted a space where we could present the complete collection, which is not possible with retailers. That has enabled us to place watchmakers specifically trained on our products inside the boutiques, and to improve the quality of our after-sales service.

After-sales service is a major source of dissatisfaction among clients.
When I took over as head of the brand, we had waiting times of eight months for repairs to pieces in our current collections. We have reduced that to thirty days. We make the most of the Richemont group’s infrastructure and logistics, and we have opened local repair centres. We have five centres in Europe, five in the USA and four in China.

In the last ten years you have brought out dozens of different watches. How do you maintain a coherent signature, a Vacheron Constantin identity?
We use the same designer. It’s the same style – the style of our chief designer, Vincent Kaufman, who works in tandem with Christian Selmoni, our artistic director. They have known each other for 25 years. Vacheron is all about feeling, it’s tactile. We are a Latin brand in the way we treat things and people. You can feel it. Our products are also special, they’re made for connoisseurs. They know about different techniques; they appreciate the difference in quality. Over the last ten years we have also brought in craftsmen to do our engraving, enamelling, gem-setting and guillochage. This strengthens our footprint as a haute horlogerie watchmaker. The concept might be over-used, but we operate in genuine respect for watchmaking excellence. That’s where we wanted to position ourselves when we drafted our big strategy plan ten years ago.

What was in this strategy plan?
We recently compared what we promised with what we achieved between 2005 and 2015: 100% manufacture; control of our networks; integration and mastery of hand crafts; transmission of expertise; Ateliers des Cabinotiers, our bespoke watches; a focus on our heritage and its preservation; collaboration with schools and colleges; 100% Geneva Hallmark. We wrote it all down, and we’ve ticked every box.

The brand

An exploration of the history of Vacheron Constantin is a voyage of discovery, revealing the excellence of age-old watchmaking. Each timepiece is the result of the creative inspiration of the watchmaker or craftsman, dedicating their knowhow to the birth of outstanding watches. The Manufacture also works within a social and environmental code of ethics, and has had Responsible Jewellery Council certification since 2012.

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