Vacheron Constantin History
You may have heard the Vacheron Constantin name before when looking at a watch or handling another prestigious watch brand. The fact is, Vacheron Constantin produces its own prestigious watches, but it also supplies movements for many other Swiss manufacturers.
Currently, Vacheron Constantin is a Swiss manufacturer and a brand of the Richemont group. Johan Rupert, a South African businessman, founded the Richemont group in 1988. The group is responsible for designing, manufacturing, and distributing jewelry, watches, writing instruments, accessories, among other items. Vacheron Constantin currently employs 400 people internationally. Most employees are based on two areas: Geneva and Vallee de Joux. Famous historical figures that have owned Vacheron Constantin watches include Napoleon Bonaparte, Pope Pius XI, Duke of Windsor, and Harry Truman, among other notable individuals.
Vacheron Constantin was founded in 1755 by Jean-Marc Vacheron. Vacheron was an independent watchmaker in Switzerland who wanted to put his skills to good use and found a company. The brand is one of the oldest brands in the history of watchmaking without any interrupted brakes. Vacheron was extremely talented. Only 15 years after founding his company, he created the first complication and shortly thereafter, the first engine-turned dial.
Around 1785, Abraham, the son of Vacheron, took over control of the company. Surprisingly, the brand has survived much historical turmoil like the French Revolution. In 1810, the son of Abraham took over the company. This man was known as Jaques-Barthelemy Vacheron. With his help, Vacheron watches and parts that were produced began to be exported to other countries like France and Italy. As the company grew, it became much harder to manage it. Higher demand of meant much more work. In order to travel and sell products, Jacques teamed up with Francois Constantin in 1819 to form a partnership. This is when the name officially became known as Vacheron & Constantin.
With the help of Constantin, the brand quickly introduced itself into new global markets like North America. During this time while Constantin was travelling the globe to introduce Vacheron & Constantin products to potential buyers, he wrote a letter to Vacheron saying, “do better if possible and that is always possible.” This became the company’s official motto. As the brand expanded even more, a new individual was hired to keep up with the demand. This man was known as Georges-Auguste Leschot. He was hired to supervise the manufacturing operations. Leschot had a knack for creativity and he was very useful for the company. He was the first man to standardize watch movements into Calibers. Caliber or more officially, “calibre,” refers to the internal mechanism of a watch. Nowadays it is used to refer to a specific model. Watch manufacturers use their own system to identify movements.
In 1844, Leschot was awarded a gold medal at the Arts Society of Geneva for his pantographic device. This invention was able to mechanically engrave small watch parts and dials. As a result, Vacheron & Constantin was pushed way ahead of other watchmakers at the time. Constantin passed away in 1854 and Vacheron in 1863. The company was taken over by a series of heirs.
During the 1860s, the company became part of the Association for Research into non-magnetic materials. Shortly thereafter, Vacheron & Constantin was responsible for creating the first nonmagnetic timepiece that included a complete lever assortment made of materials that were able to resist magnetic fields. The important mechanisms that allowed this ability were made of palladium, while other parts of gold.
In 1877 the official name of the company became Vacheron & Constantin, Fabricants, Geneve. Three years later, the company started using the symbol that identifies it in the present day – the Maltese cross, which was inspired by a component of the barrel. Almost a decade later, the company was awarded with a gold medal at the Swiss National Exhibition for its achievements in the field of watchmaking.
In 1906 Vacheron & Constantin opened up its first boutique in Geneva, which can be seen today. During the Great Depression, the company faced tremendous difficulties. Charles Constantin, however, took charge and played a huge role in keeping the company afloat. Constantin’s role was the first time since the 1850s that an original Constantin held a position in the company. During World War II, the brand faced tremendous difficulties yet again, but Georges Ketter was able to resist much of the financial pressures.
Vacheron & Constantin has many innovative creations in the world of watchmaking. The company has been credited for making the world’s thinnest pocket watch at the time. This watch was known as the Patrimony and it measured 5.25 mm in thickness! In the late 1970’s, Vacheron Constantin produced the Kallista, which is one of the most expensive wristwatches. Initially, the watch was worth $5 million, but it fetches as much as $11 million in the present day. The watch was very difficult to produce. It has been said that it took over 6,000 hours to make it and over 20 months for jewelers to adorn it with 118 emerald-cut diamonds. Around this time the company also dropped “&” from its name.
In 1987 Ketterer died and the company was taken over by yet another pair of hands. Despite this loss, Vacheron Constantin grew and its sales increased worldwide. The company produces approximately 20,000 wristwatches every year. Sheik Ahmed Zaki Yamani became a majority shareholder during this transitional period.
In 2003, Vacheron Constantin introduced two new watch lines called Overseas and Egerie. Egerie was the first collection to include watches for women. In 2005, the company created one of the most complicated watches in the world known as the “Tour de I’lle”. The watch includes 834 parts and 16 complications. It sold for over $1 million.
The most recent of the company’s collections is the “Metiers d’Art Les Masques”, which features miniature reproductions of primitive masks on the face of the dials.
Vacheron Constantin is continuing to grow everyday through the production of rare and unique watches. We have some watches in our showcase and encourage you to come take a look.
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