Vacheron Constantin

Interview & Photography by: Mart Engelen

Ladies’ wristwatch 1889
 

Ladies’ wristwatch 1889


 

A conversation with Juan-Carlos Torres, CEO of Vacheron Constantin, the world’s oldest watch manufacturer, in continuous production for over 250 years. Connoisseurs and enthusiasts alike hold Vacheron in the highest esteem for the maison’s technical mastery and distinctive aesthetic.
 

Mart Engelen: How would you describe Vacheron Constantin as a brand?
Juan-Carlos Torres: Vacheron Constantin is not a brand but an institution. We build a brand but with an institution you have an other level of responsibility. Every person in the company stands for the transmission of this heritage. A brand is advertising, is market- ing. An institution is responsibility: an institution is responsible for transmitting the know-how of the traditional watchmaker.
ME: How would you describe its collectors?
CT: A person who knows what is high, traditional watch-making. Knowing what makes the difference between a complication creat- ing a lot of functions and the feeling that you have a complication giving an anima.
ME: Vacheron Constantin is one of the oldest watch manufacturers in the world. Does Vacheron Constantin, as an institution, have to follow trends these days?
CT: No. It’s not in our DNA to follow trends. Our concern is to always preserve a perfect balance between technique mastery and elegance of design as well as a high level of finishing. This is why our products have travelled so well in time. We do not follow trends be- cause, first of all, we are not a fashion brand that has to follow trends. ME: These days, with emerging markets in Asia and other conti- nents, you have to raise your production to make a profit. You are the patron of the European Metiers D’Art Days. With all these wonder- ful craftsmen who make these extraordinary timepieces, is it difficult to find new craftsmen?
CT: I think it’s difficult and easy at the same time. It is not difficult for Vacheron Constantin to hire people. The difficulty is to hire good people. When you hire somebody you have to train them. You have to invest up to three years and you expect them to become better. That is one way and that is not a problem. The second way for us to be sure we have good people is our apprenticeship programme. We now have more than 25 students as ‘apprentices in dual’ – meaning they spent three days here and two days at school every week. We have certified trainers. We are among the rare Maisons in Geneva with certification done by the government. That is why we are con- fident. I am a former apprentice and I have dedicated a lot of time to promoting this way of making a career.
ME: Do these apprentices come from Switzerland or from all over the world?
CT: They have to be resident in Switzerland to be part of the school. ME: You started at the company in 1981 and you became CEO in 2005.
CT: Correct.
ME: If you look at the last eight years, what are you proudest of? CT: Not only keeping but also developing the spirit of Vacheron Constantin. You know, this deep, deep involvement in our val- ues. First of all, to develop and also deeply instill these values not only in Geneva but also at our subsidiaries, boutiques and for our clients.
It’s a long route. Because it’s not that you can say that this is an old and stable company so nothing can happen. Anything can hap- pen. The most important is not only to make a good product but also to have the people know that you need them to make the prod- ucts. For example, the head of design of our company has worked here for 25 years. That also goes for our head of production who has worked here for almost 40 years. We have three generations of people. I have witnessed the evolution of the people who are working here.
ME: Through all these years…
CT: Exactly. I know how to keep the spirit. And also how im- portant that is. It’s not something you learn from a book. When something or somebody is going wrong you have to say “What’s that?” or “Why are you doing that?”. I don’t know all the people now but it’s very important to try to get to know somebody who has a problem and go deeply into the details.
ME: How can Vacheron Constantin continue to promote exclu- sive limited pieces for the future, at the top of the Metiers D’Art craftsmanship, while at the same time having more ‘standard’ and more popular watches?
CT: You must realise that we only produce 25,000 pieces. Years ago people would say 20,000 pieces was a lot. Our close competi- tors produce about 60,000 to 65,000 pieces. Which is also noth- ing. Everybody forgets one thing; we have the ‘standards’, mean- ing without China, India, Brazil. And we will add 1.5 billion people to the market in the next fifteen years. Twenty or thirty thousand pieces for Russia now is less than ten thousand twenty years ago. So actually that means that we remain more exclusive than before. Additionally, people know more about watches these days.
ME: Actually it’s exactly the same with art.
CT: Yes. It’s exactly the same.
ME: Talking about the future, when we look outside we can see you are expanding your building here in Geneva but you are also building Vacheron Constantin’s future with a new entity in the Vallée de Joux which has opened recently. Can you tell me a little bit more about this?
CT: Well, as you say, we have opened a new entity in the Vallée de Joux this year but we are also building our future here on the site of our Geneva-based headquarters. The floor area is set to double and thus reach a total of 17,000 square metres. This exten- sion of the Manufactory should be operational by the first quarter of 2015. We have built the company step-by-step following the pipeline theory. You cannot have the brand without re-perfecting the pipeline. You have to imagine the diameter of the pipe. You cannot have a large tube for distribution. You cannot have a large organisation in the Vallée de Joux that produces movements and then nobody here to set them. You have to achieve a good balance, meaning that the pipeline is the same in all aspects. We will also be opening many more boutiques to receive these products within the next three years.
 
 

Juan-Carlos Torres, CEO of Vacheron Constantin, Plan-les-Ouates, Geneva 2013
 

Juan-Carlos Torres, CEO of Vacheron Constantin, Plan-les-Ouates, Geneva 2013

 
 

Vacheron Constantin
 

Vacheron Constantin, Geneva 2013