Vincent Kauffmann has been Design Director at Vacheron Constantin since 2000. In fact he actually created the department from a one man team to the creative think tank it is today. As a young student he had opted for studies in graphic but people advised him against it. Wanting to remain in a creative function he studied decorative arts with a specialisation in jewellery. After working in a jewellery workshop he joined Rolex (in administration). That’s where he decided he wanted to join the watch industry.
Tell me how you came to become Vacheron Constantin’s Design Director?
In 1990 I joined Vacheron Constantin in administration, however slowly I started getting involved in creation. At the time Vacheron Constantin outsourced its case designs, but I worked on the dials. The big change took place in 1999-2000 when the design studio we worked with was sold to a brand and it was decided to bring all the expertise inhouse and create a true design department. A department which I head today and which is composed of 3 other designers and a digital designer
What advice would you give to a young designer who would love to work for a high end watch brand like VC?
I think that he or she should have a taste for mechanical and technical pieces. If working for an old historical brand such as VC he or she would need the ability to envelope him or herself into the brand’s DNA, and an aptitude to work on products which can seem ultra classical but which need to be in harmony with their time. For a young designer who would want to join VC I would also suggest working for a couple of other brands before and not start with such detailed and sophisticated pieces.
Where do you get your inspiration?
Tough question as it can come from any where, my surroundings, architecture or even a book I read, but I would say the main source would be the automobile.
the design team's private museum of kitsch
Is each designer specialised in one product line?
Ideally no, but when a designer works on a big project or a new line he or she needs time to focus on that one singe project which can take over a year to come to fruition so he or she will work on only one project.
Do you still design or do you just oversee the work of your team?
Today I design less and work more on special products like the bespoke pieces or the future boutique line.
the design team:
What is the creation process of a watch?
We always start with the movement and at different committees we decide in what model range this movement is to be housed and the designer’s work starts from here. For example with the recent Patrimony Traditionnelle cal 2253 our big challenge was on the proportions. The movement is rather thick, it has volume. We also work on projects without having had a specific demand and we either use certain elements for other creations or we can actually offer new designs for future pieces.
Once the brief for a new piece is set I first do some sketches by hand to get a general idea of the look and feel, then I start working on a 2D design, once satisfied our 3D designers makes a three dimensional image which enables us to have a good view on proportions. We then pass on the project to our Product Development team who will have our suppliers make wax then brass prototypes of the cases as well as prototype dials. Like this we can see what the actual timepiece can look like and make modification when needed.
a wax model of the Patrimony Traditionnelle World Time case
design tests for Malte watches
How many projects do you work on per year?
It’s difficult to say but we are each continuously are working on 15 different projects.
Let’s take for example the Patrimony Traditionnelle, how does that work? The marketing team set out the design elements or you had free reign?
The reflections on the Traditionnelle came when we decided that the Patrimony Contemporaine needed to remain slim, it’s a very elegant and refined watch and adding thickness to the case would have destroyed the design. So we decided to launch a second line of round watches which could house complications which by essence are thicker. I was totally free in my creation. I first worked on the case band, I wanted a case which would look as good with a thin movement as with a thick one by creating different levels as to avoid a “tuna can” look. I wanted the Patrimony Traditionnelle to have a very horological and technical look, it needed to be uncluttered, pure yet avoid seeming over engineered. I did a lot of research on VC’s vintage dials from the 40s-50s. I really liked the different tones and surface finishes of the dials from that time and I tried to recreate a modern reinterpretation.
Why are all the major complications housed in the Patrimony Traditionnelle? Some Loungers tend to find the case too straight on the sides.
In the early 2000s one major issue watch collectors had with us was that we did not have consistent designs and almost each watch or complication had its own case, meaning we did not have an immediately identifiable design. Today we have set visual codes for our different collections it took a lot of time and each of our collections are easily identifiable and it wouldn’t make sense doing the exact contrary now.
Some of our complicated movements, particularly the calibre 2253, are thick and the Patrimony Traditionnelle case actually reduces the impression of thickness as we have controlled the slope of the bezel and case back as well as the different levels of the case band. We have done tests with more curvy cases and believe me visually the watch looked thicker, the result was not satisfactory.
How do you choose the models in the Historiques collection?
I often go to the Patrimony department of VC and can have a true love at first sight with certain pieces which I want to reinterpret for the Historique collection. There are quite a few in the pipeline for the future.
Les Historiques Aronde 1954:
The Historiques aside, do you often seek inspiration in Vacheron Constantin’s past creations?
I obviously have images of our heritage in my head, but the danger is to keep looking back. I try to keep an open mind; the danger is to re create “fake” vintage pieces. We have an exceptional heritage but the goal is to create modern Vacheron Constantin pieces. Typically the Quai de l’Ile case.
Wasn’t the Quai de l’Ile too contemporary for the image of an über classical brand that most clients have of VC?
I think that there was a general consensus that the case is beautiful and even though it is a contemporary design it remains very Vacheron. We went pretty far with the transparent dials in terms of design and printing techniques. I don’t think that the QDI shocked people but it was launched at a bad time…basically a few weeks after Lehman Brothers went bankrupt and the beginning of the crisis.
Do you regret the launching of the full dials?
Interestingly it’s when the new full dials were presented that people started giving kudos to the transparent one making the first generation more emblematic. But I can understand, our clients had been asking for full dials from the beginning. Today the choice of personalisation is even greater. I think the transparent dials appeal to people like the Loungers and the full dials to a larger audience.
Will we see other new models as bold and avant guard as pieces such as the Quai de l’Ile, the Masks or Sputnik?
Design wise these are the most exciting and challenging pieces and we’re currently working on something very special, but you have to wait a bit
A new model range or a special limited edition?
It’s going to be a limited series. We have the Quai de l’Ile model range which will house our more contemporary cutting edge models and we should focus on this. For us the Quai de l’Ile is a research laboratory.
The Sputnik (made in a limited edition for the Sputnik's 50s anniversary)
You started your career by designing dials. Can you explain why we see so many useless inscriptions on the dials?
These are remnants of a certain era but it is tending to disappear and I agree that it doesn’t add anything and it can bee too much. We still have antimagnetic written on the Overseas because at the time it was something new for us and we wanted to indicate it to our clients. The final choice comes from the marketing department, they can ask for inscriptions and our role is to make these inscriptions fit in the final design as harmoniously as possible and for it to be graphically a plus.
Have you refused a design?
Before starting working on a design there are many brainstorming sessions and that’s the time where ideas are exchanged, so it’s at that time where we set the design elements. So if I refuse anything, which I have it’s during these sessions.
What is VCs strategy with regards to creating a new collection dedicated to ladies?
We’re working on this but I can’t say more.
Why does it seem so difficult for a technical watch brand like VC to create a ladies model range?
First we need to put aside our way of working and think out of the box. We have to change our vision of the watch as a purely technical watch and shift perspectives. With women’s watches we work on pure design then think of the mechanics.
Other than the Overseas will we see other models with metal bracelets?
We have certain Patrimony models with gold bracelets. If your question is will we have a metal bracelet for our more mainstream watches I will answer no. It’s very difficult designing a metal bracelet for a watch which was originally conceived with a strap. We can always work on something if there is a strong demand.
Will we see more blue dials?
Overseas chronograph with blue dial made in limited edition for Greek market in 2010
Will we see the annual calendar in another collection?
I don’t know
Will we see a simple minute repeater?
Are you working on pocket watches and clocks?
Last year we introduced a pocket watch in the Excellence Platinum Collection. There are some very exciting projects I’m working on but can’t say more.
Will the brand continue on the Excellence Platine Collection?
Yes, it is a fantastic line, the concept is very strong and visually the platinum dials are a treat.
Current tastes have pushed for larger cases but the movements have stayed small. Which means that all indications (chronographs, QP) end up cluttered in the center of the dial. How do you deal with this?
We use the empty space by creating larger indexes or indications. For example with the chronographs we create larger telemeters or tachometers which consequently become more legible.
Do you think we will go back to the 36mm-37mm of the pre 2000s?
I hope not! I don’t think so either. First of all with bigger watches the dials are more legible and from a designers view it is more exciting to have room on a dial, we can better express ourselves. Also today, 35mm-36mm diameters are dedicated to ladies watches so we may see some very specific unisex limited pieces within that diameter but I don’t see it happening for any timepiece focusing men.
What are your 3 favourite designs from VC of the past 10 years?
Quai de l’Ile undoubtedly, the future boutique pieces and the 250th anniversary models. All three were fine exercises in design.
From a purely design perspective what are the brands you like most?
Panerai because the sense of proportion is perfect. I admire Journe, his cases are very simple but graphically his dials are fantastic. The IWC Portuguese is also a fine design and I discovered a great new brand this year at Basel: Ressence.
If you had total freedom, what would your dream watch look like?
My dream watch is a watch which would be beautiful but where no one could explain why or put forward one element rather than the other. A watch which would have its design totally ruined if you added or removed something, yet something extremely innovative in terms of time display.
Do you wear a hat?
That's a strange question!
I know but it's one of the English Lounger's who wanted to know
OK I understand now! I don't wear hats but do wear caps!
instead of Internet Explorer?
The images are all disproportionally stretched for me using Firefox, Safari and Chrome (all on a Mac).
…thanks for the image update and the interesting article.
Otherwise I prefer Google Chrome, since it's cleaner,
but find it difficult posting there as well as at Safari.
At Safari it's no possibility to post at all so I buried that one.
Firefox, I personally find otherwise a bit 'overdone',
while Chrome is clear and easy to overview.
Interesting if someone else share my opinion.
The article is beautiful in it's layout,
with magnific pictures!!
Comngrats Alex to a really nice work
for this large Loungers' interview.
Love more and more Vacheron Constantin each time I read and learn more about their philosophia of creations and historical inherance.
Wait to discover all new models: Excellence platine, New Boutique Editions, blue dials, ladies collection... etc...
All the best for VC and all their teams.
Thanks for sharing,
Thanks Alex and Vincent for sharing the moment! I see Alex you must have had a list of our gripes and it was most thoroughly addressed. I for one appreciate knowing the "why" of something whether or not I agree and now can accept or understand some of the issues mentioned in past posts. Please, please keep up this theme of frank discussions with VC staff; its the real "meat" of the Lounge .
Enlightening to hear of Vincent's appreciation of Journe and the Portuguese line of IWC...has he any comments on the Blu brand designs of Bernard Lederer?
and Alex for a true Quality interview. Well done and really a true joy to read.
Many, many thanks,
he was not familiar with Lederer's watches. he checked on the net but its not his cup of tea.
A fruitful and worthwhile meeting to share thoughts, ideas and aspirations.
Discussions with VC staff should be the rule rather than the exception.
Well done, Alex and a big thank you to Vincent.
I now have to stop ALL DISCRETIONARY spending, for who knows how many years, in order to accumulate enough in the watch fund for that future "simple minute repeater".
I guess bread and water isn't THAT bad.
I have seen recently with a friend.
a great pleasure to hear how it rings.
Really enjoyable meeting. He is maybe thinking to sale it.... for another purchase!!!
I think thats why I love repeaters so much! BR, Dan
Excellent read. That Les Historiques Chrono is such a lovely piece, even despite (...) its "tiny" diameter. Almost bought the platinum versium with salmon dial.........thinking of it, I have no clue why I passed on it back then.
interesting conversation. The pipeline sounds healthy!
Thank you Alex for putting together this brilliant interview and thanks too to Mr. Kauffman for sharing his work environment and insights into watchmaking and watches in general.
I must say that many of our (lounger's) questions seemed to have been answered and it is nice to know that we have quite a few things to look forward too (although I wish I could do more than just "look").
I am also glad that we share a common admiration for brands like Panerai, Journe, and IWC (Portuguese).
Thanks again for the great read and I look forward to seeing more of Vincent's designs in the near future.
My long and boring question was completely answered , I am very happy, thanks to you and Mr Kaufmann !
But as a stubborn french and so a complete maverick, I do believe some modifications could have been done on the bezel and caseback on complicated Patrimony
The identity point is a complicated one, but coming from where Vacheron was I get it completely.
Simple minute repeater and more bold design, this is very exciting !
Again congrats for the Job done, what I love by VC watches are that they are not only beautiful but sometimes there is a "spirit" . Typically the American 1921 and les années folles, or The Aronde and Art Déco.
The Patrimony contemporaine and the pure design , like a end of 60s design, Maserati Ghibli to make a parallel with automobile or the very first sery of Lamborghini Countach LP400. That's for me "Vacheron's touch" .
Alex: if ever a sticker is made "Vacheron's touch" I promiss to put it on my car
I found Vincent's insites fascinating and I appreciate his comments of bringing more historic pieces into the 21st century. I will definitely look forward to those.
And of course he was instrumental in making my Atelier watch a reality.
Vacheron is indeed fortunate to have someone of his capabilities as head of their design team!
really taking historical pieces into the 21st century
because of heritage, i really love these designers , brits and italian ...
burberry prorsum, andrea pompilio, tom dixon and poltrona frau
luxurious updated designs with pragmatic approach !