From the Latin, ad vertere means which means "to turn toward", advertisement is almost as old as civilization it seems… or at least since man decided to make his goods known. In the oldest known collection of Chinese Poetry: the Shijing or Shih-ching, translated variously as the Book of Songs, Book of Odes (11th to 7th centuries BC) there are mentions of bamboo flutes played to sell candy!
The general population of Europe in the Middle Ages was unable to read and therefore instead of signs indicating their profession, those who had a good or service to sell would use an image associated with their trade. Fruits and vegetables were sold in the city square from the backs of carts and wagons and their proprietors used street callers to announce their whereabouts.
During the late 19th century Thomas J Barratt from London created what is considered today modern advertising. Working for the Pears Soap Company, Barratt created an effective advertising campaign for the company products, which involved the use of targeted slogans, images and phrases. One tactic that he used, and which is greatly in use in the luxury market today, was to associate the Pears brand with high culture and quality.
The beginning of the 20th century saw advertising transform into mass marketing - designed to influence the population's economic behavior on a larger scale. As industrialization expanded supply, factories needed to transform their workers into consumers of the same goods they were producing and thus relied heavily on advertisement.
At the same time psychology left the sofas of therapists to be used to « sublimate » the human desire of purchasing goods. Walter D. Scott said, “Man has been called the reasoning animal but he could with greater truthfulness be called the creature of suggestion. He is reasonable, but he is to a greater extent suggestible”.
But the watch industry, especially haute horlogerie (even though the term would only be coined some 80 or so years later), in a rather rural Switzerland was far away from mass marketing, psychological suggesting and behaviorism and some of Vacheron Constantin’s first advertisements seem to have a certain naivety of a bygone era which can seem refreshing.
Vacheron Constantin’s earliest advertisements date from 1900. At the time Vacheron Constantin tried to garner more attention through its publicity (which was either in the shape of posters or prints in newspapers) by using strong typos and more colors to create a greater visual impact. These illustrations are inspired by the designs in vogue at the time may it be Art Nouveau with their typical flower and arabesque motifs as well as Japanese imagery.
However, the equilibrium between text and illustration is still hard to find. These ads need time to look at, there is a profusion of details and words still dominate the page
The term “Sachplakat“ or Object Poster was first coined in Berlin in 1906 by Lucian Bernhard as a new type of poster doing away with the detailed filled Art Nouveau style aiming towards a realistic depiction of the product and little else.
Swiss artists, in the 20s-40s showed real attraction for precision printing and drawing techniques and adopted the Sachaplakt movement making it into a true art form. Shortly after, the iconic beauty of the everyday object became the mission of a group of artists in Basel, who made the Sachplakat the leading Swiss style. Filled with humor and stunning visual impact, these posters represent the last great period of the lithographic poster, which high cost and long production cycles was soon to eliminate
Maybe it was this new craze that pushed Vacheron Constantin to realize the need from going from a written medium to a graphic medium. Having a central and colorful illustration captures the eye which then can take in the information written on the ad.
In complete rupture of the Art Nouveau inspired imagery of the beginning of the century the illustrations are much simpler and the message is minimal. Impact is key, decorative elements are removed to in benefit of brand/product and much closer to what we see today.
Vacheron Constantin advertising starting the 40s is almost exclusively destined for the press including its own magazine l’Heure. In these adverts Vacheron Constantin continues giving center stage to its watches but linked to different illustrations capable of promoting its values and already highlighting its long history.
With its 200th anniversary around the corner, Vacheron Constantin in the early 1950s, tries to find a right balance between references to tradition and watchmaking excellence whilst at the same time giving a nod to modernity as wanting to show that it is a Maison firmly anchored in its era.
Surprisingly with a break with the previous decade’s Sachplakat, the ads of the 1950s are monochromes devoid of color
200 years of existence is a something to be proud of and in the 1950s Vacheron Constantin is happy to communicate on this anniversary and its creations, especially Calibre 1003 which became the world's thinnest manual winding movement, by once again having a break from the precedent decade’s advertisements by providing ample space for texts explaining the company’s history, expertise and values.
In the 1960s the message is simple: defense of individualities and the unique character of the watches
The 1970s were a rakish decade if there was one and the Vacheron Constantin ads of the time are a great reflection of this. Pop Art is the new thing and Vacheron Constantin ads renew with flashy colors. The main theme here seems to be the leisure style of life of Vacheron Constantin owners. The 1970s also sees Vacheron Constanton overtly targetting the fairer sex. These ads were run in women’s magazines and showed that as early as the beginning of the 1970s Vacheron Constantin wanted to become a strong player in ladies timepieces.
Probably due to the rebirth of the mechanical watch after the quartz crisis which almost saw the disappearing of the Swiss mechanical watch industry Vacheron Constantin wished to anchor its presence in its history and tradition starting in the 1980s and going well into the 2000s. There was a mix of texts and watches or only watches taking central figure but mostly with the now famous Von Ziegler’s painting (1879) of a Geneva cabinotier workshops of the 18th century..
The 21st century was for Vacheron Constantin the opportunity to set out a brand new concept of « Métiers d’Art » or artistic crafts. The goal being here to set forward the different horological crafts and arts whilst associating the brand with the world of arts and crafts in general. Even though this campaign ran for only 5 years stopping due to the 250th anniversary campaign the concept of Métiers d’Art has now become an integral part of the Vacheron Constantin communication strategy.
It is imporant to note that the watches pictured in these ads are not from the Metiers d'Art collection as we know it today but rather highlighting the different horological crafts.
2005 marked Vacheron Constantin’s quarter millennium anniversary. With this anniversary campaign Vacheron Constantin wanted to associate its name and image to the great events of history (inauguration of railroad, building of Eiffel Tower, Mozart composing his first opera etc…) and as such put its own history in perspective
Following its 250th anniversary Vacheron Constantin decides to continue focusing not only on its history but also on the fact that it is rooted firmly in Geneva and that the city has an important role in its DNA, with a new tagline « Founded in 1755 on an Island in Lake Geneva, and still there».
In these advertisements, Vacheron Constantin wished to merge both its past- by sketches representing important moments of its history and its present with shots of its timepieces.
This period also saw the opening of many boutiques in markets where Vacheron Constantin previously only had retailers and new advertisements were developed with a very modern sketches of the street the boutique was located in and contrasting heavily with the rather old fashioned general ads Vacheron Constantin was using!
The year Vacheron Constantin celebrates its 260th anniversary sees the arrival of a new campaign, focused on visual impact and a tag line: Crafting Eternity Since 1755. The advertisement is focused on a watch and the tagline but Vacheron Constantin’s history is always present with Ziegler’s cabinotier painting reflecting on the case flank and bezel of the watch. The tag line is there to highlight not only the fact that the brand is firmly rooted in its history but that it is here to stay!
Hi Alex, that is a great collection you've shared with us, thanks!
I like seeing the evolution of the Mètiers ďArt from a concept (which included the big date chronometer and retrograde PC) to the collection we see now.
to highlight the different horological crafts
A wonderful journey to the rich heritage of Vacheron Constantin!
If you wrote a book about it, I'd buy it.
Will enjoy reviewing this article for days! The early ads are a real study and one will notice the founding date shift from 1785 to 1755 (missing the 1810 date but I think we have an older post on that subject). Really appreciated the Minute Histories of the 50s as a concept that would be welcome today. I have a glossy picture book dedicated to railway posters and can certainly envision the same for vintage V&C ads. Wonderful topic, thanks Alex :-)
diversity of these vintage ads
Thank you for taking the time to compile this fabulous collection of advertisements!
That's an excellent review of Vacheron's marketing approach and how it has changed over the decades.
It is certainly one aspect of the watch world that one doesn't really see in detail. It was a fascinating read!
And that leads me to an SIHH project that just came to mind.
To design a advertising sheet, promotion, flyer etc. in conjunction with the VC marketing staff (like the OS chrono design) for a VC watch or watch category.
Thanks Alex. Another well researched and well written retrospective.
Great job as for every collector, these are very important input, and I deeply thank you both of you (I missed your post Kent in 2013 !) Wonderful ! I will save the one I miss !
in addition to what you shared