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Do you ever wonder how certain models are designed, what the rational is behind a specific collection and generally what product development is? If this is the case, the interview of Christian Selmoni, Product Marketing Director of Vacheron Constantin will definitely interest you. In a very open, frank and candid discussion Christian tells us about what’s going on inside Vacheron Constantin today and gives us a glimpse of thing to come.
Alexandre Ghotbi: What is your background within Vacheron Constantin?
Christian Selmoni: I quit my job in a finance company to join the brand in 1990 as Sales Administration Manager, then to Purchasing and Production. In 1998 after we purchased HDG, a company manufacturing movements based in La Vallée de Joux, I worked in order to assist the management in the development of new movements. In 2001, I was asked to combine and incorporate all the product-creation aspects of the brand – from concept to final prototypes and product launch – into a unique Product Department, which was notably responsible for the design and development aspects of Vacheron Constantin’s 250th anniversary products.
What is your exact role within the company?
I am in charge of supervising product development (a team of 15 of which half is dedicated to the design department), from initial idea to final product (conception, development, creation).
What is the process of creating a new watch?
We first look at the brand’s movement development strategy which is what takes the longest. Today we have movements in development until 2015 and which are developed according to the models which we wish to launch. We decide on the type of watch that we would want to see created. A pre-project is prepared as to see if it is technically achievable; a creative brief is given to the design team which details design, size, visual elements etc… The design team then starts with sketches, then 2D design and finally a 3D wax or brass prototype of the case as to get a better idea of the volume and dimensions. We then either decide to launch development or not.
|sketches for the Patrimony Traditionnelle||Computer Aided Design|
|case prototypes||dial prototypes|
I have heard that you have just hired one of the world’s best guillocheurs.
As you know Vacheron Constantin is very keen in keeping the traditional Genevan arts of enameling, engraving and guillochage alive and Juan-Carlos Torres wanted to strengthen the Métiers d’Art department (engraver, enamellers, guillocheurs…) and that’s why we decided to hire what we consider as being one of the world’s best guilloche artists. It is extremely difficult to find exceptional guillocheurs, that’s why we are happy he has joined us. This will allow Vacheron Constantin to continue offering timepieces featuring these exceptional crafts.
Today Vacheron Constantin is finally developing identifiable elements for each collection. Why so late?
It is true that prior to 2005 the identity of our collections was not clear, there were watches with diverse designs within the same collection and we have been trying to clear this in the past years. Our goal is to create collections with recognizable visual elements which will enable a better visibility and recognition of the brand. Vacheron Constantin is not a brand with a star product which is immediately recognizable and that’s why I think it is important to have watches which are recognizable as having the brands emblematic style.
Until the 70s Vacheron Constantin was known as a brand with audacious and avant-garde designs. During the period between 1980 and 2000 the brand produced mainly consensual and conservative watches. Today the brand has produced some amazingly creative watches such as the Masks or the Singapore Malte black nickel tourbillion to name just a few. Why reserve these creative pieces for highly rare and expensive watches?
Vacheron Constantin is a brand who was in the last few decades the perfect example of classicism which certainly lead to a certain timidity. Today the horological landscape has changed immensely with the emergence of a very creative high horology. Our 250th anniversary celebrations were a starting point as we firmly set our legitimacy as a technical brand, we could then move to more creative design elements.
The black nickel tourbillions were in fact a test to see how more design oriented contemporary watches from Vacheron Constantin would be received and the response was fantastic. Today we have a huge demand for our classical timepieces; however, little by little we wish to broaden our offer to more contemporary and creative timepieces at more affordable prices.
|Indonesian Mask||Malte ickel black Tourbillon|
You mentioned the new trend in watchmaking which combines design elements with high horology. For you this trend is going towards the gimmick or something which could make classical watchmaking look old and dusty?
Neither! Today, the challenge for brands such as Vacheron Constantin is to keep our solid foundations in classical watchmaking, without such classicism being boring or old fashioned. I consider the Patrimony Contemporaine to be a perfect example as well as the Excellence Platine collection which combines traditional watchmaking with a very post-modern monochrome look. My wish is to see this trend continue and it is for us, the classical brands, to challenge ourselves and create watches which respect our history and traditions but which are timepieces within our time and era.
Today we have more and more non precious metals used in watch cases. What is Vacheron Constantin’s position on this?
This trend is similar to the arrival of steel in complicated watches in the 90s – however the Loungers may be interested to learn that we were one of the first to use steel in a wrist watch back in 1932. Today some aficionados request a different type of timepiece, where high horology is not distinguished by the use of precious metals but by its technical aspects, and this opens many doors for us: Watch this space!
|1932 - Vacheron Constantin's 1st steel wrist watch and inspirator of the Overseas|
The large size watch trend seems here to stay and Vacheron Constantin seems to have placed itself on the high end of the ladder with watches such as the 42 mm Patrimony Contemporaine Bi-Retrograde, 41.5mm Malte Chronograph, 40mm Patrimony Contemporaine, 44mm Cal 2755 complications. Isn’t it a bit too much?
In the past, our image was sometimes rather conservative and old fashioned. Enlarging the case size was a first step towards more contemporary designs. For me a large case size and elegance are not incompatible, we can go up to 42mm without any problems but in my opinion the standard size of our watches should not be 42mm- 44mm. We should keep different case sizes between 38mm and 42 mm. Regarding the 2755, the caliber was rather thick and to preserve the equilibrium of the case we needed to expand its dimensions. Same with the Patrimony Contemporaine Bi-Retrograde, we wanted to keep it slim and at 40 or 41mm it was too thick.
|Patrimony Contemporaine Bi-retrograde Day/Date||Patrimony Traditionnelle cal 2755|
So you have big cases housing small movements. Why?
When we launched the manual wind cal 1400 our goal was to be able to equip both men’s and women’s watches, and like in all compromises we can’t please everyone. You will be pleased to learn that Vacheron Constantin is working on a new manual wind caliber with a 28.5mm diameter.
I understand for the cal 1400 but what about the automatics? Considering that the ladies’ timepieces are in majority quartz.
We decided on a 26mm movement as to be able continue using our complication modules developed in the past. We did not want to loose all that had been done before.
Why is it important for the brand to have all of its inhouse calibers with the Geneva Seal?
The Geneva Seal is a sign of excellence and exceptional watchmaking, it is not only aesthetical but also contributes to the sturdiness and reliability of the movement. The Geneva Seal is very important for us and that’s why not only our base movements: the manual wind 1400 as well as automatic 2450 are conceived and developed with the Geneva Seal in mind but also our most complicated ones for example the cal 2755. We are also one of the rare brands whose complication modules are also stamped with the Geneva Seal.
Vacheron Constantin has pushed movement finish to an exceptional level on its inhouse movements, both on visible and non visible parts. Why?
Insofar we decided to apply the Geneva Seal to all our inhouse calibers we decided to give the Seal its original spirit: creating a reference in terms of finish, care and longevity. Vacheron Constantin vintage calibers are known for their exceptional finish and we wanted the finish of our modern pieces to be a continuation of this. We wanted our movements to be exceptional and to be so, we took the path of finishing every part, visible or not, to the same level.
|cal 1400||cal 2450||cal 2475 "underdial"|
Today your level of finish is superior to the Geneva Seal standards so why do you have the need to apply it to your movements?
For us it’s a demonstration of excellence even if as you stated our standards are higher.
Today many competing brands are testing silicon, have new escapements or their own balance… where does Vacheron Constantin stand?
Of course we are looking at and testing new technologies but I can’t say more about this now.
Let’s talk about one of my pet peeves: explanatory wording on the dials. You took the word “automatic” off the dial of the Patrimony Contemporaine automatic, is this something we will see in the future?
It is true that some of our watches had an overload of indications on the dial but we wish to come back to our tradition of refined elegance and our goal is taking all explanatory wordings off the dials even though some markets request us to keep them. Its also in part your doing Alex after being on our back for so many years to take these wordings off!
This year we saw special limited editions of the Overseas made for the Japanese and American markets, these watches had somewhat sportier modern dials. Is this something we may see in the regular production models?
Yes, even though we will keep the existing models we shall add more sporty contemporary versions. I know that everyone is waiting for a rubber strap version so you may discover some interesting pieces soon…
I’ll give you names of collections and please tell me what they represent within the Vacheron Constantin model range and how you see them developing.
Patrimony Contemporaine. It’s our icon: elegance according to Vacheron Constantin. It represents the style of the brand, the watches within this collection can de declined as complications but we should always keep their slenderness.
Patrimony Traditionnelle. It refers to aesthetic codes of our watches from 1930-1940 especially with the two tone dials. It’s more”Calvinist” than the Contemporaine which is more flamboyant and Mediterranean. It is a more technical collection and perfect for receiving complications
Malte. A collection using strong aesthetics with its wide lugs and shape of hands. The models in the Malte line are also more technical, we don’t have any time only piece here. The Malte models will be more and more tonneau in shape, a case shape which has been reworked.
Historiques. This collection is very important for us as it is a reinterpretation of our past. The big challenge is to transport a vintage aesthetics into today’s world without distorting its essence. You need to keep the spirit in more contemporary volumes. Our goal is to present at least one model in the Historiques collection each year. It is a collection addressing mainly Vacheron Constantin aficionados and produced in very low numbers.
I read somewhere that you were thinking of creating a steel chronograph in the Historiques collection?
Today the vintage Vacheron Constantin chronographs are sought after items so we need to be vigilant to what we do. It’s a possibility.
It means it’s a project or a wish?
It’s a possibility, it could be an interesting watch (he didn’t want to tell me more on this even though I pushed for much more info)!
What is your view on the development of special editions?
We answer markets and our Boutiques for special limited editions. Collectors are always looking for something special, it is the dream of all collectors and aficionados to have a special unique piece and that’s why the Ateliers Cabinotiers is such a huge success, even beyond our own expectations. Vacheron Constantin has a tradition of special orders for example the Fouad and Farouk pocket watches and today we are the only high horology brand to continue offering such a tailor made service.
|the "King Farouk"||the "King Fouad"|
Can you tell us about some of the 2008 novelties?
We will continue developing the brand with the unveiling of a new collection which will be the modern expression of Vacheron Constantin’s classical style. Other novelties will consist of a natural evolution of existing models which we will continue building in a careful manner. SIHH 2008 is around the corner so you’ll see soon enough.
|the new Malte Tourbilon Régulateur which will be introduced at SIHH 2008|