Atelier Cabinotier Watch

Here is my little adventure, folks:


There were rumours even before I left on the TimeZone tour in the spring of 2007 that Vacheron would soon be introducing the design-it-yourself or “bespoke” watch.  I had already emailed Dominique (Bernaz) to introduce myself and enquiry about such a project.
I thought: “Wow! A chance to get the watch I always wanted! All I had to do was submit a design and everything would fall into place. How easy could this be?”
The idea had piqued my curiosity and the opportunity to have such a prestigious Manufacture as Vacheron & Constantin build a watch to my specifications and one which would be a unique timepiece certainly got my heart beating faster. Ins fact, I found myself having to wipe the drool from the corner of my mouth every time I heard the word “Vacheron”.
Fortunately the TimeZone tour that year concentrated on the Geneva area and soon I found myself at the new headquarters of Vacheron in Plan - les - Ouatres. Dominique was one of our hosts and after a wonderful tour and a fabulous luncheon, the two of us discussed the possibilities of the Atelier Cabinotier watch. I promised to send him my ideas when I returned home and he would let me know the cost and approximate duration for the project. Little did I know what was coming.
When I returned to Toronto, some spare time, as much as I could muster, was devoted to putting my design on paper. After about a month of “playing around” with different concepts, I finally had a submission to send to Geneva. It was the perpetual calendar that I had always wanted.
As you can see from the sketch below it had some interesting concepts. I had always thought that the year indicator for the leap year was stuck arbitrarily on the dial and tended to destroy the symmetry of the face. And it was usually a mundane counter, 1-2-3-4 to indicate the 4 year cycle.

Atelier Cabinotier Watch

What I was proposing was that the VC Maltese cross be the indicator. There would be four of these, each in a different metal or ceramic under the dial, that would rotate 90 degrees every year and click into place. The colour would the identify the year of the cycle. For example: year 1 = YG, 2 = WG, 3 = blued steel, 4 = white ceramic; or something like that.
The windows for the date information would be a little larger for older eyes. But most interesting would be the power reserve indicator which would be an arc over the moon-phase and would show a sky changing from a yellow sun and its rays to a night sky with a moon and stars as the power reserve declined.
Some weeks after sending the design, I received a reply. I can only say that I was glad I was sitting down when I saw the price. Furthermore some of the ideas could not be done easily and would require development from scratch. The time frame would also be about three years. Since I was unfortunately not a lottery winner, I would have to forgo that particular dream watch.
Around that time I saw a photo of one of Alex’s vintage pieces, a 4627 which I felt was a really beautiful design, restrained, elegant, refined and a wonderful statement of Vacheron’s abilities.
I fell in love with the design. But alas, it was not for sale. However, much to my delight, one became available sometime thereafter and I pounced. But after owning it for a short while I thought that if Vacheron were ever to update one of their vintage pieces, that would be the one for me. Atelier Cabinotier WatchAtelier Cabinotier Watch

Atelier Cabinotier Watch

I contacted Dominique again with this idea who agreed it would be an excellent choice, but he would have to get back to me with specifics after discussing it with the design and production staff. Several weeks later, I received an email with some preliminary specs, cost and further ideas to consider. The case would have to be completely redesigned and the face would have to be redone somewhat while maintaining the original appearance.  This aspect would be up to Vincent Kaufmann and his team. When I heard that, I knew the watch was I good hands.
I would have to decide on a movement type (manual or automatic) and then on the specific movement. There options with respect to the dial itself: a date window, a subdial second hand or a sweep second hand, a peripheral track, the hands themselves, etc. etc. (I looked high and low for the photos Vacheron sent me with the different design but I have misplaced them. I know they're somewhere in the house Atelier Cabinotier Watch)
I received a contract to sign with the proviso that if I changed my mind, I would forfeit 5000CHF. Well, fair enough. But believe me, my mind swung back and forth on this project from the time of inception to almost the time of completion. I thought:
“This is not an inexpensive watch!”
“Am I crazy?  Just think of all the watches I could buy with this money I’m spending”
“But its so unique. You know you always wanted something like this. It’s a real heirloom. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
“You’ll regret it if you don’t do it. You’ll regret it if you do do it!”
“Its only money, after all”
Back and forth and forth and back until I decided not to think about it anymore.
Since VC was extremely generous in their payment terms, I just took a deep breath and carried on.
Nothing seemed to happen for many months and then emails started to arrive about design and production issues that would delay things for a while. I received colour sketches of the design variants so that I could choose exactly how I wanted the watch to look.
But I finally settled on the simple concept of a time only watch. I had also admired the movement in the Jubilee 1755 and so therefore chose a variant of that. Had the manual 1440 been available I might have opted for that movement. But I was pleased with the overall design.
I received periodic updates from Dominique and then one day an email with news of a “secret” website for those who were having Atelier watches made. There was your own special page with all the design concepts shown; that status of completion of the watch and a mechanism to ask questions and make comments. But by that time, all my questions had been answered, and the necessary decisions made. There was very little to do but await the completion. So I checked back periodically, watching the progress and hoping the real thing would at least fulfill my expectations.
Then about 3 weeks or so before the SIHH, I received an email from Dominique that the watch was completed and would soon be arriving at the Boutique. I would be able to pick it up on my visit. Dominique seemed very pleased with the results and left the rest as a surprise.
I had hoped to receive it the evening of the dinner so that I would be able to share the experience with everyone there. But their vault was on a time lock and could not be opened until the following day. I was a bit disappointed at that but waiting one more day would not be all that bad. The time it had taken from start to finish had been almost 18 months.
And of course the Loungers who were still there on Tuesday would see it as well as a few others in Paris.
Late Monday afternoon rolled around cloudy, drizzling and cold, and I walked over to the Boutique to get my little treasure.
Salvatore Latrofa was there waiting for me. After greetings and pleasantries he brought me the Vacheron box. I’m not sure if his hands were shaking, but mine were.
Then when he opened it both our eyes (all four of them) lit up! Wow, wow, and wow again!

Atelier Cabinotier Watch

The watch went way past my expectations. What I was looking at was for me the ideal timepiece. It had all the attributes of the original but in an updated setting. I thought (with a bit of egotism): “This is what the Patrimony should have been. The new case kept the spirit of the vintage watch and the lugs especially while on first inspection seemed modern also had some subtle curves which harked back to a previous era. The dial was absolutely beautiful. I didn’t think the original could be improved; yet here it was modern and vintage together. The movement too, was a work of art applied to science.
Was I pleased? You bet!
The final compliment came in an email from Dominique in which he quoted one of the production team who said that this watch should not be a production model. It deserves to be in our museum.
One of my colleagues saw the watch, and he’s seen many of my watches. He said that of all the ones I had shown him, he found this one by far the most attractive. It was spectacular and brought together the art and science of watchmaking in one unique piece. Who am I to argue?
Now there are some people who can drop a many hundreds of thousand of dollars on a watch, put in a safe and never wear it. I’m not one of those people. For me, even though the price was considerable, the result was outstanding, a watch to admire on the wrist and  on the winder... and a watch that will endure and be admired on the wrists of other generations to come.

PS: This is also an opportunity to thank Dominique for all his help and consideration and to thank every member of the Vacheron team who helped build this unique piece. They have made me a very happy individual.
02/18/2009 - 13:55
02/18/2009 - 23:10
02/19/2009 - 13:54
02/19/2009 - 12:56
02/19/2009 - 14:00
02/19/2009 - 19:59
02/20/2009 - 01:01
02/21/2009 - 09:12
Great story about an amazing journey to a unique Vacheron...
02/18/2009 - 15:16
I really admire your courage and perseverance, Joseph. It is because you made a very brave and important decision you now own the most beautiful and important VC watch in your collection  I really like your concept of a perpetual calendar, especially the Maltese cross being the leap year indicator - what a terrific idea Anyway, can you please give technical specifications of the watch? A certificate picture? A box picture? Thanks for a great read! Cheers Radek 
Re: Great story about an amazing journey to a unique Vacheron...
02/19/2009 - 13:48
Thank you Radek. I'll be wearing it next time we meet. I'll post some info this weekend on the specs Regards, Joseph
Re: Atelier Cabinotier Watch
02/18/2009 - 16:02
Hi Joseph, A great story of how patience and perseverence brought you perfection . Like Radek asked for, any additional info woiuld be terrific.  May you and your family enjoy it throughout many, many, lifetimes! BR, Dan
Re: Re: Atelier Cabinotier Watch
02/19/2009 - 13:49
Many thanks for your kind words, Dan Info to follow. Regards, Joseph
it was like being there! It definately is a dream having a bespoke
02/18/2009 - 16:07
watch and yours is amazing I love your idea of the perpetual I contacted VC about 18 months ago for a bespoke piece but they loved my idea so much that they have decided to keep it for themselves!!!!!!!!!!
No way, Alex! Did they pay you any reimbursement fee? Or should they
02/18/2009 - 16:33
rather hire you as their design team consultant?   Anyway, can you somehow show or describe us your bespoke concept? I would love to see it... Or maybe one day it will be a regular production model!
I think that they considered that since I had one foot in the door I
02/18/2009 - 17:35
could get a "special" treatment! I prefer not to speak about it as chances are that once the inhouse chrono movement is ready it will be housed in what I wanted!!!
Re: it was like being there! It definately is a dream having a bespoke
02/19/2009 - 13:51
Thank you Alex. I was happy to share as always. I can't wait to see what's in store. You're such a taquineur! Joseph
this is such a special watch which I'm sure you will cherish, the
02/18/2009 - 18:21
perpetual calendar was such a good idea, I hope VC will implement it in one of their future creations.
Re: this is such a special watch which I'm sure you will cherish, the
02/19/2009 - 13:52
Thank you for your kind words. The perpetual would have been nice. Oh well, there are 2 lotteries per week here. You never know Joseph
Congrats Joseph!
02/18/2009 - 23:10
Amazing story. 18 months! It was realy a pity with the time locked safe, it would have been a Grand Finale, on a splendid dinner! Thanks for your detailed and informative story, for us other Loungers,  who still, are like you were. Shall I go for one, or dare I not? Wear it in healt my friend  Mats
Re: Congrats Joseph!
02/19/2009 - 13:54
Thank you Mats, I appreciate your kind comments. I'm sorry you left on the Monday before I could pick up the watch. It would have been a real treat to show you! Next time we meet! Regards, Joseph
That's a wonderful story Joseph!
02/19/2009 - 04:36
Many thanks for sharing it with all of us and congratulations on having your own bespoke watch.  It is a timepiece that you can call your own.  It is nice to see that the atelier program is accessible for all folks and not just those who want to get the most complicated watches.  We sometimes get caught up in the high-complications and your story and timepiece is a wonderful reminder of the pleasure and happiness that can be gained from a watch that is clean and elegant. Congratulations on your watch and we all know that it will be treasured for years to come. Cheers, Duncan
Re: That's a wonderful story Joseph!
02/19/2009 - 13:57
Duncan, Thank you so much for your kind words. You express them so well! Vacheron was very easy do deal with and the people outstanding. Although it took 18 months to complete, it was nevertheless a wonderful opportunity to deal with some exceptional people who treated me extremely well. I could not have asked for more. Regards, Joseph
Such a beauty !
02/19/2009 - 12:56
You are a very lucky... and very patient man Joseph. But the wait was worthwhile! It's so elegant and simple and I love the vintage look of it. What a luxury to be able to have a unique watch designed just for you. But I must say I really liked your first ideas and especially the time reserve one. Who knows... maybe one day it will become reality for you. In the meantime, hope you will enjoy wearing this beauty for many happy years.
Re: Such a beauty !
02/19/2009 - 14:00
Thank you Tascha for your kind comments. It definitely was worthwhile. I'm still waiting for the phone to ring from Vacheron telling me they would like to use the perpetual design Just kidding. It will remain one of those unfulfilled dream we all have. But I do have a beatiful watch, nevertheless! Joseph
a message from Dominique Bernaz and the Ateliers Cabiontiers team
02/19/2009 - 12:58

Joseph, Dominique Bernaz, Salvatore Latrofa and the Ateliers Cabinotiers team thank you for your kind words and are happy to have been with you for the creation of such a special watch. Dominique did hesitate to give you your watch during the HL dinner on Sunday evening but didn't know if you wanted to see the watch first before sharing it with the others.

Re: a message from Dominique Bernaz and the Ateliers Cabiontiers team
02/19/2009 - 16:38
Hi Alex, You know I thought about emailing dominique and asking him about presenting it during the meeting, but I wasn't sure it was appropriate, so I didn't. and of course he was taking my feelings into consideration. So it eas a case of "After you, monsiuer... no after you..." etc. But it all worked out. Dominique sent me a very nice email too. Regards, Joseph
Congrats again, and thanks for sharing your experience.
02/19/2009 - 15:44
Late to the party as usual... Still, I want to thank you for sharing your rare experience.  I think it is a highlight in one's WISdom to have a bespoke watch.  Nothing can equal the pride and pleasure of knowing that you are not only wearing a piece unique, but also a piece that you designed (or helped design). It is yet another reason why I regret not being able to join everyone again at SIHH.  I would have loved to see it in the metal (it looks lovely in the photos!!!) and it would have been so interesting to interview you regarding the process and other details (please do share some more details, specs, and pics). I am sure it was very costly to have your watch made, but I am even more sure that now that you have it, it is even more priceless! Wear it in good health my friend. Kazumi PS: I am sure it was left in the safe so that it didn't take center stage during the dinner!
Re: Congrats again, and thanks for sharing your experience.
02/19/2009 - 18:30
Hi Kazumi, Thank you for the kind words. You can be sure that I had second thoughts many time. Dominique was quite helpful in the process and in retrospect despite the cost I'm happy with my decision. Certainly when I wear it or even look at it, I have no doubts at all I hope I can show it to you in person one day. Regards, Joseph
Couldn't get any better. Thank you for this wonderful story, I would
02/19/2009 - 16:32
love to see the different designs you went through
Re: Couldn't get any better. Thank you for this wonderful story, I would
02/19/2009 - 18:33
Thank you for the kind words, It was my pleasure to share it with everyone here! I will post something further tonight on the selection of the design elements. Regards, Joseph
What a story Joseph!!!
02/19/2009 - 19:59
You are quite persevering, but the result is great! It's a pity I could not see it before I left. Next time for sure; it looks so oustanding on the pic, so in the flesh... Best Patrice
Re: What a story Joseph!!!
02/20/2009 - 01:01
Many thanks Patrice, I hope to be in Paris in the spring and will bring it with me. Regards, Joseph
I love reading stories like this....
02/20/2009 - 06:26
thank you for taking the time to write about your experience. I've had dreams about having VC make me a special piece, though I have not committed to the idea enough to warrant contacting Mr. Bernaz. That said, I have ordered a watch from an independent watchmaker, and the process of getting updates and seeing the small changes that he has made from his previous production runs has been fascinating to me. When you know the poeple making your watch and develop a relationship with them it makes the ownership experience more special. Bill
Re: I love reading stories like this....
02/20/2009 - 18:56
Thanks Bill, It was an unique experience. Seeing the factory again and speaking with some of the staff just enhanced it more. Regards, Joseph
02/21/2009 - 09:12
A gorgeous piece and a wonderful story -- extremely cool to have a bespoke piece from a major house like Vacheron.  I have a couple of independent pieces that are tailored to my preference, including one unique piece, but working with VC to realize such a vision is something different and (at least) as nice! Best, Gary
Gary, want to say more abouth that unique piece? I'm really
02/21/2009 - 09:40
Re: Fantastic!
02/22/2009 - 00:34
Thanks, Gary, Its really a wonderful piece to wear. And although it was expensive, it was well worth it. I feel in some ways honoured to have such a unique piece. Joseph
Re: Atelier Cabinotier Watch
02/21/2009 - 16:15

What a fantastic story.  Thanks for taking us on your journey.  It must be an amazing feeling to own a watch that you helped design and also to own something that you will not see on anyone else's wrist.  Its truly a beautifull watch and thank you for sharing it with us.  I hope it brings you many years of enjoyment and great service. Best regards, Dino

Re: Re: Atelier Cabinotier Watch
02/22/2009 - 00:37
Many thanks for your kind words. I am always happy to share my experiences, so far mostly very good ones, with everyone here. Its a wonderful place to come to and although i have met some individuals and made great friends, I only wish that it were possible to meet everyone. Joseph
Hi Joseph, great story and I really liked the Dominique parts of the
02/21/2009 - 23:26
story, sooo DB. I think this article should be honored in the archives, great piece of history and also a reminder how V&C takes care of the client in a 360 degree manner. This was also a great reminder to me of my visitis to the Maison and the great inspiration the place and the people are to me. Many Thanks, Tim
Re: Hi Joseph, great story and I really liked the Dominique parts of the
02/22/2009 - 00:41
Thanks Tim. Dominique was great and really made it a personal experience. I only wish it had been possible to meet everyone who had worked on the watch personally. At one point I thought about a half-hunter back so that the names of all those individuals could be inscribed on the inside. You can't do that with a display back But it would have made the watch too thick. Anyway, it all worked out just fine. Regards, Joseph
Joseph; unbelieveable.............
02/22/2009 - 01:12

I apologize that I haven't reponded until now...I've been travelling and just hadn't had a chance to look at your post but man; what a watch and as spectacular as that watch is the story is even more spectacular!   I always think about who will wind up with my few nice watches (as you say the generations to come) and whoever will eventually (many, many, many decades from now!) wind up with yours; this one is the true heartstopper...he or she will be one lucky person.  Elegance to such a high level!  You must be floating still. All the best, Tom

Re: Joseph; unbelieveable.............
02/22/2009 - 16:25
Hi Tom, Thanks forjyour kind and thoughtful comments. i'll have to start teaching my kids  about watches, their beauty, artistry and technological marvel so that they can appreciate them. Not such an easy task Oh well... Regards, Joseph