Proud Possession of Royalty

Not too long ago, a visiting non-WIS friend approached the watch cabinet with interest.  I prepared for the usual questions on age and cost but was caught by surprise when he pointed to a display box and asked, “who the heck are they?”  Huh?  Ahhh, ornately printed on the inside of the open box was this notice; Vacheron & Constantin Proud Possession of Royalty Since 1755, followed by an impressive list of names and titles.  I had to confess that I was mostly ignorant of the histories, having previously considered such scripture as hype, like the fussy little ads found in the back of magazines.  But the question was raised and the challenge must be met!

Proud Possession of Royalty

1.       Napoleon I, Emperor of France: no further explanation required.  Died in exile 1821, age 52.

Proud Possession of Royalty
1815 watch by Berthoud

2.       Mary-Louise of Austria, Empress: 2nd wife of Napoleon I, Dutchess of Parma.  Died 1847, age 56.

3.       Murat, King of Naples: title created by Napoleon I for his brother-in-law Joachim Murat.  Executed 1815, age 48.

4.       Queen Mary-Therese: mother of Marie Antoinette, only female Habsburg ruler.  Died 1780, age 57.

5.       Queen Mary-Adelaide: mother of Queen Mary and Queen Consort to George V.  Died 1897, age 64.

6.       Napoleon III, Emperor of France: nephew and heir to Napoleon I.  Died in exile 1873, age 65.

7.       The Duke of Genoa: subsidiary title to King of Sardinia which was under House of Savoy from 1720-1946.

8.       Franz-Josef, Emperor of Austria: ruler of Austro-Hungarian Empire largely credited with starting events that led to WWI.  Died 1916, age 86.

9.       William II, Emperor of Germany: the last Kaiser abdicated in 1918.  Died in exile 1941, age 82.

10.   The Prince of Naples: subsidiary title to Duke of Savoy.

11.   Nicolas II, Emperor of Russia: nicknamed Bloody Nicholas, last Emperor of Russia, abdicated 1917.  Executed 1918, age 50.

12.   Edward VII, King of England: first British King from the House of Saxe-Coburg Gotha renamed House of Windsor by George V.  Died 1910, age 69.

13.   Hubert I, King of Italy: aka Umberto, son of Victor Emanuel of Sardinia.  Assassinated 1900, age 56.

Proud Possession of Royalty
1885 V&C presented to Umberto I

14.   The Duke of Abruges: likely Savoyard Duke of Abruzzi Luigi Amedeo, cousin to Victor Emanuel III.  Famous Arctic explorer and mountaineer.  Died 1933, age 60.

Proud Possession of Royalty
Duke of Abruzzi on expedition, 1906

15.   The Prince of Carignan: junior line to House of Savoy.

16.   The Prince Isabelle of Baviere: likely Princess Isabelle of Bavaria married Savoyard Prince Thomas of Genoa, brother-in-law to Umberto I and uncle to Emanuel III of Italy.  Died 1924, age 61.

17.   The Princess Laetitia Napoleon: daughter of Napoleon’s brother, the only member of Bonaparte family allowed to remain in France.  Died 1904, age 83.

18.   Victor Emanuel, King of Italy: King of Sardinia, assumed title as King of Italy 1861.  Died 1878, age 58.  House of Savoy reigned as Kings of Sardinia from 1831 to 1861, and Kings of Italy from 1861 until the dynasty ended in 1946.

19.   Queen Marguerite of Italy: Savoyard royal family, Queen Consort to Umberto.  Died 1926, age 75.

20.   King Peter I of Serbia: known as Peter the Liberator following WWI, exiled in Geneva 1894 – 1903, returned to Serbia after engineering a bloody military coup.  Eventually became ruler of the Kingdoms of Yugoslavia.  Died 1921, age 77.

Proud Possession of Royalty
1905 V&C presented to Peter I

21.   Alexander I, Yugoslavia: attended school in Geneva with Charles Constantin, inherited throne on death of father Peter, instituted a dictatorship in 1929.  Assassinated 1934, age 46.

Proud Possession of Royalty
1931 V&C presented to Alexander I

22.   Pope Pious XI: most famous for gaining independence of the Vatican state from Mussolini.  Died 1939, age 72.

23.   Fouad I, King of Egypt: Sultan of Egypt during the 1919 revolution against British rule, established dictatorship following independence in 1922 but restored constitution in 1935.  Received famous V&C watch in 1929.  Died 1936, age 68.

Proud Possession of Royalty
1929 V&C presented to King Fouad

24.   Queen Mother of Egypt: 2nd wife of Fouad, Queen Consort Nazli Sabri, mother of Farouk.  Frequently abused, in revenge she sold the King’s clothes to a street merchant after his death.  Died 1978, age 84. 

25.   Ferdinand I, King of Bulgaria: Saxe-Coburg Gotha family.  Although gay, he married Princess Marie Louise of Bourbon-Parma and had four children.  In 1908 declared independence from Ottoman Empire and himself Tsar of Bulgaria.  Defeated by the Allies in WWI, he abdicated and returned home to Germany, leaving his son to surrender.  Following WWII, the remaining Bulgarian royal family and officials were executed by Soviets.  Died 1948, age 87.

26.   The Mahargia of Patiala: Maharaja Bhupinder Singh had 10 wives, 88 children, and unknown consorts.  Was avid cricket player with extravagant tastes, commissioned the famous Patiala Necklace from Cartier with nearly 3000 diamonds including one yellow stone of 235 carats.  The Maharaja once purchased a gold pocket watch with moon phase from Garrard’s in 1911 for his Maharani.  This resulted jealously by his four secondary wives, all sisters.  To placate them, the Maharaja ordered four unique watches in 22 carat gold with day and month calendar and phases of the moon, made by Picard Freres of Chaux De Fonds to be grander than the Maharani’s, and everyone was happy.   In 2011, Vacheron Constantin toured India with an exhibit which included two watches of Bhupinder Singh’s from 1916 and now part of the VC collection: a bracelet watch with open work case embellished with diamonds, and a perpetual calendar moon phase pocket watch with alarm and chronograph. Died of ill health 1938, age 47.

Proud Possession of Royalty

27.   The Duke of Windsor: Royal title created for King Edward III following his abdication in 1936 to marry a divorced woman. Title became extinct upon his death in 1972, age 78.
Judging by the use of 1755 as the founding date, this list would not have been printed any earlier than 1950.  Therefore it is really quite surprising that it doesn’t include that most famous of all V&Cs, the Farouk timepiece; presented to Fouad’s heir in 1935.

Proud Possession of Royalty
Another Royal personage that could have been included was Princess Elizabeth, the future Queen of England, who received a Vacheron & Constantin timepiece in 1947.
One can easily follow certain threads in this list to recognize a special relationship with the House of Savoy.  When Jean-Marc Vacheron began his watchmaking dynasty in 1755, Charles Emanuel III was the Duke of Savoy and King of Sardinia.  Victor Emmanuel was crowned King of Italy in 1861, creating the first unified state to rule over the entire peninsula since Roman times.  The House of Savoy continued to rule Italy through the Italian Independence Wars and the First World War. 
Historically, the House of Savoy originated in the 11th century in the Western Alps bordering on Lac Lèman and included territories within present-day France and Italy.  Here is a fascinating historical tidbit: Louis I, Duke of Savoy and native son of Geneva, received the Shroud of Turin in 1453 from the family of French Knight Geoffroi de Charny, who had died in battle a century earlier. It was held by the House of Savoy until the end of WWII, and then bequeathed to the Holy See in Rome.  Theory is the shroud was taken in 1204 by Crusading Knights during the sack of Constantinople.
The Savoy’s Swiss presence began in 1394, when they acquired the bishopric of Geneva, and ended with the Protestant Reformation.  This history is well illustrated by the Tour de l’Ile, once a gate tower to the Savoyard Bishop’s chateau then a prison and guardhouse before being leased by Vacheron & Constantin in 1844.  Positioned in defiance against its walls is the statue of Genevan patriot Philibert Berthelier, who was executed at the tower in 1519 for plotting with the Huguenots in rebellion against Savoyard rule. 

Proud Possession of Royalty

The list demonstrates Vacheron & Constantin’s historical alignment with Savoyard and Catholic factions.  Some may even consider the adoption of the Maltese Cross as their corporate symbol in 1880 more consistent with those associations than representative of an obscure mechanical device.  To exemplify, as recently as 2008 Vacheron Constantin hosted Pope Benedict XVI at a concert in celebration of the Declaration of Human Rights.

Proud Possession of Royalty
Ironically (and history is full of ironies), it was the Protestant refugees fleeing wars and persecution elsewhere in Europe that established the great watchmaking industry in Geneva.  Indeed, it was the Reformer Jean Calvin who exempted clocks and watches from edicts against jewelery and other forms of ostentatiousness, thus encouraging a shift of enterprise to horology and resulting in the world’s first Watchmaking Guild in 1601.
In conclusion, I wish to proclaim that my facts were chosen more for entertainment than historical completeness and nuance.  Still, perhaps now we can consider the phrase Proud Possession of Royalty in a more intimate context.

Have a great weekend smiley

Proud Possession of Royalty
03/02/2013 - 10:44
03/03/2013 - 18:13
03/02/2013 - 20:01
03/03/2013 - 18:26
03/02/2013 - 21:21
03/03/2013 - 01:41
03/03/2013 - 23:27
You should check the ad campaign that Breguet for a few years...
03/02/2013 - 05:26
...not that long ago. Full of Royalty and famous people. Its a great way to get an endorsement without paying anything since the "endorser" has been dead for a while.surprise JB
Re: You should check the ad campaign that Breguet for a few years...
03/03/2013 - 18:17
Also, I'm sure many famous endorsements were obtained in exchange for free stuff!  However, from the archives it appears that V&C actually expected payment for these royal trinkets.  The Annales mentions a certain Italian Count that was habitually in arrears and had to be hounded for payment, but I must look up the exact reference.
03/03/2013 - 18:34
He was called the "Count de Monnaie"! surprise
LOL is that a pun?
03/03/2013 - 23:30
Yes, but not original...
03/04/2013 - 06:22
Its a reference to a segment of a Mel Brooks movie, called "THe History of the World". This part takes place just before the Revolution in which Mel Brooks plays King Louis and Harvey Korman plays the the Count de Monet. But Brooks is always pronouncing it "Count de Monnaie" (Money). Sort of like Korman's role in Blazing Saddles, as Hedley Lamarr. Cheers, Joseph
Re: Yes, but not original...
03/04/2013 - 10:44
one of my all time favorite films cheeky
Maharajah of Patiala
03/05/2013 - 17:11
Charles Constantin made some revealing comments about business practices regarding royalty in his notes from 1921:This was the year that we had the visit from the Maharajah of the Patiala administrative region accompanied by his large entourage of wives, officials and servants.  This Hindu prince (ed. they were actually Sikhs) had the reputation at that time of being one of the richest owners of precious stones.  In a few hours we made 150,000 Francs worth of sales at the shop, not without having had to interest his confidential secretary beforehand very generously. I can only imagine what that amount is worth in today's currency!  Wonder what the size of the purse was for the secretary, whom Constantin described as; "a tall gentleman, magnificently sun-tanned and turbaned, who had the rank of Colonel."
The Pope was considered as royalty?!
03/02/2013 - 10:23
Re: The Pope was considered as royalty?!
03/02/2013 - 18:15
Yes, in the Kingdom of Heaven angel
Pope as Soverign
03/03/2013 - 18:12
So it appears.  As head of the Holy See, the Popes were considered Royalty at least since Charlemange's time.  Under what they termed their "temporal powers", they governed the Papal States of central Italy until deposed in 1870.  This led eventually to the creation of the Vatican City State in 1929, under the aforementioned Pope Pious XI, which guaranteed their status as independent sovereigns with diplomatic and ceremonial powers the same as kings.
Great post Dean
03/02/2013 - 10:44
Thanks for taking the time to write this post.
Re: Great post Dean
03/03/2013 - 18:13
My pleasure Hamish.  As one new to the world of V&C, I hope these stories draw you even closer to the brand smiley
Speaking as a non-royal,
03/02/2013 - 20:01
I appreciate that association; also your fascinating research.
Glad you enjoyed :-) nt
03/03/2013 - 18:26
Very Informative and Interesting
03/02/2013 - 20:40
Also worth noting that neither a title nor a good timepiece ncessarily lead to a long life . . . .
03/02/2013 - 21:21
that's why Patek says in their ads that you never really own your watch..... crying Joseph
Seems downright hazardous at times! nt
03/03/2013 - 18:18
The Chronometre & Royalty ; )
03/03/2013 - 01:41
Thanks for a very interesting article! Personally I think it's much better to be a not-so-poor modern commoner than an emperor: The only time electricity doesn't make a difference is when a minute repeater strikes its gong. Same applies to chronometre royal: 2007 is better than 1907, and such as the 1972Prestige: regular is better than limited ;) My tael of opinions, Bon dimanche everyone! :-)
Re: The Chronometre & Royalty
03/03/2013 - 18:25
Well I must disagree, at least with your assertion that modern is better than vintage blush.  Each has its own charms and the comparison is not really useful (hence my habitual use of the "&" to distinguish between the eras), but much of "modern" VC is influcenced by their history and vintage designs.  Follow the logic - there wouldn't even be a "new" 1907 CR or 1972 Prestige to admire without the originals wink.
great to be amongst such noble company ;-)
03/03/2013 - 20:11
yet another captivating read, Dean. you rock, buddy!
General Kalinowsky
03/03/2013 - 23:27
Hi Radek!  Have you heard of a Polish General Kalinowsky?  There are several notations circa 1820, of him seeking to purchase from V&C.  The only instance of profanity in Charles Francois letters was used in reference to the dear General blush.
Love this entertaining post, Dean!
03/04/2013 - 17:17
The history lesson is terrific, but my favorite photo is the last one.  wink Best, Robert
Brilliant! Thank you for sharing
03/04/2013 - 18:37
Proud Possession of Royalty, Part II
03/04/2013 - 22:34
Here are selective passages from The Saga of Vacheron Constantin, an English translation of the Annales de la Maison d’Horlogerie Vacheron & Constantin, which reference royalty:  1810: letter from Jacques-Barthélémy Vacheron in Geneva to his uncle Bartélémy Girod in Paris, “We have also had some orders at Geneva from your King of Rome, pray God that it will improve our lot a bit…”  J-B is likely referring to Napoleon, who revived the title “King of Rome” after annexing Italian territories.  He bestowed this title on his son, Napoleon II.   Portrait of Napoleon II.  Note medal by his hand!  1814: letter from Jacques-Barthélémy Vacheron in Turin to partner Charles-François Chossat in Geneva, “Since I have been here, the King’s clockmaker, Martina, has not stopped coming to see me to talk about horology.  He has bought two carillons each with two melodies and the Marie-Louise.”  Marie-Louise was the Dutchess of Parma, second wife of Napoleon I.  1816: letter from Jacques-Barthélémy Vacheron in Milan to Chossat in Geneva, “It is just as well that we have not taken any decision about our depot in Trieste for the moment.  It seems without doubt that Bonaparte has been snatched from the Island of St. Helena by Grouchy and another general…some say he has been taken to America, others to Constantinople, all in all no-one is certain of the route he has taken.”  1817: letter from Vacheron in Italy on musical watch preferences, “For Italy distinctly Russian and German tunes are needed, languorous airs are not to their taste.  They were shown today to Marie-Louise, who has been here for some time.  She found them admirable.  I have several times been asked for perfume boxes with and without music.  We must remember that these items should make part of our selection.”   portrait of Marie-Louise   July, 1819: in one of the earliest letters to his new partner François Constantin travelling in Italy; Vacheron announced that he had sold a fine Breguet-type repeating watch to a Russian prince.  Again in October he writes, “We think that we told you that a Russian lord…had asked us to make for him two small, cylinder pendant repeaters with jewelled holes.  We thought that the two fine ones that are being assembled would be suitable for him.”   October, 1819: Constantin writes back from Rome that he requires a gold chain of exception weight and length for the Prince Borghese as quickly as possible.  “The Prince being capricious might change his mind”.  Prince Camillo Borghese was 2nd husband to Napoleon’s sister Pauline and died in 1832.   portrait of Camillo Borghese   Political instability led to a period of difficulty, but in 1823 the archives noted that, at the order of the Austrian ambassador, a high quality repeating watch with 9-jewel escapement, temperature compensation, enamel dial (replacement silver dial included) constructed on the lines of a time-keeper (chronometer) was delivered to the Prince Esterazy.  Paul Anton III, Prince Esterházy, served Austria in a number of diplomatic posts including that of Foreign Minister in 1848.  At the time of receiving this gift he was ambassador to England.  Paul Anton III   As an example of cross-pollination, in 1824 François Constantin’s older brother Abraham, a famous enamel painter for Sèvres, ordered a tobacco box to be made for the Prince Borghese.  Still on family matters, François announced his intentions in 1825 to bring his younger brother Louis into the business.  This was not looked upon favorably by Jacques-Barthélémy, as it was done without consultation, and appears to have been short-lived.   Abraham Constantin vase on exhibit at Palace of Naples   Politics and Royalty clashed in 1832 when the Sardinian government prohibited the delivery of any articles bearing the emblems of Napoleon.  Thus the records note that Vacheron was prevented from fulfilling a commission which Constantin had worked hard to obtain.   Nevertheless, other markets remained viable.  In 1845, a watch made Russian Prince Alexander Nicholas Dolgoruky was described thusly, “It is one of the finest pieces to leave the workshops both for the regularity of its going and for the decoration of its case.”   Leap forward to 1847 and the archives reveal that Constantin travelled to Genoa bearing two watches decorated with the portrait of Pope Pious IX.  The next year they produced another watch bearing the portrait of Charles-Albert, the Savoyard King of Piedmont-Sardinia who, in 1849, abdicated in favor of his son Victor Emanuel and fled to Portugal after losing several battles following an ill-advised declaration of war on Austria.   Charles-Albert, King of Sardinia   The monarchy presented further opportunities, as described in a letter from their Amsterdam agent Decoster dated April of 1850: “As next month the Prince of the Low Countries, the uncle of our king, celebrates his 25th wedding anniversary, and that then there will be many presents to be made…it would be good to have very wide range to meet the demands that court suppliers could make us…A little later will be the wedding of the Prince of Sweden with the daughter of Prince Frederick…which will be another occasion to sell our goods.”   In 1853, the Count Salino of Turin ordered a watch for making astronomical observations, specifying; “I wish it to be a true chronometer, made with that perfection which the work that comes out of your shops reaches so closely.”   Turin is the ancestral home for the House of Savoy and was briefly the capital of the Kingdom of Italy under Victor Emanuel. V&C Astronomical Chronometer, 1884   Antiquorum reports that company archives were mostly silent on trade with the Far East, but noted that one scholar recorded in 1865 having seen at the Vacheron & Constantin atelier a large watch in blue enamel set with diamonds, destined for the Emperor of China and probably ordered through agents in Italy.   matching pair for Chinese market by Fleurier, circa 1860 I hope knowing a little more about the history and drama of Vacheron Constantin adds to your enjoyment of the marque.  Photo credits to Wikipedia, Antiquorum, and The Hour Lounge.
Re: Proud Possession of Royalty, Part II
03/05/2013 - 08:08
Terrific post tick-talk! I read it with great interest, thanks for sharing all this information!
Glad to interest our Italian friends
03/05/2013 - 17:13
As your ancestors had a great deal to do with the success of V&C smiley
What do you say Alex, another one of Dean's posts to go into...
03/05/2013 - 09:29
the Recommended Threads? Dean, this is great - THANKS!
it is already in Recommended Threads since day one!
03/05/2013 - 10:43
That's what friends are for.......Parts 1 '&' 2...
03/05/2013 - 17:51
Dean, I'm so pleased your friend was inquisitive about the notice on the inside of the display box. It often takes a 'spark' to ignite wonderment and intrique. With a formidable task ahead you decided to grab the gauntlet and go for it!yes.   I am so pleased you didyesyes... Nothing less than a beautiful piece of work and research to be proud of! I am delighted to learn that Alex has listed your contribution in the Recommended Threads. Tony
Re: Proud Possession of Royalty
04/19/2013 - 02:24
Hey... One small correction 27. The Duke of Windsor: Royal title created for King Edward III following his abdication in 1936 to marry a divorced woman. Title became extinct upon his death in 1972, age 78. Edward the VIII, not III... 'Just Sayin' G
Thanks for the correction Gary
07/24/2013 - 00:43
much appreciated yes