Vacheron Constantin and the La Croix Huguenote

I've been reading about the Swiss-French connection and the role of the Calvinsits in Swiss watchmaking. (We Americans were originally settled by Puritans (who were Calvinsts as well) here in New England; and so I've been interested in their way of thinking. A couple of years ago I took a Harvard University course on early New England poetry, and every aspect of Puritan life (including in their poetry) was consumed by a believe in doing God's work. The Calvinists in Switzerland so condemed the wearing of jewlery that the goldsmiths and jewelers turned to watchmaking; an industrous use of time and work from the Calvinists point of view.

In looking up both Vacheron and Constantin names, I found their origins in Brittany (Vacheron) and an area of Southern France (Constantin) where the populance practiced a version of Christiany known as Albigenses. The practice was associated with the Catharist (Puritan) movement and was declared heresy by Pope Innocent II. The short version is that this led to civil war where the heritics were defeated by Catholic armies in France.  Last summer, I read, "The Rival Queens: Catherine de' Medici, Her Daughter Marguerite de Valois, and the Betrayal that Ignited a Kingdom" which provided insight into the Huguenots (French Protestants) and the conflict in France between Huguenots and Catholics. One of the events that led to French Huguenots to flee France for refuge in Switzerland was the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre where the Huguenot wedding guests at Marguerite de Valois (the Queen's daughter) wedding were murdered. What's ironic is that Queen Catherine wanted her daughter to marry a Huguenot king to settle the expensive conflict between the Catholics and Protestants (Huguenot) in France. However, she also saw the wedding as an opportunity to severely weaken the Huguenots by murdering their leadership. So after the nuptuals, the slaughter began, and before it was over, about 30,000 Huguenots had been killed throughout France. (By the way, a good film, "Queen Margot" is available on Netflix and documents this time in France.)

Needless to say, many of the French Huguenots fled France to nearby Protestant countries, including Switzerland.  It would not be too far-fetched to suggest that Vacheron and/or Constantin were part of that exodous--or family members were. At some point, in choosing a logo for Vacheron Constantin, they selected a familiar symbol passed on from one or both of their families that looked like this:

Vacheron Constantin and the La Croix Huguenote

 

La Croix Huguenote

The Maltese cross is associated with the Crusades and the Knight Templars of Malta. However, the Crusades were a Catholic operation, and given that the French Protestants in Switzerland had no love lost for the Catholics, it would seem more likely that the Vacheron Constantin logo is more likely to be from the Huguenot Cross than that of the Catholic knights. (The 2013 article in Crown & Caliber, "The Story Behind the Vacheron Constantin Cross" is pretty shallow stuff, and since none of the other marques use a watch part in their logo, I sort of doubt that VC does either.)

Anyway, I find the relationship between Calvinism and watchmaking facinating (John Calvin was French, by the way, and his name was actually Jean; not John) . I just got the 3rd Edition of Jonathan Steinberg's Why Switzerland? (Cambridge University Press) and I also have The Dynamics of Industrial Capitalism Schumpeter, Chandler, and the New Economy (Routledge) by Richard N. Langlois, based on the The Graz Schumpeter Lectures. Especially interesting in both the watchmaking industry and Calvinish is, Chapter 3 Personal Capitalism.

If anyone else has some good references, please pass them on. Previous posts by Dean (Tick-Talk) also delved into some of these same issues.

 
Re: Vacheron Constantin and the La Croix Huguenote
05/26/2016 - 05:24

Hello Bill.

Thank you for your great posting.

It is very interesting story about Vacheron Constantin's iconic "multese cross" logo.

The Prisoner of Chillon by Lord Byron is my favorite poem.

"Eternal Spirit of the chainless mind" dwells in VC watches.

io

 

VC themselves state that the Maltese cross comes
05/26/2016 - 12:46

from a component and does not have a religious meaning but obviously this story may have been made up somewhere down the line...

Research doesn't show any French ancestry for Vacheron, whereas Constantin was either French or of French origins.

I think the assertion
05/26/2016 - 16:18

that the Geneva Stopworks inspired the Maltese Cross logo is a corporate myth!  Otherwise, why did the brand also register three other variations of the cross logo in the years immediately following the Maltese Cross trademark of 1880?  These were the medival cross pattee of the Crusades, the Prussian variant Schwarzes Kruez, and the Cross of Cerdanya from the Pyrenees region.  They are nicely illustrated in the Art of Vacheron Constantin. smiley

Interesting catalog snip from 1950
05/30/2016 - 16:09

Although not mentioned in the text, this illustration from a 1950 catalog is the earliest connection I've come across linking the Maltese Cross trademark with the Geneva stopworks mechanism.

Interesting catalog snip from 1950

In the 1950s..
05/31/2016 - 00:13

Thanks Dean,

To give you some idea of the religious schisms in Swiss society regarding the Catholics and Protestants--especially the Calvinists--when that ad from the 1950s was run, Jesuits were still not allowed in Switzerland. It wasn't until a Constitutional change in 1973 that the Jesuit prohibition was dropped.

 

I'm beginning to think that the use of the Vacheron Constantin cross was picked from the Germans--part of their Flag and aircraft identifiers in WWI. Probably, it was a symbol that had been around, both from the Huguenots and the Germans, and if it looked like a watch part would have been a plus. It would have been consistent with the symbols brought by the Huguenots but not necessarily identified exclusively with them. In Calibre 3300, the Maltese cross does not seem to be a functional part so much as one that extends the brand.

In the 1950s..

Malese Crosses as functional or branding?

Anyway, it's an interesting episode in watch history, and since I'm going blind and stupid trying to comprehend Swiss history (and you thought you had a rough Civics Class!), it's one of many threads to pull.

The dove
05/26/2016 - 19:17

is not accessorial to the huguenot cross, it's an essential element of it, so, I wouldn't consider it as a source of inspiration unless you have further evidences to share.

Regards,

 

roberto

Fleur de lis & dove removed to simplify
05/26/2016 - 20:36

Hi Roberto,

The dove and fleur de lis are part of it, but removing both for simplifying the cross for a logo is a distinct possibility. Also, I'm talking about the residue of an important movement, and not a dyed in the wool Calvinist. For example , the Huguenot flag has no dove:

Fleur de lis & dove removed to simplify

 

Americans, including American Catholics, were greatly influnced by the Puritan ethic of the the work aesthic, which became part of the culture. Anyway, I'm trying to understand Swiss culture and the watchmaking enterprise from a different angle than a purely business one. (I am one of the planet's truly bad business persons!) So I tend to follow culture, which involves religious movements as well as technology and other big forces that push and pull us.

Cheers,

Bill

It's good to develop different perspectives
05/27/2016 - 19:17

Hi Bill and sorry for my late reply. Sorry also for my too short answer I gave yesterday, I didn't mean to discourage your research.

It's good to have a wider approach to the topic.

It often happens tto me to read a lot of theories related to watchmaking history (sometimes to specific models also etc.).

I just wanted to point out, this topic is no exception to the only possible methodology applicable to historiography, that is to prove something through evidences.

Good luck on your reasearch :-)

Regards,

 

roberto

French and watches: L. Leroy
05/27/2016 - 23:01

Hi Roberto,

No worries...I'm new to watch collection, and with new hobbies, I tend to over-do it. One of the interesting things I found was The Battle of Besançon (21 June 1575). In this battle, the Huguenots got their clocks cleaned, and began an era of Protestant repression in that city (it's only about 170k from Geneva--about the distance I am from both Boston and New York). Naturally, being that close to Switzerland the surviving Huguenots who were not executed (in the many creatives ways that they had back then) probably fled to places like Geneva.

Ironically, given the number of Huguenots who ended up in some aspect of the watch business in Switzerland, and that they fled Besançon, it is Besançon that became the  French center for watch-making the the 18th Century. In fact, the French COSC is there--Certificat de chronometrie de l’Observatoire de Besançon. The leading French watchmaker (to the king and others) ended up there—L. Leroy. This led me to find out about more about L. Leroy, which led to another watch and a big hole in my Overseas 4500v piggy bank. (L. Leroy had two entries in the 2001Prix--one won the Men's category, and one was a finalist in the Jewelery category; losing to the remarkable Vacheron Constantin "Lady Kalla" -- a true jewelled masterpiece. The losing L. Leroy was the Grande Osmior Mécanique Extra-Plate, an ultra-thin beauty itself. Guess what?

 L. Leroy

Grande Osmior Mécanique Extra-Plate

So, as you can see, my inquiries may not solve the problem, but they sure do lead me to some interesting watches!

 

 
The Calatrava Cross and the Reconquista
05/28/2016 - 22:44

It turns out that Vacheron Constantin isn't the only watch company with an ancient Christian symbol, but fortunately for some other watch company, it's not quite as difficult to pin down. It's the Calatrava cross based on a battle from the Reconquista in Spain. The cross looks like this:

The Calatrava Cross and the Reconquista

Calatrava Cross

The name "Calatrava" is the Arabic name for a fort (meaning "fortress at Rabah") captured by Christian knights in 1147 during the Reconquista that ended in 1492. All of this is before the Reformation, and so, this cross may have no negative connotation. And here it is atop the crown of my Calatrava:

The Calatrava Cross and the Reconquista

Crown of Patek Philippe Calatrava

I'm sure the choice of the Patek Philippe logo went something like this:

"Hey, how come Vacheron Constantin has this cool symbol like the outlaw bikers, and we got PP? Are there any other ones to choose from? Yeah, how about the Calatrava cross...and its full of fleur-de-lis. Ok, if we can have the VC cross too."