Vacheron Freres - Rant or Insight?

I recently came across this discussion of Vacheron Freres in an auction catalog which has some strident points on the legitimacy of this name.  Any thoughts, for or against?

"Many decry any watches simply marked "Vacheron" or "Vacheron Frères" as "fakes," attempting to capitalize on the Vacheron name, as if no other person of the same name could ever have set up their own comptoir. In fact, the Vacheron Museum collection contains watches simply marked Vacheron or J M Vacheron, as would have been true for family makers predating 1819.

This reaction also ignores the fact that a "fake" Vacheron & Constantin will be signed "Vacheron & Constantin" while not being made by the true company. Use of a different or partial name at worst only connotes an attempt to capitalize, but legally, is simply a different firm.

Web comments have noted, without source, that Vacheron & Constantin received at least two letters addressed to "Vacheron Frères" in Geneva around 1850, to which the company testily replied that no such company existed. Even this statement was incorrect, as can be evidenced by numerous watches we see today of generic quality, some in gold of good grade, and the present box bearing this signature, all from the same period and region. Neither ignorance nor denial proves a negative.

"The World of Vacheron & Constantin Genève," a magnificent work of reference, actually laments in its lengthy and rich historical treatise that so little is known of other early members of the Vacheron family, some involved in the watch trade, many born in the late 18th century and in their prime in the first half of the 19th. "A few crumbs of hard fact" describe numerous family members, some who went to France, some who stayed in Switzerland, some who were said to have worked with Breguet.

Additionally, the notion that Vacheron & Constantin watches were something to be "faked" by 1850 ignores history; Vacheron & Constantin was at that time not readily distinguished from many other companies in Geneva, Le Locle or La Chaux-de-Fonds. The company arranged some lovely products under the comptoir method since its adoption of the V&C name in 1819, and when their marketing started to really develop. It was only after such developments as Leschot's introduction of machinery, and the magnificent association with Verger Frères, both of which occurred later in the century, that Vacheron & Constantin came to the distinction that now places it among the world's top companies."
Re: Vacheron Freres - Rant or Insight?
09/12/2013 - 22:56
That's a lot of words, so 'rant'.... G
That's a good rule of thumb Gary
09/13/2013 - 05:49
I think the dialogue is also colored by the fact they have one of these Vacheron Freres watches to sell.  Seems the logic implied is that it wouldn't be a "fake" is there was a legimate Genevois maker also using the name...
To set the record straight
09/14/2013 - 21:43
OK, so I admit this thread was a bit of a litmus test to see if fellow forum members with vintage interests would be interested in discussing the history of VC as much as their products.  I realize so much depends on access to the reference materials, which excludes many.  While I don't know if this intrepid salesman ever made it to THL for his research, for our benefit at least, I'd like to address his comments. To begin, one may logically infer, with founder Jean-Marc Vacheron having been born in Geneva in 1731 and his father holding the high office of town Bailiff, that they would be aware of any legitimate endeavor under the name Vacheron Freres.  Did any of his five brothers band together to produce under the name Vacheron Freres?  The evidence is that, while Jean-Marc's siblings were also involved in the Genevois watch industry, they were case-fitters and filers, not watchmakers.  It was his son Abraham that continued the company legacy under the name Vacheron-Girod.  Note: although I recall mention that brother Louis Andre Vacheron was also a watchmaker, I cannot find the reference and would appreciate any help here. Our critic cites The World of Vacheron Constantin by Lambelet and Coen as his reference.  While I greatly appreciate the photo archives reproduced in the final chapter of this book (a reason why its a "must have" for the vintage collector) it is, like the similar High Society book published for VC by Assouline, a historic commentary and NOT a technical reference on the Manufacture itself.  As an aside, the Secrets of Vacheron Constantin by Cologni provides a nice mix of the historical and technical so is also highly recommended. To address the point suggesting that V&C watches prior to 1850 were not significant or valuable enough to warrant fakery; again the Annales, conveniently albeit incompletely translated by Antiquorum in The Art of Vacheron Constantin, provide first-hand evidence to the contrary.  Even before the arrival of Francois Constantin, Jacques-Bartelemy Vacheron was preoccupied with their reputation, as suggested in this passage from a letter dated April, 1817:"...let us persist in our plans, that is not to let anything pass in all that carries our name whatever the pretext.  Redouble therefore your severity for the good finishing of everything that is in production and what is newly begun, so that our reputation, which we have established very well in these regions, will be maintained." J-B Vacheron spent much time in Italy cultivating royal clientele (Constantin took over this role when he joined the firm) but, during difficult economic times, dispared that their fine work wasn't saleable: "No more fine pieces, no more clocks, etc...the game isn't worth the candle.  It would be better to haul them along until ressurection day in the collection.  On the contrary, we should replace such things by runners' specimens of acceptable quality, at least that leaves some profit on the sale." Thank goodness they rejected such diminishment of the brand's quality, and thus reputation, and instead came upon the scheme of offering their own secondary lines as referenced in this letter from Francois Constantin in October, 1819.  Perhaps a growing profilieration of Vacheron fakes also motivated this strategy: "Your last repeaters Girod-Colomby have a very good appearance, you risk nothing by having the name Vacheron-Girod put on them.  These wretched watch-makers attach far more importance to the name than to the work (LOL, some things never change).  Now that you are organised for this kind of item you can make them reliable in such a way as not to fear reproaches, and one of our names will give them a great deal of favour." To conclude with a direct discussion of V&C fakes in the historical record; here is the famous response written by Cesar Vacheron in 1850, in reply to yet another letter received at the Manufacture addressed to Vacheron Freres, as recounted in the Annales:"There is no maker of horology by the name of Vacheron Freres.  There are many watches with this name, but they are imitations of secondary quality.  There are a great many people who, not wishing to give themselves the trouble of making a name, find it useful to use that of another."
Research doesn't come easy...
09/14/2013 - 23:45
Dean - I've read, with great interest, your submissions. - indeed I've done so several times. You put forward powerful argument or sow the seeds of lively discussion. To be honest. I cannot arrive with a balanced judgement. other than learn from what you've place before me. Like most operations/companies, they have chequed pasts before finally surfacing in a guise or brand that we've come to identify with and so on. The strength of the future lies in the past and it's in that respect that I commend your work turning over historic data and information that is available. To summerise, I cannot come to a definative decision on various aspects, but your work, interest and commitment certainly conditions my thinking in no small measure. We've a lot to thank you for. Tony
Tony, you are so right...
09/15/2013 - 00:57
no one can say absolutely what is right or wrong without access to company archives, city records, guild records, etc., etc.  Even with all the facts there is also interpretation.  That is why I so value the letters found within the Annales which reveal inner thoughts.  My hope is that they will be translated in their entirety some day, rather than selectively as with the Art of Vacheron Constantin.  If anyone feels up to this tremendous task, let me know as I have the complete French manuscript but have only done a partial translation using a professional service.
I'm interested...
09/16/2013 - 00:50
...in the history of the whole Swiss watch industry, the inheritance from english watchmakers, the Huguenots, the cottage industry angle, the spread across the cantons...right up to the rise of Swatch and so on. the whole thing is fascinating. Do you know of a good book that covers the topic, Dean? As for Vacheron Freres, I'll bow to greater knowledge so if you say they're a sham, that's good enough for me!
Recommended Reading thread
09/16/2013 - 18:53
take a look at this: Recommended Reading