1755: Jean-Marc Vacheron opens a workshop in the Cité. This refers to the Old City of Geneva which occupied the south bank where the river Rhône emptied into Lac Léman. While no exact location of J-M's workshop is known, it may help to visualize that the spiritual center of the Old City was the Cathedrale Saint-Pierre, who's spire acts as a beacon for miles around. To underscore it's historic roots, a pre-Christian Chieftan's burial site has been excavated under the church's foundations and may be toured. It's a most worthwhile place to begin...
1812: Vacheron Girod takes premises in the Maison Favre, 226 rue de l'Ile. While that street name no longer exists, not even in my 1905 Baedeker's map, the name suggests it was either on the Island or an approach road to the Island. This may be the earliest date that Vacheron occupied premises on l'Ile.
1816: Vacheron Chossat occupies the Maison Tremblay at 88 rue de la Rhône. This locale is again on the south bank, running southeast from Place Bel-Air. Our sleuthing led to the modern-day site.
The very location occupied in 1816 is now home to a high-rise building with a jewelery store on the main floor. But wait...across the street...
Yes, there is still a presence! Next to the host hotel, in fact. We strolled over to visit and found five diligent employees who seems slightly alarmed at our presence. I must have been a spectacle waving around old maps and papers
1834: Workshops were installed on the 3rd floor of a building situated at l'angle des Bergues. In 1835, they expanded to the fourth floor and in 1839 Georges-Auguste Leschot began development of his revolutionary machinery on these very premises. This description is a bit vague, referencing only the corner at the Bergues. Today this may suggest a few locations; perhaps where the Quai des Bergues meets the Pont des Bergues on the north bank, or some locale bordering the Place des Bergues next to the Four Seasons Hotel.
In 1840, additional space was rented on the 5th floor at 11 rue Berthelier. While this street no longer exists, research indicates it was bordering onto Place des Bergues, which would have made it convenient to the main shops.
1844: A historic date, when Vacheron & Constantin finally takes up residence in the former prison tower on the Island, famously known to us as the Tour de l'Ile. The workshops were installed on the 3rd floor and a wooden staircase was constructed on the outside to gain access.
On October 7, 1846, during the Sonderbundskrieg (civil war) an errant canon shot was fired from the passage de la Monnnaie, across the Place Bel-Air, and crashed through the second floor wall. You may just see the old repairs!
Coincidentally, the statue erected here is for Philibert Berthelier, who was the last person executed at the Tower in 1519, for leading an independence movement against the Duke of Savoy.
Vacheron & Constantin were permitted to add additional workspace in 1852, which fulfilled their needs until 1875. At this time, a new building specially constructed for the Manufacture was finished across the road at 1 Quai des Moulins, where they still lease space today, albeit with the mailing address of 7 Quai de l'Ile, on the other side of the block.
Georges-Auguste Leschot is rightfully held in great esteem here and we were pleased to go a bit out of our way to find the street bearing his name, located a block east of the Plainpalais between Rue de Carouge and Place des Philosophes.
One other site required pilgrimage; 2 Place des Alpes:
At this location the outstanding watchmaker Louis-Benjamin Audemars opened his first retail shop in 1875 .
I hope you've enjoyed this tour of past and present. One thing that puzzles me after our adventure are the ads that greeted our arrival at the Geneva Airport, and seemed to mock us on departure...