What did Francois Constantin really mean?

"Do better if possible, and that is always possible".  Famous words indeed!  But did Francois Constantin actually pen this phrase in a letter to Jean-Marc Vacheron from Turin on the 5th of July, 1819?

The VC French website provides the quote as follows; «Faire mieux si possible, ce qui est toujours possible» which translates via Google as "Do better if possible, which is always possible", while the Art of Vacheron Constantin from Antiquorum (who had access to VC archives for the catalog) gives their English translation from the original French letter as, "By continuing to do better if we can, which is always possible, we shall make ourselves masters of the purchasers..."

Throw into the mix the Annales of Charles Constantin, wherein he provides this extract from the self-same letter: « Les voyageurs qui ont passé avant moi ont fait fort peu, cependant ils ont fait quelque chose.  Si vous me secondez bien, je vous promets que nous ferons en horlogerie autant qu’eux tous à la fois.  Je suis parvenu à traiter à prix fixe avec tous les horlogers, il n’y a que les Musy qui regimbent encore, mais ils y viendront tout comme les autres.  Alors je vous réponds que nous serons forts !  Notre horlogerie est très estimée ici, en continuant à faire mieux si possible, ce qui est toujours possible, nous nous rendrons maîtres des acheteurs, vous savez que c’est ma chimère, tâchez qu’elle se réalise. »

Due to my unfortunate ignorance, again I default to Google for a basic translation that I've edited slightly for readability:

"Travellers (salesmen) who have gone before me have done very little, yet they did something. If you support me, I promise you that we will sell as much as all of them together. I managed to deal at fixed prices with all watchmakers, though there is that Musy who still balks, but they will follow like the others. So my answer is that we will be strong! Our watches are highly regarded here, continue to do better if possible, which is always possible, and we will master the buyers, you know it's my chimera, try to make it a reality."

I welcome others to provide alternate translations or clarifications!  I'm particularity interested in the use of "chimère" rather than "rêve" or dream.  Chimera was a mythical beast made from the parts of a human, lion, snake and goat.  The word also came to mean a fantasy or illusion; something rather more improbable than a dream.  Was Constantin suggesting that he himself had doubts about their ability to realize constant improvement?  Was his challenge more a fantasy than a dream?

In the modern era, can we take his words to apply to more than just the mechanical watch itself?  Perhaps the buying experience, ongoing maintenance, warranty service, the administrative process, the influence of the customer upon design, even the interactions between customers?  I see present-day VC addressing many of these challenges today.  Has VC remained true to Francois Constantin's vision?

2 centimes worth!
08/15/2012 - 21:29
That’s a pretty good translation, Dean. Just a few points for clarification (although I’m sure les vrai francais will have something to add J  ) The phrase “je suis parvenu a traiter a prix fixe” is more idiomatically translated as “I succeeded in negotiating a fixed price with the watchmakers” “…regimber…” in this context can be translated idiomatically as “Musy goes along but still grumbles about it” The word “chimere although from the same root does not mean “chimera”. Rather it means a pipe dream or a difficult, perhaps unattainable goal. It’s not the same as “reve” which is a regular dream one has a night (or day). I don’t think I would use the word “fantasy” to translate it since this is not what he meant. It’s more like Pope’s: “Hope springs eternal in the human breast Man never is but always to be blessed”   Also, there may be a mistake in the word “tachez” which is the imperative form, like giving an order. It probably should be the infinitive form,   "tacher". “Tacher que is followed by the subjunctive, so that the entire sentence can be translated to expressVacheron's meaning as:  “You know that it is my fervent hope to make it come true” (with a little poetic license to expess his feelings here.). I think Vacheron realized the difficulty of his goal and had no illusions that it WOULD be difficult. But I think that he felt he would succeed. Just my thoughts.
Re: What did Francois Constantin really mean?
08/15/2012 - 22:52
JB translated quite well "Travellers (salesmen) who have gone before me have done very little, yet they did something. If you support me well, I promise you that we will do in watchmaking (sell) as much as all of them together. I managed to deal at fixed prices with all watchmakers, but the Musy are still reluctant, yet they will come to (accept) it like the others. So, I assure you that we will be strong! Our watches are highly regarded here; by continuing to do better if possible, which is always possible, we will master the buyers, you know it's my pipe dream, try to make it a reality." Some words are used in old way (like "je réponds de", "tâchez de"), which is not common anymore
Re: What did Francois Constantin really mean?
08/16/2012 - 02:12
This is a very interesting post, Dean. Here are my humble imputs. "je vous promets que nous ferons en horlogerie autant qu’eux tous à la fois" You have omitted "horlogerie" in your translation. I have the feeling that Constantin wants to become a reference in horology. Not only in terms of sales, but in all fields. "les Musy qui regimbent encore". "Les" = plural form. We usually don't add a 's' to family names (of course there are exceptions...), so it should be "the Musys". I assume Constantin is referring to Musy Père & Fils (Father & Son). "regimber" is to be understood as "protest" or "resist". "chimère". It's a vain hope. Constantin is convinced that it's always possible to do better, but he knows that mastering the buyers is very unlikely. For me, "chimère" is only related to "nous nous rendrons maîtres des acheteurs". FC is confident in their ability to have a continuous improvement process (without knowing the ISO9001 standard ;o) ) and is putting pressure on Vacheron! This is a letter of a self-confident and ambitious person, no doubt about it.
Brilliant, thanks everyone :-)
08/16/2012 - 04:36
nt
Good to see French still alive in Canada, Russia and...um...France:-)
08/16/2012 - 11:43
N
Great team work
08/17/2012 - 19:42
yes
test, test
08/18/2012 - 05:58
forum was down for awhile
Can't post a new thread!
08/18/2012 - 18:48
Just get a message saying the site is down for maintenance, yet I can post a reply to an existing thread.  I was going to introduce a couple of new items but it will have to wait until we return from our hike along the west coast of Vancouver Island.  Cheers,