A new watch collection from Vacheron Constantin riffs on a vintage classic
The 1950s was the decade of jazz, counterculture and groundbreaking design. The year 1956 was a particularly good one. Charles and Ray Eames unveiled the first iteration of their plywood and leather lounge chair, Braun launched its Dieter Rams-designed Phonosuper SK4 radio/record player, and Swiss manufacturer Vacheron Constantin introduced its Reference 6073 dress watch, equipped with an automatic, self-winding movement. It had a water-resistant construction and a distinctively crafted case with elegantly integrated lugs that resembled the arms of a Maltese cross.
Some 62 years later, the Reference 6073’s cocktail-hour aesthetic has become the inspiration for a new collection, the Fiftysix. With its 18ct pink gold or stainless steel case, clean baton- Arabic numeral index and Mississippi alligator strap, the Fiftysix Complete Calendar nods to the past, but is built for a modern lifestyle. The watch’s transparent caseback reveals the movement’s Côtes de Genève, circular graining and snailing finishes, as well as the new oscillating weight designed especially by Vacheron Constantin for this collection. It’s another design classic in the making.
Wallpaper* meets Christian Selmoni
Wallpaper*:You’ve recently changed job titles from artistic director to style and heritage director. Can you explain the change?
Christian Selmoni: During the last 20 years, I have been mostly active in the field of product concept, design and watch development within Vacheron Constantin. Last year, our CEO Mr Louis Ferla gave me the opportunity to move to my present position, the main mission of which is to develop and showcase the richness and unicity of Vacheron Constantin’s heritage.
W*: How are you telling the story of watches from different eras?
CS: Vacheron Constantin’s heritage department has been built around an exceptional fund or archives – more than 400 linear metres – together with a private collection of around 1500 Vacheron Constantin watches, from 1755 to the present day. Today, we focus our efforts on communicating this unique heritage by different means: exhibitions of course, but also with the use of digital tools and social media. We have, in particular, created @thehourlounge, our Instagram account for vintage Vacheron Constantin watches. In addition, we are now also offering a selection of vintage Vacheron Constantin watches, fully restored, to selected clients within our network of boutiques.
W*:We noticed that Vacheron Constantin is currently staging an exhibition ‘Nicknames’, at its boutique on Rue de la Paix, Paris, paying tribute to the unusual designs, details and eccentric nicknames of its vintage models. Is a big part of your job delving into the archive for inspiration, ideas and projects?
CS: Yes, definitely. The amazing richness of the Maison’s heritage is a permanent source of inspiration for our designers. So, in this context my mission is to research and extract, from our heritage, products, products details and stories to nurture future creations of Vacheron Constantin.
W*: How would you describe the Vacheron Constantin archive?
CS: As previously mentioned, we have more than 400 linear meters of archives at our disposal. This means letters, designs, sketches, technical files, photographs, and many other documents. This database is permanently growing, as we are adding contemporary records to the fund or archive. Obviously, paper archives and records from the past are kept in a protected area – with a controlled temperature and humidity levels.
W*: Is every Vacheron timepiece represented in the archive?
CS: Maybe the most remarkable asset of the Vacheron Constantin archive remains its manufacturing registers: all our timepieces include identification numbers – both engraved on the movement and the case – and our registers include all production details of our watches since the early years, so this is an invaluable asset when we’re about to authenticate a vintage Vacheron Constantin timepiece to be offered at auction, for example.
W*:How was the new Vacheron Constantin Fiftysix collection influenced by the archive and the Reference 6073 model?
CS: The Reference 6073, from 1956, is a particularly interesting design from the 1950s. It includes lugs, the shape of which is inspired by the Maltese cross, emblem of the Maison. The Reference 6073 has been the main source for inspiration when designing the FiftySix collection. The FiftySix collection is a modern collection, which still incorporates a touch of vintage – a retro-contemporary timepiece in a nutshell. This vintage touch in the FiftySix design is directly inherited from our Reference 6073 from 1956.
W*:Culturally speaking, lots of great things happened in 1956. What is your memorable event of that year?
CS: For jazz lovers, 1956 will recall Miles Davis famous quintet; even if I am a big fan of Miles Davis music, 1956 evokes for me Elvis Presley and the famous ‘Heartbreak Hotel’. In the field of fine arts, the great painter Jackson Pollock unfortunately passed away in 1956 too.
W*:You have been at Vacheron Constantin for 28 years now. What changes have you noticed during your three decades at the company?
CS: Well, obviously many things have changed. Some 30 years ago, fine watchmaking was a matter of specialists, and the public wasn’t too familiar with high-end watches. Today, this is a completely different situation. From the design and creation angle, the biggest change has certainly been the introduction of powerful 3D-tools for design and conception. Thanks to such tools and software – even if the initial sketches are still made by hand – we have been able to create more complex and sophisticated design, yet still respecting the classic and refined style of Vacheron Constantin watches.
Economic upheavals caused by the advent of battery-driven wristwatch movements threatening to ruin traditional horology. Whole communities worked in watchmaking, but during that period we thought that mechanical watchmaking would disappear forever, so we looked for alternative careers. I studied for a masters in purchasing instead – something not really related to design or the creative process.
Then, at the end of the 1980s, Vacheron Constantin got in touch and reassured me that mechanical watchmaking was making a comeback. I joined the company as head of supply, later becoming head of manufacturing, which meant I knew a bit more about how to make a watch. We started with one designer and myself and we built a team. The main changes have been in the design development and manufacturing process; creating raw components and mock-ups with the use of CNC machines, computers, 3-D printers, and digital software.
Our watches have a style and aesthetic that is classic and elegant, but the state-of-the-art, high-end technology that we use to make them is key to their success. All this technology is here to sustain and enhance our watchmaking traditions. During all my years at the company, it has been absolutely critical for us to continue our traditions and craftsmanship, to keep doing things by hand wherever possible, but to also keep moving forward.§
Vacheron Fiftysix Tourbillon
Slim like a long playing record and cool as a Miles Davis classic, Vacheron Constantin’s FIFTYSIX Tourbillon is less than 6mm thick. With an ultra-thin self-winding movement equipped with a 22-carat gold peripheral rotor, the calibre of the watch is visible through a transparent case back revealing its beauty, beat and refined ornamentation. The movement is an opus of meticulously applied creativity – the tourbillon alone called for over a dozen hours of chamfering and other hand-crafted finishing operations. Like a metronome, its 2.5 Hz frequency provides a chance to follow its steady beat, framed by a 41 mm-diameter case. On the two-tone opaline-sunburst dial, decoration plays an equally exceptional tune.