Collectors’ corner: Vacheron Constantin remasters a century of fine-watch designs

Volet wristwatch in yellow gold
Les Collectionneurs Montres à Volet wristwatch in yellow gold, 1930.
(Image credit: Kayser & Schmuck)

Wristwatches were still a relatively novel idea in the 1930s, and the absence of established forms meant designers had free rein to experiment. Vacheron Constantin’s touring ‘Les Collectionneurs’ exhibition, which focuses on a century of its heritage designs, offers a chance to see – and acquire – a century’s worth of some of the finest watch designs ever conceived.

Each eponymous piece has been restored by the brand and brought back to life with such care as to reveal period design quirks as if for the first time. Take the 1949 yellow gold wristwatch: the glass that covers the dial appears regulation smooth, but when viewed at a new angle, a teasingly faceted design emerges. This sly optical illusion is barely imperceptible when photographed. But, when given a second glance on the wrist, the dial appears to splinter.

‘It’s a good design trick,’ says Vacheron’s heritage and style director Christian Selmoni. ‘The designers wanted the design to be twisted – they weren’t at all inhibited back then.’

Other designs date from decades earlier – the jumping-hour calendar pocket watch from the 1920s is Art Deco to the core and continues to inspire Vacheron Constantin’s design team. ‘Sometimes, we adopt an element that has come from one of our watches of the past,’ Selmoni says. ‘Or, when we were looking at inspiration for modern watches we consider some of the heritage pieces and imagine what they might look like now.’

Other models can be dated by their distinctive colour tones: the champagne dial of the rose-gold chronograph wristwatch sees the two metal tones combine to create a rich, vintage warmth of a kind that would be hard to achieve today. ‘These days our marketing department would say no to a lot of these heritage watch designs,’ Selmoni adds. ‘The magic of seeing them altogether in the exhibition is that they let us reconnect with our past and rediscover things we didn’t realise we had already done.’

Les Collectionneurs wristwatch in yellw gold

 Les Collectionneurs wristwatch in yellw gold, 1949

(Image credit:

Pocket watch in white and yellow gold

Les Collectionneurs two tone jumping hours calendar pocket watch in white and yellow gold, 1927

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Les Collectionneurs Complete Calendar wristwatch in pink gold

Les Collectionneurs Complete Calendar wristwatch in pink gold, 1947

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Hannah Silver is the Art, Culture, Watches & Jewellery Editor of Wallpaper*. Since joining in 2019, she has overseen offbeat design trends and in-depth profiles, and written extensively across the worlds of culture and luxury. She enjoys meeting artists and designers, viewing exhibitions and conducting interviews on her frequent travels.