Vacheron Constantin and the lady’s watch
A new chapter in a story of devotion
Vacheron Constantin’s expertise in watches for women dates from the early 19th century.
In 2013, Vacheron Constantin dedicated most of its new watches to women.
Three major collections, Patrimony, Malte and Métiers d’Art, encompass creations that have been entirely conceived and designed for women.
Vacheron Constantin’s tradition as a producer of women’s watches started with the 19th century, when the first pocket-watches especially made for women appeared. Although smaller than men’s watches they were much more lavishly decorated and thus demanded skills in miniaturisation and decoration that only a few of the watchmakers of the time possessed. Vacheron Constantin was one of them. One of the first of the manufacture’s women’s watches was a quarter-repeater produced in around 1810 and which proves that watchmaking complications were not only for men.
It was an age when a lady was not expected to know the exact time, still less enquire of it in society. Vacheron Constantin therefore embarked on the creation of watches as real jewellery that came to symbolise the status of their owners. They were soon to become the indispensible accessory, worn chest high on a sautoir, hung on a chatelaine of keys, pinned to the dress or disguised as a brooch. Such objects stretched the imaginative capacities of the manufacture’s craftsmen and women, not only the elite watchmakers but also the engravers, enamellists, engineturners, jewellers and gem-setters as they strived to meet the expectations of their wealthy clients.
Diamonds, turquoises, rubies, pearls, onyx, garnets and many other precious stones were mustered to frame eye-glasses, create the petals and pistils of flowers, or bring glory to a miniature in enamels or a finely chased and engraved scene. The Vacheron Constantin manufacture, attentive to the slightest detail, then attached as much importance to the case and mechanism as to ensuring the perfection of the chains, sautoirs or brooches accessory to the watch. Gradually the precious and semi-precious stones were no longer confined to frames and outlines, but constituted a decoration in themselves, progressively covering the entire precious metal of the case or bracelet and bringing jewellery to the peak of sophistication. When platinum started replacing silver, even finer monograms and other engraved motifs became possible.
A creative profusion of ladies’ watches
The widows of Vacheron and Constantin took over control of the business in the 1870s. Although it was a critical period marked by economic crisis, the two women made an undoubted contribution to the development of the firm.
At the end of the 19th century, the wristwatch started to assert its claim as a legitimate and practical style. History tells us that it was initially designed for women before being adopted by men. Vacheron Constantin immediately appreciated the potential of the market for women’s wristwatches. In 1889, it brought out a wristwatch for ladies that vindicated the manufacture’s reputation for workmanship. It featured a revolutionary way of winding the watch and setting the time by simply turning the bezel, thus avoiding the need for a winding crown.
While it was launching its first wristwatches, Vacheron Constantin embraced the talents of one Ferdinand Verger, casemaker at the Place des Victoires in Paris. The partnership’s multitude of designs combining mechanisms with gemstones helped revive the jewellery watch. Then the 20th century introduced a new style that set an even higher level of miniaturisation. The baguette watch, based on a calibre that Vacheron Constantin introduced in 1914, widened the artistic scope for jewellery watches while meeting the standard of precision promised by the brand. Even today, some models in the Kalla collection are fitted with Vacheron Constantin’s calibre 1005 baguette movement, a direct descendant of those first baguette movements.
The Geneva style of watchmaking, ornate yet refined has never left the Maison. Contemporary fashions and artistic trends inspired a plethora of watches that today bear witness to women’s emancipation and the scale of the 20th century’s creative output. Some took the shape of the cameos that were fashionable from around 1900 to 1920; others came in a variety of forms: oval, octagonal or even a bowed rectangle. Vacheron Constantin’s creations for women rejoiced in the freedom to astonish as the years went by, from sinuous Art Nouveau to geometrical Art Deco with watches that hung from cuff-links, bracelets in woven chain, linked rods or that wrapped thrice around the wrist, and straps of satin ribbon or leather.
Their pre-eminence is manifest from the numerous advertising campaigns featuring women from the 1940s to the 1980s.
Today, Vacheron Constantin pays a new tribute to women. The 2013 vintage, presented at the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH) in Geneva, shows the brand’s determination to dedicate their best work to women by combining the beauty intrinsic in artistic craftsmanship with the technical mastery of the mechanisms of time.
Three major collections each offer their own interpretation of time in the feminine gender. The Malte collection extends the celebration of its 100th anniversary with a seductive emphasis of its curvaceous case. Patrimony is home to original creations in the Contemporary and Tradition styles that extol the jewellery-making skills of the manufacture’s gem-setters. Finally the latest opus of the Métiers d’Art collection, called Florilège, draws from ancient knowledge to steal a woman’s heart with three outstanding models.
The Patrimony collection in a celebration of the woman’s watch
Feminine creations vitalise the Patrimony Contemporaine and Patrimony Traditionnelle lines.
An exceptional tribute to fine jewellery, with a dial set entirely in baguette diamonds, demonstrates the brand’s mastery of the art.
These new watches are all stamped with the Hallmark of Geneva.
The Patrimony collection is custodian to the true horological tradition and is thus part of Vacheron Constantin’s genetic make-up. The unvaryingly round cases express the enduring classic style in a renewed testimony to the Vacheron Constantin’s heritage. The innate elegance of these timepieces is distilled from centuries of expertise, today with the investiture of the Geneva hallmark.
While the Patrimony Contemporaine watches embrace the present, the Patrimony Traditionnelle models lay claim, as their name suggests, to a classic style in keeping with watchmaking’s historical legacy. Finally, the Patrimony High Jewellery timepiece is a reminder that the craftsmen of fine watchmaking can unite their talents with the most skilful jewellers.
Patrimony Contemporaine Lady gold bracelet
The eternal circle. The Patrimony Contemporaine presents its ever-round cases with an understatement that has become a byword in the upper echelons of watchmaking. Timeless, yet in the spirit of the times, the collection this year hosts a lady’s watch with a diameter of 36mm. Two versions give free consent to the marriage between style and technique. In the new design, the clean lines of the case are softened by the warmth of pink gold, which goes admirably with the complexion of both models.
The first crowns an opaline silver-toned dial framed by a bezel circled with round diamonds. The original, diamond-set minutes scale is another feature that ties the watch to the spirit of the times. The fine applied hour markers and slender hands for the hours and minutes are curved to follow the external curve of the dial. The central seconds hand sweeps over diamonds and gold while the date display at 6 o’clock sets the finishing touch to a demonstration of harmony and balance. Urbane elegance extends to a pink gold bracelet with links that gently hold the wrist. The case’s display back gives a superb view of the mechanical self-winding calibre 2450 movement that was developed and built in Vacheron Constantin’s workshops.
The second version, paved with almost 800 diamonds, pays a further tribute to the Maison’s expertise in jewellery. The gems take over the entire surface of the dial and invade the bezel and the outside of the bracelet. The proprietary calibre 2460 shows off its exceptional workmanship through the display back.
These two Patrimony Contemporaine models comply with the new requirements of the Hallmark of Geneva (Poinçon de Genève). Institutionalised by the parliament of the Republic and Canton of Geneva in 1886, the hallmark is an umbrella guarantee of provenance, workmanship, durability and skill. Once independent, this unmatched label of quality was thoroughly overhauled in 2011. The certification no longer applies to just the movement, but now to the watch as a whole. This is a major milestone for this hallmark of authenticity that has long had Vacheron Constantin’s support in its endeavour to meet the real expectations of ever more discerning customers.