Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

Vacheron Constantin chief reveals the challenges that traditional watchmakers face

Strong values and the art of watchmaking continue to propel Swiss watchmaker Vacheron Constantin 260 years after it was set up

Published: Dec 1, 2016 06:14:32 AM IST
Updated: Dec 1, 2016 05:14:12 PM IST

Vacheron Constantin chief reveals the challenges that traditional watchmakers face
Vacheron CEO Juan Carlos Torres says strong values create great brands

Founded in 1755, Vacheron Constantin is the world’s oldest watchmaker (in continuous operation). It introduced the first ever complication in a watch (any function other than display of time) way back in 1770 and is today acknowledged as the master of complications. Its unique timepiece ‘57260’ with 57 complications is testimony to that. Its cheapest watch in India is priced in excess of Rs 10 lakh while models like Traditionnelle in platinum cost Rs 5.5 crore. Vacheron’s CEO Juan Carlos Torres, who was in India recently to launch its Overseas Collection, spoke to Forbes India about the longevity of the brand and the challenges that traditional watchmakers like Vacheron face. Edited excerpts:

Q. Vacheron recently celebrated its 260th anniversary. What is the secret of your longevity?
The secret is in the hands of the watchmakers. I think the success is coming from their work and dedication to the real values of the brand. Strong values create great brands. For 260 years, we have been creating, building and exporting watches. The transfer of watchmaking knowledge has never snapped in the last 260 years. The Vacheron brand has five strong corporate values—passion, following tradition, creativity, openness to the world, and respect. When you have such strong deep values, nothing can happen to the brand. Also, Vacheron is the only brand offering the right balance between technique and design. Both are always at the same level. You can have the most important technical watch, but [it could be] ugly. You can have a nicely designed watch which is not technically strong. It is always important to combine these two things.

Q. Where does the brand stand in the global pecking order?

Vacheron is part of the big four Swiss watchmakers [Patek Philippe, Breguet and Audemars Piguet being the other three]. We were the oldest watchmaker in the world and held the number one [spot] for more than a century.

Q.  For your 260th anniversary, you came out with a watch that is considered to be the most complicated in the world. Tell us about it.

This watch is a milestone as it extended the frontiers of watchmaking. We simply called it 57260 as it has 57 complications and was made for the 260th anniversary. Eight years ago, I met a customer in New York who wanted a watch with a whole lot of complications. I told him that it will take time. The customer said he would wait. He waited for eight years and together we created the most complicated watch in the world. It is a unique watch. This watch has two calendars—Gregorian and Hebrew. Creating a Hebrew calendar was a big challenge as it is not linked to real numbers. Other complications include chronograph, moon phase, astronomical calendar, perpetual calendar, alarm, split seconds, minute repeater and dual time. Before this, the most complicated watch [Patek Philippe’s Calibre 89] had just 33 complications. We proved with this piece that Vacheron continues to be the master of complications.

Q. Today, watches are not just timepieces. They are expected to offer a lot more than just show the time. How does a traditional watchmaker like you adapt to this change?
We have adapted our technique of watchmaking over the last 260 years when it comes to new systems, new ways of producing a watch and use of new materials. But the way we do the product is relatively the same. The only real innovation in the history of watchmaking so far is quartz. The rest is evolution and adaptation. Nothing has changed. How each wheel inside a watch calculates the time and the energy is actually the same.

Q. What about the more recent developments like the connected watches? Some Swiss watchmakers such as Breitling and TAG Heuer have launched such watches.

If you want to be a part of the big four Swiss watchmakers, you have to have a certain philosophy. TAG Heuer and Breitling are industrial products. We produce less than 25,000 pieces a year. Those companies produce over a million pieces a year. They are totally different. Connected watches are electronics and not really watchmaking. Connected watches may kill a few brands, but not well-established traditional brands. Vacheron is a respected brand with a history of watchmaking technique. It is not a technology brand. Technique is a skill and tradition that is passed on over centuries while technology can be bought.

Q. Are complications still the biggest attraction for watch buyers? What are the new trends in complications?
Yes, for sure. Complications are the selling point. But in watchmaking there are set traditions. If you change them, the collectors don’t like it. It is always minute repeater with tourbillon and chronograph with perpetual calendar. You cannot make chronograph with minute repeater. You can change size and design, but the relationship between complications remains the same.

(This story appears in the 09 December, 2016 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)