A Journey to Geneva, Part One: Vacheron Constantin Manufacture Visit

I just came back from Geneva in Switzerland and would like to share a fantastic experience with you.

All started in the morning of March 5 with an Instagram message from Vacheron Constantin whether I would be available for an exclusive visit of their Manufacture in Geneva on March 19. Wait, what? Vacheron Constantin, one of the oldest Swiss watch brands invited me to visit their International Headquarters in Geneva? You bet I was available!

Marc Montagne, Digital Marketing Manager at Vacheron, took care of all the preparations and off I went.

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Sunday, March 18

Waiting for my flight at KLIA.

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Ready for a new adventure.

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Ready for take-off after a short layover in Doha, Qatar. Destination Paris.

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Up in the air.

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I arrived late on Sunday evening at Charles de Gaulle Airport. Travelling from Asia to Europe is always exhausting, no matter what. A chauffeur picked me up at the Airport and drove me to the hotel in central Paris where I straight away crashed into the bed. The last leg to Geneva would be by bullet train the next day.

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Monday, March 19

View form the hotel room in the morning. I am used to an average of 32 degress during the whole year. Paris was freezing cold and there was this white stuff everywhere. Oh, and look… Vacheron Constantin was right across the road.

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Arrived on time at the Gare de Lyon, the railway station for all connections to southern France. This station was built in 1900 for the World Exposition and is a beautiful example of Belle Époque architecture.

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The TGV (Train a Grand Vitesse = Bullet Train) was at the platform and ready for boarding. In slightly over 3 hours I would arrive in Geneva. Take a look at the front of the train. They installed the cover from a train with a different painting.

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Arrived to Geneva. Vacheron Constantin’s chauffeur was ready to pick me up. But first things first…

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As a typical “Swiss Boy” I suffer from a serious chocolate addiction. Luckily there was a MIGROS grocery store inside the train station that sells my all-time favourite chocolate. Haven’t had this for more than four years, so you get the picture. Ok, all set. Ready for Vacheron Constantin now.

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Manufacture Vacheron Constantin

Vacheron Constantin’s International Headquarters are located in the outskirts of Geneva, in Plan-les-Ouates. Built between 2001 and 2005, this complex is an interesting piece of architecture designed by the Swiss-French architect Bernard Tschumi. The basic layout is inspired by the Maltese Cross in Vacheron’s logo.

The Headquarters are divided into a factory building (left) and a flagship building (management, right). Can you see the screw head on the roof of the factory building?

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Detail of the interior before leaving the flagship building and entering the factory building.

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Vacheron Constantin is the world’s oldest watch brand in uninterrupted operation since 1755.

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The central atrium with the circular skylight. Viewed from the sky, this skylight looks like a screw head.

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And here we are, the lucky invitees of Vacheron Constantin, ready to explore the workshops. From left to right: Lisa (VC), Simon (Moonphase.fr), Marc (VC), Edmond (Le Monde Edmond), Silas (A Collected Man), myself and Max (VC). Missing on this picture is Greg (Le Guide des Montres). He arrived later.

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Workshops

This is one of the the workshops where the movements are installed into the cases.

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A selection of Vacheron Constantin calibers.

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The legendary Cal. 1120, one of the thinnest automatic calibers, beautifully skeletonized and engraved.

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Cal. 1003, a more classic manual wound caliber which was skeletonized and engraved to perfection. This movement was the slimmest manual caliber when it was launched.

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Workshop for movement assembly.

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View from the workshop on the flagship building.

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Chronographs, Tourbillons and Grandes Complications

This is the workshop for chronographs, tourbillons and grandes complications. Only  true master watchmaker work here.

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In this workshop we had the chance to have a closer look and listen to watches like the Traditionelle Calibre 2755 (Ref. 80172/000P-9589) which combines a Tourbillon, a perpetual calendar and a Minute Repeater. Haute horlogerie par excellence!

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Vintage Department

As next we went to the jewellery workshop were vintage watch cases, etc. are being repaired using traditional craftmanship methods and machines. The photo below shows a watch case that received a new lug.

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This antique topping tool for gear cutting (hand-operated lathe) is still used to produce wheels and pinions for vintage movements in order to stay true to their origins.

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The following picture was taken from a restoration booklet that was delivered to a client with a restored watch. Every step of the restoration is documented. The pictures show how the the gears are cut with a traditional topping tool.

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Vacheron Constantin has a well sorted archive where most vintage references are depicted in 1:1 size and described with all necessary information.

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Another amazing detail of the interior.

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Guillochage

The next room is all about the traditional art of Guillochage. As you can see, the machines in this room are antique but equipped with modern optics.

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The following picture shows the production of a guilloche dial in progress. The relief of the large white plate on the righ-hand side is being transferred onto the dial brass plate on the left.

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Detail of the complex Guillochage apparatus.

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This particular machine was built by hand in 1914. Beautiful!

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Métiers d’Art

As next we had the change to take a closer look at the Métiers d’Art Departement. This is were special pieces and also bespoke pieces are made. Individual engravings on cases or specially painted enamel dials can take several months to produce.

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We were not allowed to make pictures of current works. These pictures give you only a small idea of what is possible. The pieces that are currently in production are truly mind blowing!

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Vacheron Constantin Heritage Department

Now we moved back to the flagship building in order to see some fantastic vintage pieces in the Vacheron Constantin Heritage Department. This fantastic topping tool was used to make gear wheels and pinions.

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Edmond chatting with Diego from the Heritage Department. Everybody was excited about the vintage watches we were about to see. At this point my iPhone had rouhgly 5% battery left…

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Pieces like this beautiful triple calendar minute repeater with classic teardrop lugs make me tick. Have a look at the day/month windows. It’s in Spanish as this piece was probably made for a South American client.

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The rest of the iPhone battery was used to photograph one of the most amazing pieces in the Vacheron Constantin Heritage Department, the legendary 222. This watch was equipped with the aforementioned Cal. 1120, the thinnest automatic caliber at that time.

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Perfect on the wrist! Great case shape combined with a simple matte dial, what an astonishing combo. Vacheron Constantin should definitely consider a reedition of this horological icon. If you build it… they will come!

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After this excellent presentation of historical Vacheron Constantin pieces by Diego Azconegui, we left the headquarters and headed to Geneva for a visit of the Vacheron Constantin Boutique. A final look at the architecture of Bernard Tschumi. Certainly not his most daring project but definitely worlds apart compared to the conservative buildings of other Swiss watch brands.

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Vacheron Constantin Boutique in Geneva

At the Vacheron Constantin Boutique in Geneva there is a special exhibition called “Nicknames” where historical pieces that received nicknames over the course of time are on display.

One of the most iconic pieces is certainly Ref. 6087 from 1955, nicknamed “Cornes de Vache” (Cow horns).

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Another fantastic piece is Ref. 4659 from 1952 which was nicknamed “Crab Lugs”. As you can see, Vacheron Constantin was very creative with lug design during the 1940s and 1950s.

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At some point I spotted this fantastic Antiquorum catalogue from 2005 and started to browse through it.

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Take a look at this fantastic aviator watch from 1936. Only two examples were ever made. It’s huge, 57mm in diameter.

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And then I also found this exceptional piece. A Ref. 296 from 1938. Panerai people will immediately recognize this dial. It looks exactly like the so-called “Mystery” or “SLC” dial, that is “officially” considered to be one of the earliest Panerai dial ever made.

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See what I mean? I will talk about this interesting discovery in a later article.

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Vacheron Constantin invited us for dinner after the boutique visit. We spend a fantastic evening with great food, wine and lots of interesting conversations.

Merci beaucoup Vacheron Constantin and team. This was my very first visit of a watch manufacture and it couldn’t get any better. What a fantastic experience!

End of Part One.

Follow: Vacheron Constantin

Web: Vacheron Constantin

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I would also like to thank the other invitees. Make sure you follow all of them on Instagram!

Edmond Saran: Le Monde Edmond

Greg Blumenfeld: Le Guide des Montres

Silas Walton: A Collected Man

Simon Tran: Moonphase.fr

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Please don’t hesitate to comment if you have any questions or suggestions.

Follow: Perezcope

 

 

 

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