The way Vacheron Constantin presented itself at the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie in January was a surprise to most seasoned onlookers. This was the first SIHH for the brand since new chief executive Louis Ferla took the helm in April last year, and under his headship the company has launched into the mid-century space with a new watch called the FiftySix, inspired by archive model Reference 6073.
The greater surprise is that Vacheron has since chosen to link the FiftySix to a series of partnerships with contemporary music – Benjamin Clementine, James Bay and the iconic Abbey Road Studios are all now on Vacheron’s payroll. This marks a significant shift for the maison.
Last week, Vacheron Constantin invited the world’s press to London for the official launch of the collection, introducing a previously unseen tourbillon model to the FiftySix line-up in the process. We caught up with the maison’s Heritage and Style Director Christian Selmoni to find out more about it.
Dubai Watch Week (DWW): What’s the thinking behind the FiftySix?
Christian Selmoni (CS): We’ve seen that our clients want a watch that’s elegant, classic and refined, but that’s not as dressy and formal as the Patrimony, and not as sporty as the Overseas. So we made a watch that could be a relaxed way to wear Vacheron Constantin.
DWW: That in mind, how did you settle on the watch’s design?
CS: We have a number of heritage designs from our archives that we keep in what you might call a cloud – the Reference 6073 had been in that cloud for some time. The FiftySix rethinks that design and takes some of its details, such as the lugs that look a bit like the Maltese Cross, but it’s not an historic timepiece, in the sense we didn’t want to pay tribute to the design of the original 1956 piece. We wanted to create something that would be retro-contemporary, with a vintage touch, to create a modern watch.
DWW: There are risks involved with introducing new designs, especially when they take a brand into new territory. How confident are you in the FiftySix?
CS: The truth is that these days there is a huge vintage trend, and not only in the field of watchmaking. This is great for us because it’s a chance for us to underline the quality of our heritage – Vacheron Constantin is recognised as a benchmark in classic watchmaking. That said, it’s extremely important to be inspired by this past rather than to redo a watch we did 60 years ago.
DWW: Why hook the FiftySix to music?
CS: Vacheron Constantin has always been connected with culture. We’ve done many métiers d’art pieces connected to culture. There are also lots of links with music – we were once linked to the Paris Opera, for example. But we wanted something more popular, for a wider audience, and this is why we’ve chosen contemporary music. This is a way for us to showcase our openness to the world, which is something we think is very important.
DWW: So what does the FiftySix say about Vacheron Constantin today?
CS: It’s very important to remind our clients that we are a maison created in the 18th century, and that we have a long history, but that we’re not old and dusty. What’s important is to demonstrate we’ve been here a long time, but also that we are able to create totally modern watches. We always have to balance our traditions with modernity. This is what we wanted to do with FiftySix.
DWW: The steel FiftySix Self-Winding becomes the new entry point into Vacheron Constantin – is this collection about attracting a younger generation of consumers into the brand?
CS: It’s not exactly a matter of trying to connect with the younger generation, because when you take a global view, you can’t say one watch is for older customers, another for younger. In Europe, our Patrimony client probably won’t be buying his first watch, but in China Patrimony clients are in their early 30s or even late 20s. What I would say is that globally we have this trend of being more relaxed when we speak about luxury watches. The use of steel can help us reach new clients, but the aim is not to conquest a younger clientele.
DWW: What does the FiftySix say about watch design today?
CS: I think it’s very interesting to look back some 20 years, where watches were more or less all round and classic, with the exception of Reverso and some Cartier watches. At the beginning of the 2000s, we saw a kind of revolution. We saw the emergence of new watch companies, who came with very disruptive designs. Now, we’ve seen there’s room in the field of high watchmaking for many different types of watch design. Every maison and brand has to think about its style, its heritage and its values, and how it wants to express those in its products. Most important for us is that we showcase authenticity. The FiftySix’s design reflects who we are.