Christian Selmoni, Vacheron Constantin
Angus Davies interviews Christian Selmoni, Vacheron Constantin
Angus Davies talks to Christian Selmoni, Vacheron Constantin and discusses the new Fiftysix collection, Les Collectionneurs as well as Christian’s role as the Style and Heritage Director.
Vacheron Constantin is the ‘oldest watchmaking manufacture in the world’. Throughout its 260-year history, the esteemed Maison has never ceased production, creating a body of work few can rival.
Tour de l’Ile
The Manufacture operated from Geneva’s Tour de l’Ile and thereafter, in 1875, moved to the nearby Quai de l’lle. Both historic sites are located opposite each other and remain standing.
Quai de l’lle
A sense of tradition pervades Vacheron Constantin’s paradigm. It was therefore surprising to see the company open a new manufacturing plant in 2004, brimming with modernity. However, purists can be rest assured, the modern facility continues to play host to peerless craftsmanship and time-honoured watchmaking techniques but within a dust-free, almost aseptic environment.
The success of the company shows no signs of abating as more and more discerning horophiles discover the allure of a watch sporting a Maltese cross on its dial.
As a longtime admirer of this historical Maison, I eagerly grasped the opportunity to chat with Christian Selmoni, Vacheron Constantin.
Interview with Christian Selmoni, Vacheron Constantin (CS) by Angus Davies (AD)
AD: What makes Vacheron Constantin special?
CS: Vacheron Constantin has a special meaning for watch lovers and collectors. Our Maison has a unique heritage, not only in the field of watchmaking technique, but also in the field of decorative crafts. Vacheron Constantin’s style is an outstanding combination of technics, aesthetics and finishing which leads to elegance, refinement and understatement.
Vacheron Constantin FiftySix Self-Winding
AD: I believe you were born in the Vallée de Joux, a region synonymous with watchmaking and, in fact, your family has a proud history of watchmaking. Did you ever consider a career as a watchmaker?
I would probably have loved it! My grandfather was a great watchmaker and a very smart person. Unfortunately, I left college during difficult times for traditional watchmaking and, consequently, I decided to go in another direction…. but I have no regrets, as I am particularly clumsy with my hands!
AD: Earlier this year at SIHH 2018, the Maison unveiled an array of different new models, including the new Fiftysix Collection. This model was inspired by a former model of the 1950s, the Reference 6073. While there are clear similarities between the new models and the Reference 6073, there does not appear to be one element which is identical. This clearly must have been difficult to achieve. Which design elements were the most challenging to create?
CS: Vacheron Constantin’s key collections are balanced between two main styles: elegant and dressy for Patrimony and Traditionnelle, and more sporty when speaking about the Overseas. In line with our clients expectations, the main challenge was to create a new expression within the Maison’s range, less formal than Patrimony or Traditionnelle, a cosmopolitan design with a touch of vintage. Our clients are more and more interested in versatile watches, which could be everyday watches, however, still elegant and refined. Fiftysix, with its retro-modern style and the use of steel cases is, for us, the perfect answer to our clients’ requests. It is both contemporary and historically inspired. It incorporates some elements from the reference 6073, an iconic Vacheron Constantin model from 1956. However, these design elements from the fifties are integrated into the aesthetics of the whole watch, creating a modern timepiece with elegant proportions, larger diameter and integrated crown.
Vacheron Constantin Overseas Chronograph
AD: In terms of the sector dial on the Fifty Six models, I especially love the hour track with its sunray motif and the alternating Arabic numerals and batons. The Reference 6073 did not feature a sector dial and the hours were indicated solely with batons. Where did you get the idea for alternating between numerals and batons?
CS: This is a particular rhythm which was researched by our designers in order to make the watch face of the Fiftysix clearly recognisable.
Vacheron Constantin Reference 6073
AD: Was it from a former model?
CS: This kind of alternation can be found on some designs – in the case of the Fiftysix, this is a dial design which is rooted.
Vacheron Constantin FiftySix Complete Calendar
AD: The numerals are presented in a contemporary font sans serifs. Is this a personalised font? Was there a reason for using modern numerals rather than traditional?
CS: Absolutely! Fiftysix always been considered a “retro-contemporary” collection right from the very early stages of the design process. Therefore, our designers have thoughtfully incorporated this blend of tradition and modernity within the watch face of the Fiftysix. The numerals, in particular, were based on a vintage design and re-designed in a more contemporary way… there is still a touch of vintage spirit in the numerals, something subtle that our designers wanted to underline, a link between the past and today.
Vacheron Constantin FiftySix Day-Date
AD: Initially, the FiftySix Self-Winding was launched in three variants, the Self-Winding, the Day-Date and, my personal favourite, the Complete Calendar. Recently, you have also unveiled the FiftySix Tourbillon. What made you choose these specific complications?
CS: Vacheron Constantin watchmaking art and style covers many product segments, from the simple to the most complicated, from dress watches to spectacular “Métiers d’Art” creations. So, it made sense for us to introduce a new line, contemporary with a hint of vintage, to consolidate and develop our product offer, displaying simple as well as highly complicated functions. We wanted to incorporate essential functions and complications for the launch of the collection, that’s why we have chosen a time-only model and calendar complications. Calendar watches are essential complications for us: astronomical complications and astronomical functions are one of our technical signatures. Adding a tourbillon was the next logical step for our Maison!
Vacheron Constantin FiftySix Tourbillon
AD: Will there be additional complications in the future?
CS: Yes, there is certainly room to add other complications to the collection.
AD: It is unusual for an established watch company of your standing to launch a whole new collection of models. Do you think there will be additional collections in the future or have you sufficient families within your range to accommodate future novelties?
CS: Looking at the Maison’s heritage, we can see that Vacheron Constantin has always been creative in its design and technical approaches as well as being very versatile. Rather than specialists in one particular field of fine watchmaking, our expertise takes place in many areas – complicated models, ultra-thin designs, Métiers d’Art and elegant, dress watches, amongst others. In addition, we have a tremendous heritage in shapes, cases and lug designs, this particular know-how is showcased in collections such as Malte and Historiques. So, we are continuing to demonstrate the vitality and legitimacy of our watchmaking art and style through different aesthetics and design expressions.
Vacheron Constantin Historiques American 1921 – 36.5mm
AD: Vacheron Constantin is the oldest manufacturer in continuous operation. I would envisage that in your role, with responsibility for both the design of watches and upholding the Maison’s heritage, you spend a high percentage of your time examining the history of the company’s former designs and movements. How do you allocate your time between design and heritage? Is there a defined split?
CS: The Heritage department plays a major role with regard to Vacheron Constantin’s current product style. Indeed, as it is a source of inspiration for new products which find their roots in our history. Since last year when I joined the department, I have been heavily involved with Vacheron Constantin heritage and, in particular, showcasing and highlighting the richness of this heritage. In addition, we have developed “Les Collectionneurs”, an exclusive range of vintage Vacheron Constantin watches that we have been fully serviced and restored. These are sold exclusively in a few selected Vacheron Constantin boutiques around the World. Finally, I am still active in product design. In particular through the Maison’s heritage, creating links between the past and future products.
AD: A few years ago, Vacheron Constantin unveiled an amazing pocket watch, the Reference 57260, endowed with 57 complications. I believe this is the most complicated watch ever made. It was a bespoke commission for one collector and made by your company’s prestigious Ateliers Cabinotiers. Have there been any occasions when the Maison has received a request which it has declined, perhaps feeling it would prejudice the company’s brand image?
CS: It could happen, as all design proposals are approved by an in-house committee. Our clients for such exceptional timepieces are connoisseurs, collectors and watch lovers and, consequently, they perfectly understand and respect the spirit and authenticity of our watchmaking art.
Vacheron Constantin Reference 57260
AD: Are you always involved with the design of bespoke watches? Do you personally have to research former models, particularly unique pieces, to ensure a new commission doesn’t closely resemble one of your historical timepieces?
CS: “Les Cabinotiers” designs are creations from the team of Vacheron Constantin’s in-house designers. Many models from “Les Cabinotiers” workshop incorporate aesthetics which are linked with the Maison’s heritage, in terms of design, technicality and decorative crafts. Designers make sure that their unique creations respect Vacheron Constantin styles and traditions.
Vacheron Constantin Les Cabinotiers Grand Complication Phoenix
AD: An interesting aspect of your role relates to the curation of “Les Collectionneurs”, vintage Vacheron Constantin models. The provenance of the watches is assured, each timepiece is sold with a warranty via your own boutiques. Do you personally procure the watches yourself?
CS: Watches are selected from different sources: auction houses, individuals and clients owning Vacheron Constantin models from the past. Within the Heritage team, we have specialists who carefully select timepieces to be added to “Les Collectionneurs“.
AD: How much time do you spend overseeing “Les Collectionneurs”?
CS: “Les Collectionneurs” is a very exciting part of my activity. Within the Heritage Department, we have a team of vintage watches specialists and watchmakers who provide authentication and restoration. Thanks to their expertise, we showcase “Les Collectionneurs” through events and exhibitions within a selection of Vacheron Constantin boutiques around the world.
AD: Do the personnel responsible for restoring your vintage models also work on new timepieces or are they solely dedicated to “Les Collectionneurs”?
CS: They are solely dedicated to vintage Vacheron Constantin watches. The restoration workshop at our Maison is a unique place, an amazing concentration of watchmaking know-how… We are able to service and restore every Vacheron Constantin, even if originally made during the 18th century. This fabulous know-how is a great strength and support for “Les Collectionneurs” development.
AD: How large is the current “Les Collectionneurs” inventory? Would you ever show this inventory online?
CS: We want to keep “Les Collectionneurs” as an exclusive, highly selective offer of vintage Vacheron Constantin timepieces. We concentrate on quality at all levels. We maintain the highest levels of service, when considering “Les Collectionneurs” vintage Vacheron Constantin watches.
AD: I believe you joined Vacheron Constantin in 1990. What aspirations do you have in terms of your role and the company at large?
CS: I am very grateful to Vacheron Constantin. It’s a unique Maison in the field of fine watchmaking, with an outstanding heritage and an elegant, sophisticated style. My present position allows me to contribute actively to the development of the Maison by extracting stories, inspirations and designs from the past to nourish our future creations… it’s a very exciting challenge, every day.
It is rare for a practitioner of haute horlogerie to unveil a whole new collection of models in one year. However, this is exactly what Vacheron Constantin did in the early part of 2018. More recently, the Maison released the Fiftysix Tourbillon, an exquisite timepiece which pairs a coveted ‘whirlwind’ with a peripheral rotor.
The Fiftysix was inspired by the Reference 6073 created in 1956. However, the design elements of each Fiftysix watch are wholly new. The appearance of each model is classical but fresh. Whilst appraising the dial of a Fiftysix watch, one can see a plethora of subtle details which enrich the horological vista. When discussing the design language with Christian Selmoni, it becomes clear that each facet of a Fiftysix model is the result of protracted consideration. The proportions of these watches are larger than their vintage forebears, appealing to modern tastes.
Selmoni has not ruled out releasing further Fiftysix models endowed with alternative complications. The Fifty Six collection are not reproductions of former watches, but rather sympathetic and modern interpretations of elegant timepieces from yesteryear.
In his role as Style and Heritage Director of Vacheron Constantin, Selmoni is a guardian of the Swiss firm’s past. It is the brand’s incredible body of work, spanning 260 years, which provides a source of inspiration for new models. However, as the Overseas collection shows, Vacheron Constantin is not typecast and is willing to embrace modernity when this aligns with its brand image.
Arguably, the ultimate expression of luxury is “Les Cabinotiers”, allowing discerning clients, with sufficient financial resources, to commission a unique watch crafted to their own requirements. With this service, discretion is assured and little is said about the creations made for the fortunate few. Selmoni did not betray any confidences, but did allude to the fact that all proposed designs are approved, ensuring no gauche creations are produced which could adversely effect the esteemed brand’s image.
At the heart of Vacheron Constantin’s DNA is the company’s illustrious history and the incredible watches it has produced over the years. Despite offering an array of new, pulchritudinous timepieces, the Genevan company recognises that some purists prefer ‘vintage’. The problem with purchasing a vintage watch is that its provenance can sometimes prove an issue. Vacheron Constantin “Les Collectionneurs” provides watch collectors with peace of mind. As Selmoni explained to me, the Heritage team carefully select suitable timepieces which are subsequently authenticated, restored and warrantied.
Christian Selmoni, Vacheron Constantin is a fascinating individual. His role requires him to have one foot in the past and the other firmly in the future. He has to respect the history and savoir faire of the Maison, while conceiving future models. Based on the amazing pieces available via “Les Collectionneurs” and the brilliance of the new Fiftysix Collection, it seems Selmoni performs his role with incredible aplomb.