The heavy burden of over 250 years of heritage at Vacheron Constantin does little to stymie the enthusiasm of its CEO, Juan Carlos Torres, for the state of the art in technology. As one of only four brands (the others are Cartier, Chopard and Roger Dubuis) that produces watches in a quality high enough to satisfy the stringent requirements of the Poinçon de Genève, Vacheron Constantin is heavily involved in the development of this prestigious hallmark in collaboration with the Timelab foundation that took over responsibility for the Poinçon on behalf of the Republic and Canton of Geneva in 2008.
From stamping to “nanostructuring”
Ever since the Poinçon de Genève was established in 1886, its seal has been stamped on the movement based on the technology that prevailed at the time. Ironically, as a mark that is meant to guarantee the utmost in quality of that to which it is apposed, the stamping of the hallmark itself actually deforms the surface it is stamped on.
Apart from the obvious aesthetic aberration that this can cause, there is also a risk of breaking the piece being hallmarked. As Juan Carlos Torres explained to Worldtempus, in Vacheron Constantin’s case the movement bridge that is hallmarked costs 100 Swiss francs alone to produce, so any wastage quickly adds up.
“The new process doubles the cost of hallmarking from 5 to 10 Swiss francs per piece,” he explained, “but factoring in the eradication of wastage in fact makes it much cheaper compared with stamping. In any case, this figure is a mere fraction of the overall cost of added value of the Poinçon de Genève, which can add between 30 and 50 per cent to the price of the watch.”
The new process of nanostructuring is carried out on a machine that can be integrated directly into the production process and which is easy to use. Recalling his original dream specification for the machine, Mr Torres alluded to the simplicity of another great Swiss invention, the Nespresso coffee machine.
Aside from the ease of use, the new process also allows the hallmark to be placed on timepieces that could not have been stamped under the old regime, such as platinum pieces (too hard) and ultra-thin watches (too thin).
This revolutionary new process may only concern just 40,000 watches per year, which equates to less than 0.15% of Switzerland’s watch exports in 2013. But the new technology is also predestined for use in fields as diverse as jewellery, aerospace, medical prosthetics and instruments.