Since when have boutiques been exclusively focused on selling new watches? Vacheron Constantin asked itself the question… and made a decision: its boutiques would now offer both new and vintage creations.
This thought process, which began in 2006, is remarkable in two respects. The first is that it provides a different perspective of the notion of brand retail, which until now was exclusively dedicated to new articles. This was a self-evident and generally shared fact, but not one that anyone could really justify. Previously, one went shopping in boutiques for new things, and to auction houses or highly specialised retailers for their vintage counterparts. It was kind of age-old established order which had the added advantage of operating without anyone questioning it.
The second distinctive aspect is that this sales model has been barely copied despite the fact that Vacheron Constantin’s idea is neither patented nor complicated to implement. Dominique Bernaz, Retail Director, provides the keys to this distinctive characteristic of the House.
Service in addition to sales
“The idea of offering vintage pieces in our boutiques comes from our clients,” explains Dominique Bernaz. “Many people wish to find a piece of their family history, but without having the time to frequent auction rooms, nor any guarantee of getting hold of an original piece that is still working. Our CEO, Juan-Carlos Torres, therefore wanted us to provide this service ourselves. Because above and beyond a commercially-oriented approach, this is more about offering a service.”
This notion of service is a vital part of Vacheron Constantin. Aside from anything else, the Manufacture paved the way in this domain by personalising pieces (either as one offs or part of a collection). These are the famous Cabinotiers, managed by the same Dominique Bernaz. However, this vintage service does sometimes encounter certain limits.
"We pretty much only source things from auction houses"
A well-managed undertaking
To offer vintage pieces to its clients is indeed merely the tip of the iceberg. Upstream, there is the question of sourcing, referencing and restoring the models, as well as reselling them. “We pretty much only source things from auction houses,” says Dominique Bernaz, before pointing out that the company “obviously cannot buy everything, so we have set ourselves a limit, ranging from pocket watches dating circa 1890 to those dated 1965 – 1970. Naturally, we only take those with a case, dial and movement that are 100% original and we have these certified by our archive department”.
The restoration process is also a weighty variable for Vacheron Constantin. “It is true that following an auction, we may sometimes come back with a dozen pieces to be entrusted to the restoration department, with a request to restore them as quickly as possible,” says Dominique Bernaz with a smile. Such demands add a considerable extra burden to an already significant workload for this department – not to mention the fact that resale is not always a given. Quite clearly, the profitability of this vintage service is not its primary source of added value. It does however contribute to bringing the Manufacture closer to its clients, while at the same time making it stand out with an offering that is hard to find elsewhere.
Today, the service is offered in Geneva, Paris, London and New York, which will be joined by Singapore by the end of the year. Highly appreciated, it is even beginning to work both ways: aside from the vintage offer, these days certain clients come of their own accord to ask the House to get hold of a piece which is dear to their hearts on their behalf. The wheel has come full circle.