High-tech show cases, video displays and working watchmakers are a familiar sight at the world’s watch exhibitions. But WorldTempus was surprised to see Vacheron Constantin’s Head of Design, Vincent Kauffmann, sketching out watch cases with a pencil and paper at this year’s SIAR exhibition in Mexico. A small corner of the brand’s large stand at the show was set aside for Mr Kauffmann to show how the design process works at Vacheron Constantin, where traditional techniques are still important.
“Often these types of sketches are done afterwards, once the watch is finished,” Mr Kauffmann explained, “but we wanted to show people that we do things much quicker. We start with an idea and we put it straight down on to paper, in the form of shapes, volumes and intentions. We then pass these on to a 3D digital designer in the team. Then we start to produce the cases in 3D and get the first wax samples. We can usually start the 3D printing process in the evening and the wax models are ready for the next morning.”
"There is a problem if a designer cannot express his idea in a few minutes with a pencil and paper”
Aside from the speed of development, however, there is also a strong aesthetic reason for preferring this more traditional approach. “It’s important for us to keep this spontaneity,” says the designer. “We tend to rely more and more on technology and unfortunately these pencil strokes are becoming ever rarer. I think there is a problem if a designer cannot express his idea in a few minutes with a pencil and paper.”
Another important consideration in the design process is the psychological impact of the ultra-realistic designs that can now be produced by computer. “The problem here is that the technology is so advanced that it sometimes gives people in the decision-making process the impression that the watch already exists and they no longer feel part of a creative process,” says Mr Kauffmann. The solution? “We use gouaches to give the designs a more emotional quality. This works particularly well with the artistic crafts dials, where there is a level of originality. I personally prefer working on such a project with gouache rather than on a computer screen.”
Yet another problem with the modern CAD tools is that the technical constraints of using a particular type of case or movement are taken into account from the outset. An obvious advantage for speeding up the design process and avoiding problems down the line, but more of a hindrance when considering the brand’s artistic crafts pieces, for example. “I prefer the designers to work on such pieces without considering the constraints of the artistic crafts so that they have maximum freedom,” says Mr Kauffmann. “Then we work together with the individual craftsmen and women to determine whether the design is feasible and even what techniques we will use.”
But how did this design demonstration go down with the visiting public in Mexico? Vincent Kauffmann, who had been repeatedly producing the same sketches of the Patrimony model for a couple of days, explaining through an interpreter what he was doing, was astonished to have people asking him to sign copies of his sketches for them to take home. “That wasn’t the idea but I’ve done a few handfuls of them for people to take away and they are very happy about that. I think there is a good dynamic at watch exhibitions now, where you often have craftsmen giving demonstrations. This is a very rich form of communication and it makes it all the more exciting for the visitor.