Vacheron Constantin is presenting an exhibition dedicated to chronographs at its historic boutique on the Quai de l‘Ile in Geneva. The exhibition will be open until mid-July. The 60 watches exhibited come from the Vacheron Constantin private collection. An ideal opportunity to ask Julien Marchenoir, Brand Equity and Heritage Director at Vacheron Constantin, to tell us more about this private collection that it not on permanent show.
How did the Vacheron Constantin private collection come about and what does it consist of?
In fact, our holdings are made up of several collections: the archival holding, of which the oldest piece from the company archives is Jean-Marc Vacheron’s christening certificate; the watch collections (pocket watches, wristwatches, clocks and table clocks) consisting of more than 1,300 items; machines – 700 items – accumulated over the years and which are testimony to the tools used in the watchmaking workshops; as well as furniture and decorative elements, mainly workbenches, but also certain paintings.
The development of this collection is the result of a growing awareness at the end of the 19th century. Right from the time of the very first national and universal exhibitions (World’s Fairs) – the first of which took place in Paris in 1855 – Vacheron Constantin was sought after to demonstrate the excellence of Genevan and Swiss know-how. It exhibited not only watches but also movements and machines at a time when watchmaking competition with England and the United States was at a peak. At the time, Vacheron Constantin sometimes had to call upon models belonging to private collectors and following a new invitation in 1906 for the Italian National Exhibition in Milan, the Geneva-based Maison decides to create a small collection, which has grown continuously ever since and now comprises more than 1,300 items.
We also have a collection of nearly 700 watch keys which demonstrates the degree to which these objects were finely worked, engraved, enamelled and decorated.
With regard to these archives, it was Jacques Barthélémi Vacheron, grandson of the founder Jean-Marc Vacheron, who in 1810 instituted regular, organised and very accurate archiving of these documents. The holding today includes more than 2,000 archive units in the form of records and entire boxes of correspondence.
Is this a living collection that is regularly updated?
Absolutely. It is updated with pieces that we buy at auctions and from dealers, or that we receive as donations. Like for example one of my favourite pieces, Les Bergers d’Arcadie, which has an enamel miniature representing a painting by Nicolas Poussin and is exceptional in terms of showcasing the artistic crafts. Today, we have the largest collection of Vacheron Constantin pieces in the world, which presents the know-how of the Maison over three centuries. By definition, no collection is ever perfect and we therefore continue to add to it.
Together with our artistic craftsmen and our dial-makers, this collection also helps us to redevelop techniques that have not been used for several years and that we wish to revive and update.
How is this collection highlighted?
Using the heritage spaces in our boutiques, we present part of the collection in the form of themed exhibitions that are the subject of guided visits. We opted for a living exhibition area with different themes that provide a means of approaching the history of the Maison and watchmaking, rather than a permanent exhibition in the form of a Museum, and the public loves it. At the end of March, on the occasion of the European Artistic Crafts Days (JEMA), nearly 900 people came over a period of three days to view the exhibition in Geneva, along with the artistic crafts that were represented there.
What is the most precious piece in the collection?
We have to distinguish between the market value and the uniqueness of the pieces as well as their heritage value. One of the most important items that have become part of the heritage collection in the past few years is a watch that belonged to James Ward Packard. This was a special commission created at the beginning of the 20th century, in 20-carat gold, with a watch glass made of rock crystal, the Packard crest, personalised decoration and a specific movement made for it. It is a piece for which we had to battle at auction and that we acquired for 1.8 million US dollars.
Click on the large picture at the top of the page to see more items of the private collection.