It is the answer to myriad collectors’ dreams: imagine being able to buy vintage pieces in factory-fresh condition, with a warranty. Ordinarily, the former would involve the good fortune of finding genuine “new-old stock” in some shop that happened to have an unsold item. But even that might not include the latter: the security of a factory guarantee, just like a current model.
A few years ago, Cartier tried the same, but seems to have gone quiet about its programme to source vintage watches, service them sympathetically and sell them through the main boutiques. Now it is Vacheron Constantin’s turn, with a project they have dubbed Les Collectionneurs. In the company’s terms, they aptly describe the select pieces as “watches ready for a new life”.
With the focus on the maison’s boutiques, which will be the sole vendors of said pieces, Vacheron Constantin will be offering a “representative selection of vintage watches covering the entire 20th century.” As Vacheron remains one of the most prestigious houses in all of horology – prior to the arrival of the new auteur brands in the 1980s and 1990s, Vacheron, Audemars Piguet and Patek Philippe owned the high end – it is a back-catalogue worth, literally, reissuing.
Vacheron Constantin’s experts have been tasked with hunting down select pieces, using sources ranging from auction houses to private collections, which are then restored at the factory. Each watch will be supplied to the client with a certificate of authenticity and a generous two-year guarantee. This is a remarkable gesture of faith, with some of the pieces nearly a century old.
Vacheron Constantin has chosen London for one of the earliest venues participating in the project, with the first pieces being offer exclusively for sale at the Old Bond Street boutique until 17th July 2019. The collection consists of 18 vintage timepieces, and having been afforded the opportunity to examine them, I don’t know what was more thrilling: the promise of a vintage piece in as-new condition and with the backing of the manufacture, or the actual pieces themselves. Rest assured, such attention is not being lavished on what one might deem “ordinary”.
At the boutique, guests were shown a selection of models that featured pocket watches manufactured between 1927 and 1953, and wristwatches manufactured between 1927 and 1963. The company says that the wristwatch selection will “evolve over time” and will be presented for sale to brand aficionados at dedicated events organised in Vacheron Constantin boutiques around the world.
Supplementing Les Collectionneurs is a history of continuous production dating back more than 260 years, extensive archives which have been listing cases and movements by serial number for a century and a half, and a private collection of more than 1,500 timepieces. Vacheron’s team of watchmakers and craftsmen in its restoration workshop collaborate with the historians of the Style & Heritage team, their combined expertise encompassing the necessary skills to best serve vintage watchmaking.
“Les Collectionneurs represents another facet of Vacheron Constantin,” said Christian Selmoni, Style & Heritage Director. “The collection perpetuates this precious link between past and present, enabling our clientele of connoisseurs and collectors to acquire restored vintage pieces directly through the Maison, which is a real guarantee. As for the events organised around the world to unveil these pieces, they attract both seasoned collectors and young generations eager to delve more deeply into watchmaking history.”
Vacheron will focus mainly on pocket watches covering the years 1910 to 1930 and wristwatches prior to 1970, with a preference for the period from 1940 to 1960. Those acquired are subjected to a dual appraisal, including historical evaluation to authenticate the piece, with reference to the in-house archives, followed by a technical assessment. This determines which level of service may be necessary, from simply cleaning the watch to its restoration, the company insisting on preserving the timepieces “in a state as close as possible to that of their origins”. Vacheron Constantin maintains a large stock of period components, but, if necessary, will reproduced parts “the old-fashioned way and in identical form within the Manufacture”.
Highlights of the London selection include a yellow gold ultra-thin minute repeater from 1951 of which less than 40 pieces were produced, a model 4072 chronograph and four pocket watches, among them an extremely rare 18k gold two-tone jumping hours pocket watch from 1927. “Les Collectionneurs” will be present at the London boutique from 3 June to 17 July 2019.
As for the existing, familiar sources of vintage Vacherons – auction houses and specialist retailers – they needn’t feel threatened. If this project succeeds, you can expect the treasures of Les Collectionneurs to find their way into auction sales a few years hence. With the sort of provenance they offer, and their unquestionable desirability, we may, at last, see Vacheron Constantin classics selling for what they’re really worth.