Just like the Swiss and their fastidious punctuality, Christian Selmoni shows up at our meeting on time, clad in a striking double-breasted suit and sporting a chronograph on his wrist. We are at the first edition of the much-touted Dubai Watch Fair and all around us, the rarefied circles of haute horlogerie gather for Vacheron Constantin’s big unveil.
Following the hugely successful Overseas collection in 2016, the legacy Swiss watchmaker will release a new version of it, the Overseas 2018, in January next year at the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH) in Geneva. We, however, have a two-month lead, as Selmoni, the iconic brand’s Style and Heritage Director, previews the new models.
Past, present, future
There’s something fascinating about Selmoni’s designation, being in charge of the heritage of a watch brand that is over 262 years old. “You have to realise that this maison has been active since 1755 and we still have all our archives in place. Our heritage is our best asset and it is my duty to work with the department to discover designs from the past, which can be the base for future watches. Interestingly, I think heritage will become a marketing and communication tool rather than being relegated to the history of our brand. The other aspect of my job is to bring new ideas and concepts to the creation studio,” he says.
A case in point of this penchant for reinventing heritage is the recent additions to Vacheron Constantin’s offering. Take the aptly named Historiques collection, for instance, and its American 1921 model, a reinterpretation of the early 20th century edition. In its modern avatar, the watch has been resized to 36.5 mm, making it appeal to both sexes.
Selmoni also cites the example of the house’s exclusive platinum model, given the ongoing obsession for the precious metal. “The Traditionnelle Complete Calendar - Excellence Platine model is an ode to the king of metals. Not only are the crown and body designed in platinum, but the striking dial is entirely created in sandblasted platinum.”
As a brand, Vacheron prefers to stick to its conservative design language, he insists. So how is he able to discern the needs of the modern-day customer, and toe the line between heritage and modernity? “Oh, that’s a tough one,” he responds. “On one hand, you have to work with your marketing department by looking at competition and update yourself on trends and how the world is evolving. On the other, we have the good fortune of being an age-old brand with timeless products. We will continue to do classic-style watches, as far as I am concerned.”
In the face of change
Industry experts swear that the luxury consumer is getting younger. Has Vacheron Constantin had to make tweaks to its offering to appeal to a more youthful sensibility?
“Not really,” Selmoni says, “Vacheron Constantin is probably not the first watch you would acquire. It is a more evolved collector that we are talking to. In most cases, a customer starts with a more affordable timepiece and then evolves to one of ours. While it is important for us to cater to a younger, modern clientèle, we don’t really feel the need to revamp our aesthetics.”
As a Swiss brand catering to different international markets, Vacheron has to deal with varied customer demands, and myriad tastes and preferences, but Selmoni insists they will stick to their Swiss and Geneva watchmaking style.
“I think it is very important for us to be a global brand, especially since we are the world’s oldest watchmaker with non-stop activity. From time to time, we can do limited editions for a country, or one like the platinum collection, because we want to highlight a new model, but ideally, we do not want to create watches adapted to the taste of a certain area,” concludes Selmoni.