Founded in 1755, luxury Swiss watchmaker Vacheron Constantin is, by some measure, one of the oldest watch manufacturers in the world.
Style and Heritage Director Christian Selmoniis tasked withunearthing the brand’s history while safeguarding its hallmarkhaute horology. Selmoni tells Canvas Editor-in-Chief Ali Y. Khadra what keeps him going.
Ali Y. Khadra: How does one maintain 265 years of watchmaking excellence?
Christian Selmoni: You always have to keep the values and strengths of the company in mind. My job is to act rather like a temple guardian. If we look back at Vacheron Constantin’s history, we are talking about a great deal of elegance, sophistication and refinement, all cultivated and honed for centuries.
AYK: Where does expertise fit into the mix?
CS: Expertise is not something that’s related to style. The elements I mentioned just now are important, stylistically. But I think that mastery of all aspects of watchmaking is a hallmark of Vacheron Constantin. This includes everything from the internal mechanisms to the exquisite finishing and overall aesthetic. It’s my job to maintain these elements in all our watch designs, from the simplest to the most complex.
AYK: Les Cabinotiersis the house’s ‘department of wonders,’ where all the bespoke pieces are created. It’s also home to a group of incredible masters of horology. How do you continue to find such exceptional craftsmen?
CS: We really strive to provide our creatives with a playground and environment in which they can immerse themselves. When I was artistic director, working on the Metiers d’Art series, I proposed a floral theme. They came back to me about a week later with ideas and also their own direction – I think that’s key to making a craftsman happy. It’s like insisting on a certain design at a tattoo parlour then realising that it could have come out better if the artist had been allowed more agency. You must create the conditions for craftspeople to be happy to create.
AYK: In these creations, we find ever-evolving references to space, astrology and the universe. Why are such motifs so dear to the brand?
CS: I love this question because it brings us back to the very origins of watchmaking. The whole practice is motivated by a need to tell time. When the moon is visible, we can more or less assume it’s the middle of the night, and when the sun is up, it’s the middle of the day. Watchmaking is linked to these daily cycles. It was invented to help people work with the seasons, ascertain when we need to reap, and when to sow. Everything is written in the stars. The astronomical complications are also a direct link to something far greater than us, the cosmos, and whatever spiritual associations that entails for you.
AYK: Most brands are struggling to find and retain the right craftsmen. Some are even establishing schools to keep the current generation informed on how to master these complex methods. Has Vacheron Constantin set up such an establishment?
CS: We don’t have a school, but our in-house workshop helps train and bring together more craftsmen. However, this kind of craftsmanship has always been sought out by a select few, so naturally the craftsmen are a rarity in themselves. We just have to work around that.
AYK: How do you communicate with the younger generation which, for the most part, doesn’t relate easily to high watchmaking?
CS: For us, the keyword is authenticity, and we are very much authentic from a watchmaking perspective. In my opinion, that’s what our youngest clients appreciate – the fact that we are true and honourable while also innovative and forward-looking.