International Head of Watches John Reardon attempts to define the very special appeal of the world’s oldest watch manufacturer in continuous production
Ahead of every auction I am asked, ‘Which brand offers the best value these days?’ My answer: Vacheron Constantin. Whether vintage or modern, Vacheron Constantin represents an excellent investment in terms of complications, design, workmanship and heritage. For these reasons and more, collectors love the house of Vacheron Constantin, and competition at auctions for the finest examples that surface each season is intense.
Vacheron Constantin has a rich and record-breaking heritage in making complicated watches. As early as 15 years after the company’s founding in 1755, Vacheron was producing complicated timepieces. By the beginning of the 20th century, the company was recognised as one of the most important complicated watchmakers around, attracting the attention and business of the world’s most important collectors, including King Fuad I and his son King Farouk of Egypt. In 1918 James Ward Packard of Packard automobiles commissioned one of the most complicated watches of the era, a watch (below) that Christie’s was honoured to sell in 2011 for $1.7 million.
In more recent times, Vacheron Constantin produced the most complicated wristwatch the world had ever seen, the Tour d’Ile, made in only seven examples in 2005 to celebrate the company’s 250th anniversary. With 16 complications, this watch gave Vacheron Constantin the attention it deserved for being able to make innovative and masterfully complicated watches. The Ref. 57260 — the most complicated watch ever made — was released in 2015 as part of a special commission by a collector. With 57 complications, this timepiece did not fail to disappoint and continues to push the boundaries of modern watchmaking today.
Complicated wristwatches from Vacheron Constantin are highly coveted, whether made in the mid-20th century or in recent years. Perhaps one of the most exciting discoveries was the platinum Ref. 4261 (above), which sold in June 2016 at Christie’s for an astounding $605,000. (The story of this rare watch can be found here.)
Vacheron Constantin’s tradition of beautiful design is not limited to its watch movements. The cases and dials of its watches demand respect for their inventiveness and diversity. The creations of the 1920s, during which the company produced striking Art Deco-style pieces, immediately come to mind. Women’s pendant watches, pocket watches, and early wristwatches were the creative canvas for the firm to showcase its distinct and daring aesthetic.
In the 1940s and 50s, the creative focus of Vacheron Constantin turned to wristwatch case design. Today, the bold cases of this era represent one of the greatest opportunities to own a masterpiece of mid-20th century design — and for well under $15,000. Scroll lugs, flame lugs, horn lugs and butterfly lugs were among the many styles that were offered during this period. Recent pieces sold at Christie’s span an array of designs at tempting price points.
It is often said that a great vintage Vacheron Constantin can be bought for less than half the price of its Patek Philippe equivalent. This still holds true in most cases. Take, for example, the Vacheron Constantin Ref. 4072 chronograph (below), which can be bought for approximately $20,000, compared to its nearest equivalent at Patek Philippe costing two to three times as much, or more, at auction. Interestingly, in its entire production history (1938 to around 1970), the 4072 was only made in 1178 examples, compared with more than 1,500 Patek Philippe Ref. 130s (made between 1934 and around 1965).
Vacheron Constantin’s 262-year history encapsulates centuries of watchmaking, and its patrons have ranged from the kings of Thailand to the Wright Brothers and Harry Truman. Vacheron Constantin watches have been worn at key historical moments. One of my personal favourites — a watch that can be bought for less than $3,000 — is the range of Vacheron Constantin chronograph watches made for the US Army Corps of Engineers (below) between 1918 and 1920.
Watches from Vacheron Constantin can be acquired across all price points, and whether it is a timepiece from the 18th century or one made in 2017, acquiring a Vacheron Constantin guarantees entry into a distinguished club.
Becoming part of the community of Vacheron Constantin owners is now easier than ever, with collectors networking at auction rooms, retailers and brand boutiques around the world. Vacheron Constantin also hosts a website and collector forum, the Hour Lounge, which is dedicated exclusively to its brand, and the online community that it has fostered is more than willing to answer questions and share stories about all things Vacheron Constantin.
Futhermore, ordering an Extract from the Archives or a Certificate of Authenticity is an easy process, as well as being extremely valuable for anyone interested in learning more about their prized possession, or considering buying or selling a Vacheron Constantin. At Christie’s, we supply an extract from Vacheron Constantin for each and every one of its watches we sell.