Vacheron Constantin (French pronunciation: [va.ʃə.rɔ̃ kɔ̃s.tɑ̃.tɛ̃]) is a luxury Swiss manufacture of prestige watches and a brand of the Richemont group. It employs around 1,100 people worldwide, most of whom are based in the manufacturing plants in Geneva and Vallée de Joux. It is an active member of the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry FH.
Past owners of Vacheron Constantin watches include Napoleon Bonaparte, Pope Pius XI, Edward VIII, and Harry Truman.
Vacheron Constantin building in Geneva, Switzerland, aerial view
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The company was founded in 1755 by Jean-Marc Vacheron, an independent watchmaker in Geneva, Switzerland. In 1770, his company created the first complication, and nine years later he designed the first engine-turned dials.
The son of Jean-Marc Vacheron, Abraham, took over the family business in 1785. During this period, the company was able to survive the French Revolution (1789–1799). Later, in 1810, Jacques-Barthélemy Vacheron, the grandson of the founder, became the head of the company. He was the first to initiate the company’s exports to France and Italy. Later, Jacques-Barthélemy realized that he was not able to handle his business alone. In order to travel overseas and sell the company’s products, he needed a partner. Consequently, in 1819 François Constantin became an associate of Vacheron. The company continued its activity under the name Vacheron & Constantin. François Constantin traveled around the world and marketed watches. Thus he helped the company to open new markets. The main market was North America. The company’s motto (which remains today), «Do better if possible and that is always possible,» first appeared in Constantin’s letter to Jacques-Barthélémy. The letter was dated 5 July 1819.
In 1833, Vacheron and Constantin hired Georges-Auguste Leschot. His job was to supervise the manufacturing operations. Leschot was an inventor and his creations turned out to be successful for the company. His inventions had a great impact on the watchmaking industry in general. He was the first person to standardize watch movements into Calibers. In 1844, Georges-Auguste Leschot was awarded with a gold medal. The Arts Society of Geneva highly appreciated his pantographic device, a device that was able to mechanically engrave small watch parts and dials. Later, after Constantin’s death in 1854, and Vacheron’s death in 1863, the company was taken over by a series of heirs. At one point, the company was headed by two women.
In 1862, Vacheron Constantin became a member of the Association for Research into non-magnetic materials. In 1885, the company created the first nonmagnetic timepiece which included a complete lever assortment made of materials able to withstand magnetic fields. Its construction included a balance wheel, balance spring and lever shaft that were made of palladium, the lever arms—in bronze and the escape wheel was in gold. In 1877, «Vacheron & Constantin, Fabricants, Geneve» became the official name of the company. In 1880, Vacheron & Constantin started using the Maltese cross as its symbol, which it still does as of 2016. This was inspired by a component of the barrel, which had a cross-shape and was used for limiting the tension within the mainspring.
In 1887, Vacheron & Constantin was reorganized into a stock company. For the remarkable achievements of the company it was awarded with a gold medal at Swiss National Exhibition in Geneva in 1887. Fabergé’s 1887 Third Imperial Egg contained a Vacheron Constantin Lady’s watch as the surprise.
The first boutique in Geneva was opened by Vacheron Constantin in 1906. This store can be seen today on Quai de l’Ile. During the Great Depression Vacheron & Constantin found itself in a difficult situation. Charles Constantin became the head of the company in 1936, the first time since the 1850s that a representative of the Constantin family was president of Vacheron & Constantin.
In 1979 Vacheron Constantin made Kallista, one of the most expensive wristwatches. Its initial price was $5 million, but today the watch is valued at about $11 million. Kallista had 118 emerald-cut diamonds. It took about 6,000 hours for the watch masters to make this watch and about 20 months for jewelers to enrich the watch.