As you all know, Vacheron Constantin is not only one of the three brands that integrate the 'Holy Trinity of Watchmaking' but also the oldest watch manufacture in the world with an uninterrupted history that spans across almost three centuries —263 years to be precise. Therefore, a visit to the Vacheron Constantin Manufacture in Plan-les-Ouates —a municipality in the outskirts of Geneva, Switzerland— is a fascinating experience that as watch collectors and scholars, we will cherish forever. With an early start on a gloomy and drizzly morning, we departed the Hotel President Wilson at around 8:30am and made it to the manufacture 40 minutes later.
Completed in 2005 to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the manufacture, the Vacheron Constantin Headquarters and Manufacturing Center were designed and built by Bernard Tschumi Architects and Glauco Lombardi. With a total space of 110,000 square feet, this state-of-the-art watch manufacture is as modern as it gets and a treat for the eyes for us that love modern architecture. Had we had better weather during our visit, we probably would've spent almost as much time outside as we did inside.
Wowed by the splendor of its modern design and architecture that resembles the capricious curves typically utilized by late architect Zaha Hadid, we finally walked into the main building. Surprised by the size and modernity of the campus, we were greeted by a massive set of modern glass stairs, an orange patterned ceiling and glass elevators. After the friendly receptionists greeted us and handed us our 'visiteur' badges, we were then escorted to the locker we would use for our Fauré Le Page bag and our coat. At 9:30am on the dot, we were greeted by Vacheron Constantin's Master Watchmaker Lucy Abt —who works at the Chrono-Tourbillon Workshop— who would be our guide for the visit. After changing into our Vacheron Constantin lab coats and covering our Lanvin sneakers with shoe bootie covers, we embarked on our incredible watch experience.
Vacheron Constantin is a full-fledged manufacture that includes 10 different processes within their Plan-les-Ouates facilities and their second location in the Vallée de Joux. While Movement Conception & Designing takes places in the Vallée de Joux, all other nine areas of their production process are conducted at the facility we visited in Plan-les-Ouates. These other nine areas include: Machining, Hardening, Circular Graining, Hand Bevelling, Côtes de Genève decoration, Hand-Crafted Pre-Assembly, Movement Assembly, Adjustment and Complications Assembly. One very interesting fact we learned about during our visit is that Vacheron Constantin will assemble, adjust, fully disassemble and reassemble a second time all of their complications as part of their quality control process.
After a thorough explanation of all the different processes that take place at the manufacture, our first stop was at the Assembling, Adjusting & Encasing Workshops. Here, a very robust and experienced team of watchmakers are responsible for individually assembling, adjusting and encasing the 26,000 watches —with the exception of 'Grande Complications' done at different workshops— that are produced by Vacheron Constantin on a yearly basis. And let's not forget that all in-house movements from Vacheron Constantin bear the Poinçon de Genève —Geneva Hallmark—, which remains the oldest watchmaking certificate in the world, issued by a neutral and independent organization operating under State control. Laying on the palm of our hand, a just cased Historiques Triple Calendrier 1948 ref. 3100V/000R in 18K 4N pink gold.
After a somewhat brief stop at the Assembling, Adjusting & Encasing Workshops, we then headed to the much anticipated stops at the 'Grandes Complications' Workshop and the Chrono-Tourbillon Workshop. At this time, it was like a group of small children had just entered the best candy store in the world. As Minute Repeaters, Tourbillons, Perpetual Calendars, Perpetual Calendars with Tourbillon, Triple Complications —minute repeater, perpetual calendar and tourbillon— and Chrono Tourbillons filled the trays of the master watchmakers on duty, we simply enjoyed every minute of it in pure awe.
As we observed a master watchmaker tuning and doing final adjustments to the movement of a minute repeater, we kindly asked if he could set the time to 12:59 —the time that allows for the longest number of chimes to be played by a minute repeater— and activate the chiming mechanism for us. With the movement missing its dial and hands, the very talented and skillful watchmaker was able to precisely set the time to 12:59 by counting the teeth on the wheels and moving them around with its tweezers. Below, a minute repeater gong and the video of the minute repeater movement —with a temporary testing lever— chiming the time set to 12:59.
Then, just as if we had not experienced plenty of Vacheron Constantin goodness at the manufacture while visiting the 'Grandes Complications' Workshop and the Chrono-Tourbillon Workshop, we headed over to the Atelier Guillochage Tapisserie where hand guilloché dials are made in a confined office lead by a master dial maker of Thai origin named SUPA. This charismatic gentleman of Asian origin, allowed us to experience what its like to create a hand guilloché dial while using the more than 100-year-old Rose Engine Turning machine. With a steady pulse and constant rotation of the wheel on this machine we confirmed one more time that we are much better at enjoying the watches rather than making them.
SUPA's office decorated with children's drawings, calligraphy posters, family portraits and Asian knickknacks felt so personal, that we had to ask him if it was OK for us to photograph it. He of course agreed to it with a big smile on his face. This office that felt more like a temple of fine watchmaking rather than a mere office space where this expert spends his days, was one of the coolest parts of our visit.
Finally, to wrap up our tour of the manufacture we headed down to the Atelier Métiers d'Art where some of the most fascinating timepieces from Vacheron Constantin are created. In this workshop is where the master engravers, gem setters and other horological artists from Vacheron Constantin create the exclusive limited edition timepieces part of the Métiers d'Art collection or give birth from conception to execution to the rarest unique pieces from the manufacture.
In this workshop is where enamel and hand painted dials come to life; hand engraved cases and dials are pounced removing material to create the most fascinating bas-relief motifs and where those special snow-setting dials and watches are carefully decorated with flawless diamonds and other precious stones.
Right here at the Atelier Métiers d'Art is where the translucent plique-à-jour enamel backgrounds for the Metiers d'Art Les Aérostiers dials —featured here— were created, this is yet another temple of horological artistry and the perfect place to end the visit to the oldest watch manufacture in the world.
After checking the time on our Vacheron Constantin Overseas Dual Time ref. 47450 —featured here— one last time before departing the sanctuary where it was once created, we boarded our chauffeured ride. As we began driving away from the manufacture, we took one last picture of the architectural masterpiece that holds one of the three most special and important watch manufactures in the world. With raindrops running down the vehicle windows, we sighed and smiled after another incredible day in our #watchlife. Thank you Vacheron Constantin for allowing us in your sanctuary.
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