The PuristS Interviews Claude Daniel Proellochs

The PuristS Interview Claude-Daniel Proellochs

Rev. 1
by AlexG
© Aug 2002

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An Introduction

Vacheron Constantin claims to be the oldest watch manufacturer in the world, having been in uninterrupted production since 1755 (the year of birth of the future queen of France Marie-Antoinette!) when 24 year old Jean-Marc Vacheron set up his workshop in Geneva and was forced to borrow "1000 pounds of silver" to finance the first steps of the new venture.

At the time Vacheron was one of the 800 Cabinotiers" who were earning a living by their horological mastery. In this environment, Vacheron's limited production, remarkable for it's quality and elegance quickly attracted the attention of the French and Italian aristocracies.

Overcoming the agonies of the French revolution (1789), the collapse of trade routes, riots and hunger, the three Vacheron master watchmakers Jean-Marc and his sons Louis-André and Abraham managed to survive and expand.

On April 1, 1819 Jacques-Barthélemy Vacheron (Abraham's son) took a decisive step which was to change the face of destiny. In forming a partnership with François Constantin, he established the name which has symbolized the company ever since.

The partnership gave the company a great boost. It enabled Vacheron to concentrate on his watchmaking talents in Geneva, while Constantin was travelling the roads of Europe on horseback-often at considerable risk-with his saddlebag full of horological treasures. He was responsible for establishing Vacheron Constantin's network of contacts and clients in international markets.

As business expanded the company hired in 1839 a mechanical genius named Georges-August Leschot who is to be remembered for his invention of equipment capable of producing watch parts in any size and perfectly adapted to existing calibers – in someway Leschot is the father of modern horology.

In 1880 Vacheron Constantin decided to adopt the Maltese Cross as it's symbol, this symbol was not adopted in honor of the Maltese Knights but it represented a small toothed wheel which adjusted the tension of the spring in old precision watches.

By the 1900s the company had started producing the newly developed wristwatches. In 1928 the company made its first Grande Complication: a minute repeater with split seconds chronograph, perpetual calendar, moonphase and alarm. The 200th anniversary (1955) was celebrated with a man's mechanical movement a mere 1.64mm thick (a record) followed by the world's thinnest automatic movement only 2.45mm thick.

But the concentration on these technical achievements took attention off the market and by the time Mr. Proellochs took over, the firm had a splendid reputation but a sparse retail network and an obsolete stock.

Now 13 years after, the company has immensely developed, and with the help of the Richemont group (who bought the company in 1996) it is present world wide with a wide range of models going from the sporty Overseas to the more complicated pieces such as minute repeaters and tourbillons. Last year Vacheron Constantin revealed it's first hand wound manufacture caliber the cal 1400 which can be found in the Malte Classique.

For a more detailed history of Vacheron Constantin through the centuries, click here.

Preparing for its "quarter millenium" in 2005 Mr. Claude-Daniel Proellochs CEO of Vacheron Constantin has kindly granted an interview to ThePuristS.

I would like to particularly thank Mrs. Pascale Chamay-Berger for all her help and efforts in making this interview possible and of course Mr. Proellochs for his time.


The Interview

TP178: What did Vacheron Constantin represent for you when you entered the company ?

CDP: A mythical brand and an integral part since 1755 of Geneva's cultural destinies as well as of its industrial and commercial fabric, Vacheron Constantin has been likened to a living historical monument, shared by city and canton, with a reputation as a maker of exceptional, highly exclusive timepieces.

TP178: What functions did you first occupy and what is your educational background?

CDP: As a young man I earned a degree of economics, majoring in industrial management, from the local university of Neuchâtel. I then joined Omega in Bienne (Biel) for five years before moving to Eterna, in Grenchen, which I headed until the end of 1987. In November 1988, Vacheron Constantin's majority shareholder (Sheik Yamani) invited me to head the company, with a seat on the Board of Directors. 

TP178: What was the situation of the company at that time ?

CDP: The company had in most respects changed but little over the centuries, preserving its many traditions, not least a legendary perfectionism along with its practically limitless creative potential however, production was low (3,500 pieces in 1989) and the brand needed to be repositioned on the market.

TP178: In what ways has the manufacture changed since?

CDP: To redevelop the company we leaned on a team of exceptionally gifted watchmakers and a skilled executive team, making the most of a tightly focussed management style along with a marketing strategy precisely tailored to the expectations of knowledgeable customers. Between 1989 and 2001 our sales grew from 3500 to 15000 timepieces a year.

We furthermore acquired, in 1998, our long time partner HDG (Haut de Gamme) which we re-baptized VCVJ (Vacheron Constantin Vallée du Joux)

This company was specialized in the conception, development and manufacturing of high grade complicated movements. Today VCVJ is responsible for research and development, conception and manufacturing of all of Vacheron Constantin's complicated movements (the in-house Malte tourbillon was developed here) and our workshops in Geneva are responsible, amongst others, for assembly and adjustment.

TP178: What were the brand's assets then? What are they now and what is the identity of the brand compared to other high horology brands?

CDP: The company has always been associated with Geneva and high horology. At the time Vacheron Constantin manufactured Haute Horlogerie timepieces. Today it has kept these essential values by creating watches of high quality before increasing its production and insuring its future.

TP178: For the past fifteen years most high horology brands try to show their competence in 
manufacturing "in-house" movements, how have you reacted to this trend?

CDP: It has not changed anything in our objectives. You know, we should not fool ourselves, we always depend on someone, may it be for the balance springs, screws, hands….Our goal is not to say that we are a totally autonomous manufacture just for marketing's sake. Our wish, when we decided to concentrate on manufacture movements was to control R&D, conception and production to master 100% the quality of the final product by controlling the production facilities.

TP178: You have the manual wind 1400 caliber, are you also working on an automatic movement ?

CDP: Yes, it should be ready in 2003

TP178: Where did the pressure pushing brands to manufacture complete movements come from? From watch enthusiasts or other manufactures?

CDP: There are different levels of integration according to the philosophy of each Maison. Vacheron Constantin decided to invest in this path to control the production aspects and thus the quality of our timepieces.

TP178: How did you perceive the arrival of Lange & Sohne in the Richemont group?

CDP: Very well. We have a colleague of very high quality (Herr Knothe, CEO of Lange) who defends very well the values of technical high horology.

TP178: How is Vacheron Constantin positioned compared to Lange in the Richemont group ?

CDP: Lange is German art at its best in very fine technical watchmaking in very classical shapes.

Regarding Vacheron Constantin, we are the oldest watch brand with continuous production (1755). We are at the summit of the horology pyramid. What differentiates us with other brands? We have a unique combination of design, technique and finishing in each of our timepieces.

TP178: How are decisions taken at Vacheron Constantin in regards to Richemont (the holding company)

CDP: Richemont respects the autonomy of the brands while insuring a global coherence and a complementarity that favors the clients.

TP178: With what arguments can you persuade a watch enthusiast to buy a Vacheron Constantin 
timepiece ?

CDP: Vacheron Constantin represents 247 years of patrimony and creativity. It is horology at its finest.

TP178: Who are the Vacheon Constantin clients, apart from the fact that they need some buying power ?

CDP: Amateurs of fine arts, aesthetes, people with passion and collectors.

TP178: What are you wearing ? Do you wear pieces by other manufactures?

CDP: I am wearing an extra thin watch called Patrimony, which summarizes the exceptional performances of our manufacture. Even though I don't wear pieces by other manufactures, I still collect them with great pleasure.

TP178: Are you a collector

CDP: In a small way, yes.

TP178: Are there markets that you will be privileging in the future?

CDP: Our aim is to maintain a fair equilibrium between the different markets on which we are present. We have 550 points of sale throughout the world and we produce only 15000 pieces per annum. We therefore intend to serve each of these points of sale with a full personalized service environment.

We are currently well represented in Europe, Asia and the Middle East and are working in that sense on the US market.

TP178: What is your vision of the brand for the next 5-10 years ?

CDP: Respect the past and prepare the future. Keep your eyes open for our 250th anniversary!

TP178: In what way do you see high horology and the internet ?

CDP: A modern, wonderful, interesting and interactive instrument but it will never replace human contact. When you want to buy a watch, you have to look, to touch the product and to share the privilege to be together with one of our ambassadors around the world

TP178: Do you have anything to say about ?

CDP: Trust them, they are great specialist and connoisseurs of the horology world. We are proud to have such partners!

TP178: Thank you for your time.


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Copyright Aug 2002 - Alex Ghotbi and - all rights reserved