April 2, 2001:

Since the earliest days of my fascination with watches and timepieces, Vacheron and Constantin represented the pinnacle of Swiss watchmaking, something to be aspired to, appreciated, coveted. The light grey overcast was appropriate, for my experiences so far that day in Geneva, my first full day ever, were disappointing at best. It was March 21st, and I had taken the train in from Zurich the day before, an hour and a half after touch down at ZRH non-stop from EWR. I was underwhelmed by both Patek Philippe and Gubelin. There is no question that both would have been better served to have remained in the realm of my imagination, keeping their grandeur and gracious polish in the abstract.

I walked along the Rhone, debating if I should protect the sanctity of the Vacheron image in my heart and mind, so carefully maintained and lovingly cherished all these years, from a distance. Afterall, I was due back in Basel that night for the world premier of the Freak, from Ulysse Nardin. Basel was at least a 4 hour train ride away, and I was definitely feeling the effects of jet lag and exhaustion. A light rain, a mist, really, infused the air with dampness.

As I walked up to the next Pont, I cast my glance across the river. There it was -

VC Home

- my personal Mecca - 1, rue des Moulins, l'Ile, St. Gervais

A tingle and excitement raced through my soul. No more were there doubts I would need to pay my respects, the possible monumental disappointments be damned! Yet, I dared not cross the Rhone, my personal Rubicon at that moment. Like a timid child, I hesitated. I turned the other way, and actually walked in the opposite direction. I tried to find excuses - it was nearly noon, I had not eaten all day so far, I should find a place for lunch; I should just jump on the train and go, get back to Zurich to change for the Freak premier...

opposite

My mind was consumed with anticipation - 

would I be disappointed with the service? the setting? the aura? As if in a playback loop, the thoughts, the fear, the anticipation, the hesitant excitement... Grey, overcast sky, the lightest of raindrops, a mist, really...apprehension from the disappointment at Patek...From the very earliest days of my horology mania, Vacheron & Constantin has always represented to me the superlative house of Swiss haute horlogerie - the best, the oldest, the most revered, the most prestigious, ne plus ultra. This may be personally nostalgic, but our first and earliest impressions are often the most sublime and long lived. 

Anticipation as I walked up the stairs, passing the secured doors that lead to the private administrative areas and viewing rooms... A portal through time, stepping back 200 years, accompanied by a timeless beauty as apropos in 1755 as in 2001...the original pantograph - a revolutionary break in watchmaking tradition, signaling the end of the cabinotier and the start of the etablisseur tradition...chills as I walk across the creaky wooden floor...the chirp of birds, the dull roar of the city Commons...the recreation of the cabinotier scene I have treasured in my imagination, since the earliest years of my watch fascination. Original parts, original tools, timepieces in various states of finish, Grand Livre 1, 2...the neat, elegant handwriting from a simpler, more human age...reaching through the centuries, my hands quivering in awe at the timeless humanity encapsulated before me... 

So enthralled, I forget to look for the cannon shot from the labour disputes of more turbulent times; the scars of the recent robbery/crashed car.  Svetlana - such a pleasure to talk to someone with a genuine engagement, love for her work and the product of her profession; nothing but good things to say about Mr. Proellochs. During dinner a few days later, Mr. Blumlein assured me VC would not be orphaned; additional production line allocated in new Vendome facility near PP...Minute Repeater, Malte chronograph perpetual, tourbillon...such a reverie, the minutes turned into hours. 

I had spent so much time in the anachronism, this capsule out of time, the light rain that was just a mist had become a downpour. Svetlana graciously offers to call a Taxi; I had long ago missed my train back to Zurich, and I resigned myself to missing the world premier of the Freak in Basel. I glide through the wet streets, oblivious to the drenching rain. All around me, the citizens of the here and now hurry by, their heads bowed, scurrying to get there or there...my feet barely touch the ground, as the lightness of being that accompanies meeting your dream and not being disappointed cushions my step, shields the dampness from seeping into my bones. As I sat there in the Cafe de Paris, taking a hearty drink of the Paradis Pinot Noir du Valais from Alex Roten Vins (no, the wine itself was not great, but the lingering euphoria, of meeting my personal sacred house of horology and not being disappointed, made the moment) and a satisfying bite of my rare entrecote, that smile that accompanies deep, spiritual contentment stays on my face, content in my knowledge that you can go home again, even if for the first time.


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