The History of Vacheron Constantin, One of the World's Three Greatest Watches

Click here to watch the video about the history of Vacheron Constantin.

In today's article, we will thoroughly explain the history and appeal of Vacheron Constantin, one of the world's three major watch brands.

Founded in 1755, the company is now known as a long-established brand with approximately 270 years of history, but it has not always been smooth sailing.

However, it is the world's oldest brand, having survived the Great Depression of 1929 and the Quartz Shock and continuing to this day.

If you look into its history, you will understand why it continues to reign as one of the world's three greatest watch brands.

What's so great about Vacheron Constantin?

What is the relationship with Jaeger-LeCoultre?

If you feel the same way, please read to the end.

Vacheron Constantin in the 18th Century

Jean-Marc Vacheron, founder of Vacheron Constantin
*Jean-Marc Vacheron, founder of Vacheron Constantin

On September 17, 1755, Jean-Marc Vacheron, already a talented watchmaker and designer, opened his watchmaking workshop in Geneva.

His first pocket watch, the Silver Watch, had a key-winding movement in a sturdy silver case with delicately decorated gold hands.

The first Vacheron Constantin pocket watch

The movement of this watch is signed by Jean-Marc and is the only proof of the company's founder.

Vacheron Constantin 2nd and 3rd Generation

Jean-Marc's son Abraham took over the business in 1785, and in 1810 his grandson Jacques-Barthélémy took over.

Vacheron Constantin in the 19th Century

Jacques, the third generation, began exporting to France and Italy, expanding the business and attracting upper-class customers such as royalty and aristocrats.

In 1812, Vacheron debuted the first quarter repeater watch, which chimed every hour and quarter hour.

Vacheron Constantin Quarter Repeater Pocket Watch

The dial was signed "Vacheron Geneve" and it was a luxurious watch with a yellow gold case, enamel dial, blued steel hands and intricate engravings.

The reason why such clocks were made is because in those days, business partners were royalty and aristocrats, and clocks did not simply serve to tell time but also served as works of art and decorations.

So, basically, all the watches were made to order, and a lot of effort was put into the decorative aspects other than the watch itself, so design was a very important element even back then.

From this time on, he understood the importance of design, and from then on he continued to develop sophisticated designs as a luxury brand.

Company name changed to Vacheron Constantin

Francois Constantin

*Francois Constantin

As the business expanded, it became difficult for Jacques to continue running the company alone, so in 1819 he brought on François Constantin, an experienced business strategist whom he had met during a business trip to Italy, as a partner, and the company was then named "Vacheron Constantin".

After Jacques became a partner, he received a letter from François, and a passage from the letter, "Do your best, but it is always possible to try," has become the company's motto to this day.

The company's watches were originally exported to America by a French trading company in 1811, but thanks to François's expertise in overseas marketing and sales, the company was able to expand its market by selling more watches to America, Brazil, and Cuba.

François Constantin died in 1854, followed by Jacques-Barthélémy in 1863.

A series of successors followed, and talented employees continued to maintain and protect the business.

In 1872, the watch took part in the first chronometer competition held at the Geneva Observatory, where it received high praise.

In 1885, the company made the first antimagnetic pocket watch, and in 1887 it won a gold medal at the Swiss National Exhibition and was reorganized as a joint-stock company.

Until the end of the 19th century, the company produced double-faced pocket watches, watches with perpetual calendars, and bracelet watches for women, which created a huge boom.

With these achievements as a backdrop, the company began using the famous Maltese cross as its symbol in 1880 so that it could be easily recognised, and in 1890 it was patented as the company logo.

Maltese Cross logo Vacheron Constantin Maltese Cross

This was inspired by the cross-shaped part that is fitted to the barrel cover to achieve greater precision.

Vacheron Constantin Lechot's achievements

Georges Auguste Lechot

As I explained earlier, winning the competition was not something that the Vacheron and Constantin families could have achieved alone.

Before any such competition could take place, in 1839, Vacheron Constantin hired the watchmaker and inventor Georges-Auguste Leschot to develop a machine tool for making ébauches (unfinished movements).

Lechot had been working for many years on designing lever escapements that could be manufactured using machinery, with the aim of serially producing movements as his future goal; he soon became supervisor and technical director, and in 1842 made Vacheron the first Swiss manufacturer of modern industrial watchmaking.

In 1845, the company began selling its own escapements and ébauches to other watchmakers.

Lechot was also the first to invent the "pantograph," a device that made it possible to reproduce various watch components with great precision.

This brought watchmaking into the industrial age and earned Le Chopp a gold medal from the Society of Arts of Geneva in 1844.

Therefore, from the mid-1800s onwards, Vacheron Constantin was able to develop high-precision movements in-house and also built a mass production system, which allowed them to be supplied to other companies.

Taking on Complex Complications

Vacheron Constantin Minute Repeater Pocket Watch with Calendar

As early as the 1900s, Vacheron was making minute repeater pocket watches with calendars and a transparent dial that allowed the movement to be seen, but the calendar on these watches still had to be manually corrected on February 29th in leap years.

In 1929, the company completed the "Grand Complication Pocket Watch," which was equipped with a chronograph, perpetual calendar, minute repeater, grande sonnerie and petite sonnerie.

This watch incorporated all the watchmaking technology of the time.

Vacheron Constantin Complication Pocket Watch Presented to King Fard I of Egypt

This watch was made for King Fard I of Egypt and featured an enamelled royal coat of arms on the case back, a day and date window at 12 o'clock, a month and year subdial at 9 o'clock, a 30-minute counter at 3 o'clock, and a moon phase with small seconds at 6 o'clock.

The company then spent five years developing an even more extraordinary complication watch for King Farouk, Fard I's son.

In 1935, the watch was given as a gift to the new King by the Genevan government and contained 14 complications and 820 parts, 55 of which were jewel bearings.

The Geneva Seal and Quality Since the 20th Century

In 1901, a Vacheron Constantin movement (caliber) was the first to be certified with the Geneva Hallmark.

Vacheron Constantin Geneva Seal

The Geneva Seal certifies that the quality standards are based on those of the Swiss government and the Canton of Geneva, and is proof that the watch is made by Genevan craftsmen and has high quality and precision.

This certification specifies in detail how each part is processed, decorated, assembled, and even other small details, making it said to be extremely difficult to obtain.

Rolex and Omega also have their own strict in-house chronometer standards, but the Geneva Seal is said to be much stricter than these.

This is also the achievement of the inventor Lechot, and when you see that the Geneva Seal is still engraved on current Vacheron watches, you can see why it is a luxury brand.

Vacheron Constantin's first boutique

*Vacheron Constantin's first boutique

In 1906, the company opened its first boutique in Geneva.

By this time, he was receiving orders from such prestigious clients as Queen Maria of Romania and Prince Napoleon.

The following year, in 1907, the company released the Chronometer Royal, a chronometer-standard pocket watch that was highly accurate and could function in any bad weather, and registered it as a trademark.

Vacheron Constantin Chronometer Royale

※Vacheron Constantin Chronometer Royale

It is said that this was made in response to the demands of the wealthy Brazilians at the time who had made their fortunes through coffee production.

In 1912, Vacheron released its first wristwatch.

Vacheron Constantin Tonneau, launched in 1912

The yellow gold model with a case shaped like a "tonneau," which means a barrel in French, became popular with both men and women and immediately became one of the brand's identities when it was introduced.

This watch features a silver dial with radiating Arabic numerals from 1 to 12 and a minute track around the outer edge, following the Art Deco design that was popular at the time.

From then until the end of the 20th century, various complications were fitted to this tonneau-shaped case.

When World War I began, Geneva became the location of the Ordnance Procurement Agency for the American Expeditionary Forces.

In 1918, Vacheron Constantin received an order from the agency for several thousand chronograph pocket watches.

The required specifications were a stainless steel silver case, resistance to sudden temperature changes, and luminous hands that could be seen in the dark.

The agreement was renewed several times until 1920.

Partnership with Jaeger-LeCoultre

Differences between the two watches: Vacheron Constantin and Jaeger-LeCoultre

After the First World War, the Great Depression that began in 1929 made it difficult for Vacheron to continue operating as before, and it was forced to downsize.

Although wristwatches were still on the market, the main sources of income at this time were pocket watches with complicated mechanisms targeted at the wealthy, and richly ornamented ladies' watches, but the Great Depression caused such luxury jewelry to completely stop selling.

Even though production had almost come to a halt and it was difficult to even continue business, the development of new technologies continued.

The fact that they continued to make these efforts despite sluggish sales speaks volumes not only about their reputation as a luxury watch brand, but also about the true essence of the "luxury brand attitude" that the brand truly possesses.

As a result, in 1933 and 1934, the company developed a recorder for sports competitions that could measure to within one-tenth of a second, continuing to innovate technologically.

Although the company made technological innovations, this was not a decisive factor in helping it survive the recession, and it was its partnership with Jaeger-LeCoultre that became a turning point in helping the company escape from a serious management crisis.

At the time, Jaeger-LeCoultre reigned at the top of the watch world along with Omega and Longines, and because it did not target the wealthy, its business remained strong even during the recession.

The partnership was agreed upon in the form of a merger of Vacheron Constantin into Jaeger-LeCoultre, and the establishment of a new joint venture, Industrial Products Trading Co., Ltd. (SAPIC), which would include the two companies as well as a number of subsidiaries.

As I have explained in other videos, in most cases after a brand is acquired through a merger or acquisition, only the brand name remains and completely different watches are produced.

However, what was fortunate about this merger was that Vacheron Constantin's culture and approach to craftsmanship were respected, and each brand continued to exist as an independent entity.

Intuitively, Rolls-Royce is the king of the car world, but its parent company is BMW.

That doesn't mean that Rolls-Royce will become like BMW, but rather it will continue to inherit the spirit of Rolls-Royce.

However, this partnership is not just about saving Vacheron with an injection of cash.

One of them was a contract to "purchase Jaeger-LeCoultre movements in the future."

However, this could also be seen as a positive for Vacheron.

In the first place, Jaeger-LeCoultre was by this time capable of producing its own movements and had the ability to supply them to other companies.

As I explained earlier, Vacheron also made their own movements, but these were for pocket watches, and this was a time when the era was changing into the era of wristwatches.

As a result, the company was able to successfully ride the wave of the changing times, from pocket watches to wristwatches, and through the partnership its main focus shifted to wristwatches, and it moved on to full-fledged production of wristwatches.

Now, let's take a look at Vacheron Constantin, which is equipped with a Jaeger-LeCoultre movement.

Vacheron Constantin with Jaeger-LeCoultre Movement

Comparison of Jaeger-LeCoultre and Vacheron Constantin movements

In this image, both movements are made by Jaeger-LeCoultre, but if you look closely you will see some slight differences.

By the way, the movement number is assigned by each company, so even if it is the same movement, it will not have the same caliber number.

They will not be installed as is, but each company will convert them slightly, so strictly speaking they will be different movements.

Returning to the main topic, the brand names written on the movements are of course different, but the Cal. 803 installed in the Jaguar does not have an Incabloc as part of its shock-resistant device, while Vacheron's Cal. 1003 does.

In addition, the Vacheron watch is gold plated to give it a luxurious feel, and the chamfering is smoother than that of the Jaeger-LeCoultre watch, making it a movement suitable for a luxury watch.

These are just a few examples; in fact, there are around 20 different types offered by Vacheron.

In addition, Jaeger-LeCoultre's movements were highly regarded for both appearance and performance, and the company was trusted as a manufacturer, so their movements were also used by Audemars Piguet, another of the world's three major watch brands.

By the way, this Cal. 1003 movement was released by Vacheron in 1955, the same year that marked the 200th anniversary of the company's founding.

At the time, this watch was the thinnest in the world, measuring just 1.64 mm thick, and was certified with the Geneva Seal, making it a prime example of an ultra-thin movement.

Vacheron Constantin Ultra-Thin Watches and the Caliber 1003

As such, the partnership with Jaeger-LeCoultre has not ultimately been a negative thing for Vacheron, and if anything has been a positive one, which is clear when we look at the current valuation of Vacheron watches in the antique market.

Vacheron, which did not compromise on quality even during the Great Depression, went on to rival Patek Philippe as a luxury watch company in the 1930s.

If you are interested in the history and appeal of Patek Philippe, please watch this video:

The two companies had built such a good relationship, but a historic change occurred in 1958.

At that time, Georges Kettler, who was the president of the factory in charge of producing LeCoultre, became a major shareholder of Vacheron Constantin and became independent from SAPIC.

This marked the end of the partnership between Jaeger-LeCoultre and Vacheron that had lasted for nearly 30 years.

However, Vacheron was fortunate to partner with Jaeger-LeCoultre, a company that treated its brand with respect even during the toughest times.

Vacheron Constantin World Records

After Georges Kettler's death in 1969, the company was taken over by his son Jacques, who helped the company weather the quartz crisis.

Vacheron Constantin Kallista.

※Vacheron Constantin Calista

In 1979, they introduced the Calista, which became one of the most expensive and complicated watches in the world.

It took artisans 6,000 hours to create the watch, and jewellers a further 20 months to set it with 118 emerald-cut diamonds weighing a total of 130 carats.

At the time, it was worth an astounding $5 million (500 million yen at an exchange rate of 100 yen to the dollar), but its current value is approximately $11 million (1.1 billion yen at an exchange rate of 100 yen to the dollar) .

Vacheron had been working on developing thin movements since the 1940s, and in 1968 they went even further, succeeding in developing the ultra-thin automatic movement, "Cal. 1120."

Vacheron Constantin Overseas

The 2.45mm thick Cal. 1120 was released in the current model, the classic Overseas, and has received a great response from watch experts and collectors.

Years later, in 1992, the world's thinnest minute repeater movement, "Cal. 1755," was born.

It is just 3.28mm thick and only 200 pieces were produced.


In 1996, the Richemont Group bought out most of Vacheron's shares and brought the company under its umbrella.

In the 2000s, Vacheron celebrated its third century since its founding and launched a sports line and women's collection that focused on more contemporary and modern designs.

To this day, the company continues to push the boundaries of complexity and thin movements.

The custom-made watch, Ref. 57260, released in September 2015, took eight years to design and manufacture, and is said to be the most complicated watch in history, with 57 complicated mechanisms that combine cutting-edge technology with traditional techniques.

We are sure that the company will continue to create fascinating and original timepieces thanks to its outstanding technology and the challenges it has taken on over its long history.