A TimeZone Exclusive Interview

Claude-Daniel Proellochs

Chief Executive Officer, Vacheron Constantin

by Peter Chong and Michael Friedberg

August 2003

Constantin brings a rich heritage of over 248 years of continuous watchmaking to
the world. For the past 15 years, the company has been under the stewardship of
Claude-Daniels Proellochs, who fervently believes in respecting the tradition
and evolving through creativity. In this exclusive interview for TimeZone, he
relays the strengths of his company, from both the perspectives of business and
high horology.

TZ: Peter Chong and Michael Friedberg – TimeZone.com

CDP: Claude-Daniel Proellochs

TZ: Did you always have an interest in watchmaking?

CDP: My father was head of the Swiss watch chamber exhibition division and has been creative for more than 40 years ! He
has transmitted the passion of fine watchmaking and the sense of transmitting its cultural and technical values.

TZ: When did you start in the watch industry? What did you do?

CDP: My first job right after completing my studies of economics has been with the Omega group in Bienne, where I was assistant in the organization division and later product manager of two of the four Omega collections.

After five years of training and experience, I was called to manage the communication and product division at Eterna in Grenchen. I then was promoted to CEO of Eterna and overall I stayed 14 years in that company.

TZ: What was it like when you first started at Vacheron Constantin?

CDP: I joined Vacheron Constantin in November 1988 as CEO of the company. Vacheron Constantin was then producing 4,000 watches a year. My task was to build a new management team to launch a new marketing and product concept, but keeping the motto of Vacheron Constantin which was always “quality first, respect of the tradition and permanent creativity”.

TZ: How has Vacheron Constantin changed in the 15 years that you have been CEO?

CDP: In very few years, Vacheron Constantin has been able to develop constantly its image, its products, its personalized service. The main goal has been to focus on a strong and motivated team, to share our culture with the markets’ own culture and mentality, giving a full priority to personal contact.

Watchmaking may be a business, but it is also an art. Do you marvel at the artistry of the physical beauty, or are you amazed with the mechanical aspects?

CDP: Fine watchmaking has to be art which consists of a unique trilogy: design, mastered techniques, hand finishing.

Business is not a goal but the consequence of a total commitment to our faithful customers all around the world.

TZ: Can business and art co-exist?

CDP: Art and business can co-exist together because they are attached together by the passion of our master watchmakers and the passion of those who are our ambassadors in the 57 markets where we are represented.

Art is the real expression of all Vacheron Constantin works of art. Business is what makes our long-term investments feasible; it is why Vacheron Constantin lives in harmony after this very long period of time (248 years of continuous challenge!).

TZ: Can the tradition and innovation also co-exist?

CDP: You cannot dissociate innovation and ultimate finishing. It is a whole, where design, technique and hand finish have to be harmoniously linked together to produce “works of art” ; you have to create continuously to preserve and capitalize tradition.

TZ: We understand that from 1989 go 2001 Vacheron Constantin’s sales have increased over 400% from 3,500 to 15,000 watches annually. To what do you attribute this large growth?

CDP: I can define this success by very few but capital words:

  • Ethics

  • Quality

  • Reliability

  • Creativity

  • Personal dedication to the customer

TZ: As CEO, managing this growth must have been a challenge. Can you tell us how you did that?

CDP: You never work alone! The first key elements are respect, motivation and vision. Vacheron Constantin employees share this long-term vision, and give the best of their personal talent and experience. My job has been to coordinate all activities and transmit these values to our distribution (general agents, subsidiaries and retailers).

TZ: Is there a ceiling on growth in the high horology segment of the market?

CDP: We could say that sky is the limit! However, we can only hurry strongly, giving priority to long-term quality. We have 586 point of sale and we have to harmoniously balance quantities with quality, expectation and dedication.

TZ: We believe that Vacheron Constantin has undergone a revitalization since Richemont took over from Sheik Yamani’s ownership. What has Richemont done?

CDP: Since Richemont has taken in its hands the destiny of Vacheron Constantin our manufacture has improved strongly in terms of marketing and distribution. Richemont is a great family with a very long-term vision on real luxury, service, training and very long-term commitment to our clientele.

Each brand is independent, respecting its individual vocation but homogenously coordinated for the benefice of all.

TZ: Your products seem to have a strong historical emphasis – the designs have traditional “Vacheron characteristics”. The dials and movements reflect meticulous craft. Can you comment on the importance of “patrimony” to high horology?

CDP: The patrimonial values of Vacheron Constantin represent 248 years of continuous experience. All our designs are linked to the past but recreated completely. Identity is then perfectly respected and creativity also. Design at Vacheron Constantin has nothing to do with fashion, which comes and goes. Design is linked to strong cultural values and care of all details.

TZ: In which market segment do you see Vacheron Constantin playing in?

CDP: Vacheron Constantin is linked to high horology, whereas Geneva at l’ìle (site location of Vacheron Constantin Geneva since 1755!) is at the heart of the creation of time.

Vacheron Constantin distinguishes itself with its unique trilogy, applied on all its watches:

  • Flawless design

  • Mastered techniques

  • Ultimate hand finishing

TZ: How are you positioning the various product ranges?

CDP: Vacheron Constantin has produced complementary collections which allows a full spectrum of high horology timekeeping:

Overseas is the sport segment with top of the range technical features (150 meters water-resistant, strong and noble steel, triple safety clasp, etc…) targeted to younger customers (chrono and automatic watches)

Royal Eagle is in shape (barrel shape)and a new segment (based on the forties design development of Vacheron Constantin). It also is targeted to younger generations (chrono, semi-complicated watches).

Malte is the center of Vacheron Constantin lines, with reinforced identification symbols which go from Tourbillon to chrono to two time zone, etc…

Patrimony is the super classical line, which represents the typical patrimonial elegant values of the brand.

72” is a wonderful and very original line (unisex and ladies) based on an original design of 1972, for which Vacheron Constantin received then the Prestige of France prize recognition.

Egérie is a unique and very feminine line which will be launched on the fall in all markets.

Kalla is the top of the range jewelry line which combines mechanic watchmaking and jewelry refinement.

TZ: In 1998, Vacheron Constantin acquired HDG (Haut de Gamme), now known as VCVJ (Vacheron Constantin Vallée de Joux). What were the factors underlying that decision?

CDP: Long and fructuous collaboration with HDG naturally led to integrate HDG in the Vacheron Constantin manufacture due to increasingly specific needs and requests. Exclusivity is a must for our maison of “Haute Horlogerie.”

TZ: What work is done in the Vallée de Joux and what work is done in Geneva?

CDP: Geneva is the headquarter for the manufacture. Both centers, Geneva and Vallée de Joux, work together under the control of the manufacture manager. Specifically, Vallée de Joux is responsible for R & D and movement components; Geneva takes care of controls and logistics. They split their activities according to specific projects and production schedules.

Based on a product briefing, our designers and technicians work closely together, on specific projects and with due priorities. All our product developments follow a precise and long-term strategy followed by a three year plan and the budget which prepares the production forecast.

TZ: We find particularly interesting the trend towards more in-house production, particularly in the development of in-house movements. We see that Vacheron Constantin has been busy with in-house calibres, like those for the repeaters and the new cal. 1400. Why is this occurring?

CDP: Our vocation in Haute Horlogerie technique requires very sophisticated and unique workmanship linked to top of the range technical innovations and the very specific know-how of our engineers and master watchmakers.

TZ: Would you be planning for all Vacheron Constantin watches ultimately to be running on in-house movements?

Vacheron Constantin has been continuous in creativity for over 248 years! The brand is then solidly anchored in a living tradition.

All our new developments are designed and built in-house (Vallée de Joux) and crowned by the Geneva hallmark. Our future is clearly linked with exclusivity, quality, reliability and service which is a long term commitment.

TZ: But, specifically, there have been persistent rumours of an in-house automatic calibre, perhaps to be introduced this year. Can you tell us anything about this?

CDP: Rumours are rumours and we shall not comment them, but as we launch regularly important novelties, you are most than welcome at the next Geneva SIHH!

TZ: Where do you see Vacheron Constantin in the future? Will it continue to grow? Will it continue to address the same markets with products of the same character and quality?

CDP: The future of Vacheron Constantin is linked to our faithful clientele which expects creativity, quality and service and it is our main goal.

TZ: One last question, that we always ask. Can you tell us what watch you are wearing today and what is special about it?

CDP: I wear today the most simple and sophisticated Vacheron Constantin time keeper, equipped with the thinnest mechanical movement, total thinness of 1.64 mm, with more than 115 components! … very understated isn’t it?

TZ: Absolutely. And we thank you.

Copyright © 2003

Peter Chong and Michael Friedberg

All Rights Reserved