Watches

Second time around: Vacheron Constantin goes vintage

The pre-owned watch market is booming, and brands are clocking in. Vacheron Constantin is the latest big name to embrace the trend

The trouble with the great names of Swiss watchmaking is that they are, by and large, inaccessible. To get your hands on a Patek Philippe, an Audemars Piguet or a Vacheron Constantin (the trio known by collectors as ‘The Big Three’), you have to have some serious wedge. Rule of thumb, at least £15,000. A decent argument has it that this is as it should be – that is how status symbols work, after all.

But of late, we’ve started to see recognition on behalf of some of the most exclusive brands that things have perhaps got a little out of hand. A new generation of consumers who like a watch is coming through. As well as being shallower of pocket, they also like to have a watch wardrobe, as opposed to a watch for life – which means the budget has to go further.

Vacheron Constantin

This stunning mid-century 18-carat gold chronograph, Ref 4178 released in 1953, is £35,500

No doubt with this in mind, some of those venerable watch brands and industry group behemoths are channelling some of their attentions to pre-owned, traditionally an area they’ve eschewed, much like the grey market (where old stock is flogged as new).

Audemars Piguet recently launched a pre-owned collection, selling refurbished pieces (stamped with an AP seal of approval) at more accessible sums, and LVMH is thought to be considering the same with its portfolio of brands, that includes Hublot and TAG Heuer. Last week, Richemont, parent company of Cartier, IWC and Jaeger-LeCoultre, bought UK pre-owned watch business WatchFinder, which, as one business journalist quipped, might make them the country’s biggest Rolex retailer. Changing times.

Next of the grand dames of watchmaking to come to the pre-owned table is Vacheron Constantin, which has just announced Les Collectionneurs, a collection of pre-1970 vintage pieces that is available at its Bond Street boutique until the end of this month.

At any one time there are 20-30 pieces in the collection, which is topped up by pieces from the brand’s growing archive every time a watch is sold. Each watch has been through Vacheron’s Geneva manufacture before coming to market and is sold with a two-year warranty, uncommon among pre-owned pieces and longer than a surprising number of luxury brands selling new pieces.

Vacheron Constantin

A 1953 white gold three-hand automatic with a two-tone silvered dial, £13,500

‘Les Collectionneurs is a great tool for demonstrating our legitimacy, creativity and heritage,’ said the company’s Heritage and Style Director Christian Selmoni when I caught up with him at the boutique. ‘It gives us a connection to the past. There’s a lot of interest in vintage at the moment. We have a lot of designs in our archive, pictures of watches going back to the early 20th century – it’s an endless source of inspiration.’

While seeing the great brands enter the pre-owned market is reflective of a fascinating industry shift, it’s also providing consumers with opportunities to pick up watches at – relatively speaking – more accessible prices. The entry point into Vacheron’s new collection is currently £9,900 for a 1949 pocket watch and the majority of the collection is priced between £10,000 and £15,000. That’s still a lot of money, but there’s not a lot of Vacheron for under £15,000, this year’s brilliant new steel, three-handed Fifty-Six at £10,500 being the exception rather than the rule. And in this case, you also get your hands on something cheeringly unusual.

For those reasons and more, Vacheron’s Les Collectionneurs is worth a nosey. You have a little over two weeks to do so, before the collection moves on.

The Vacheron Constantin Les Collectionneurs collection is available to view here until the end of June