Luxos interviews Christian Selmoni, Artistic Director at Vacheron Constantin
Can you tell us about your role at Vacheron Constantin?
I joined the company in 1990. At that time, I was the Head of Planning and Purchasing department. My knowledge of suppliers and components was useful for the design team. Little by little, I became more involved in product design and development. Then, I took charge of the manufacturing department, and got to learn more and more about watchmaking and its production process. Above all, I became very interested in the creative concepts behind a watch. In 2002, I had the chance to create and develop the whole Vacheron Constantin product collection with a team of three people. In 2006, I was in charge of production and marketing in general. It was in October 2010 when I became the Artistic Director. I am responsible for the Metiers d'Art collections, special orders production and development and so forth. I think 80, 90% of my time is dedicated to new concepts, as well as promotions of the new collections.
Do you have a typical week or day?
Well, I dedicate a lot of time to the marketing team. When you design a new product, it's important not to create product just for the fun of creation, you really have to listen to your customers' needs. I also meet with the design team to discuss how different products are working, both on the short-term and long-term basis. I interact with movement engineers, as the technical side of Vacheron Constantin watches is very important. We'd talk about future developments, and how we can balance design and technique. I also build relationships with our collectors and the press. I spend a lot time talking to people, making sure we are going in the right direction.
What is your biggest challenge?
The challenge in my position is to coordinate people'e efforts. Every day, I have to change my approach depending on whom I work with. For example, with the design team, while I have to defend their creativity, I have to make them understand the marketing department's needs too. And in turn, with the marketing department, I have to pragmatic… I believe that a lot of artistic directors have a similar challenge coordinating different people.
Customers expect a lot from our watches. A watch works non stop 24 hours a day. People expect their watches to be constantly precise and reliable. While design is important, the technical aspects of a timepiece are even more important.
For Vacheron Constantin, how long does it take to launch a new collection?
We begin with a product strategy given by the CEO so we know which direction we have to go into, say, five years from now. On average, we need 18 to 22 months from the concept and product development to the final product launch.
For a historical maison like Vacheron Constantin, how far would you push a design?
I think your question is interesting, because this is our challenge at Vacheron Constantin. We are a company with 256 years of history. We have to defend authentic watchmaking. By "authentic," I mean we are faithful to our tradition. But most importantly, you can be classic and traditional without being boring. It doesn't mean you cannot be creative, but the way you design and present the product must be in line with the maison's authentic watchmaking tradition. We have a patent pending for the Patrimony Traditionnelle World Time. This perhaps isn't an obvious point for the customer, nor practical from the marketing point of view. But this watch is the perfect example of how we balance creativity and audacity with Vacheron Constantin's heritage and style. That's why we are considered the benchmark of watchmaking.
Can you tell us about the Metiers d'Art collections?
The Metiers d'Art collection is our creative playground. It's a collection in which we consolidate our reputation for technical and classical watchmaking. It combines traditional, decorative art with the watchmaking art and creative concepts. We will continue to develop this collection, but keep it rare and exclusive. While I won't consider watches as pieces of art in themselves, it's possible to incorporate art into the watchmaking process. At the end of the day, watches must remain watches.
How would you describe Vacheron Constantin in your own words?
Vacheron Constantin is authentic watchmaking, maintaining its craftsmanship at the highest possible level. Craftsmanship is the keyword. While technical aspects can be aided by other means, craftsmanship is something truly unique.
For luxury consumers, which watches would you recommend?
It is very difficult question to answer, because it all depends on personal taste. But I would consider complications such as minute repeaters as the apex of our watchmaking art. From the craftsmen's point of view, it's an extremely complex timepiece to produce. Technically, it's very sophisticated. It has a very special emotional value which makes it a wonderful piece to collect. Nowadays, we are surrounded by electronic devices such as the iPhone, but the minute repeater is something very authentic. It is the perfect link between our past and present.