By Thomas Shambler
In a tough time for the watch industry, the CEO of Vacheron Constantin, Juan Carlos Torres, isn't too worried. After all, his brand has managed to survive 261 years and counting
Vacheron Constantin is 261 years old. It's a genuinely historical brand. However, it's also a business, and you must produce a number of new watches every year without fail. How do you consistently create new products, but stay true to a brand like that? You can't be old and new at the same time.
We are not in the fashion business; that spits out designs every six months - and all of them be radically different and new. We're more like the car industry. When Mercedes-Benz puts out a new car, it's taken at least seven years in development. That means they have to look far into the future. It's the same at Vacheron, as we can't produce watches in six months. The next product we launch - for example - will have spent over five years in development.
How do you predict that something will be successful five years down the line?
If I knew that, I would be richer than Warren Buffett.
No, it's not about making predictions and being right all the time. It's about following your own path. Continuing to build the brand step-by-step, and adding innovation when you can. That's far more important than being a trendsetter. No one should follow trends; they should try and create them.
So where does the process of creating a new watch begin? Does it come from looking at the archives, or does it come from your watchmakers wanting to build something brand new?
It comes from everywhere. The archives, the watchmakers, the creative department, even clients and store managers. Yesterday, I was with a prominent collector in Beirut. Years ago he told me about an idea he had for a new Vacheron watch. It was a good idea so we decided to build it. Some ideas come from a watchmaker; others come from ideas that I have. We even take ideas from different departments within the company or even big clients.
Are we going to see anything new in 2017?
Well, I can't tell you much about that until January next year. But I can say that in 2017 we're going to be concentrating on the concept of astronomy. And what we have coming is truly stunning, if I do say so myself.
At the beginning of the year, luxury brands were battening down the hatches on what they were expecting to be a bad year. With 2016 almost over, how has Vacheron Constantin fared?
This year hasn't been the best. But it is in this sort of period that we need to stay very faithful to our values. Ultimately, I'm not afraid. Vacheron has gone through many crises, thousands of them. Think of the first World War, then the second. The quartz crisis, then this downturn and that downturn. And yet Vacheron has survived.
In dark times such as these, what role to regions such as the Middle East play?
I don't want to lie, but we haven't invested enough in the Middle East. Now is the time for us to invest in the region in a big way. You're going to see us opening more stores, putting more effort in pushing the brand, and developing specific products for this market. Unique ones. But you know what, we have time to make that happen. As you said, the brand is 261 years old. It's not going anywhere.