Vacheron Constantin

The minute I sat down with the CEO of luxury watchmaker Vacheron Constantin I knew it would be fun visit. Claude-Daniel Proellochs hands me his business card and it definitely ranks as the smallest card I've ever received. It's the size of a postage stamp and on the one side is all the usual information but on the other it reads "If you provide me with bigger business, I can afford a bigger card".
Vacheron Constantin's roots go back a long way-all the way to 1755. When a company's that old I know there's a good chance to pick up some interesting trivia. There was a Mr. Vacheron (Jean-Marc) and a Mr. Constantin (Francois) and the company has been headquartered within a mile of its current site since being established in 1755. Matter of fact, it's been in the same location since 1880. Where's this location? A six story building on a spit of land in the middle of the river running through downtown Geneva.

The company occupies two floors in the building with their flagship store on the ground floor. Investment banking firm Goldman Sachs is a building tenant so that tells you right there it's a prestigious spot. Several other high-end watchmakers have stores in the immediate vicinity.

Vacheron Constantin has a total of 300 employees with 20 working here in the head office. You're on your own as far as parking (CEO Proellochs catches a train then walks to the office), there's a cafeteria and, smoking is allowed.

The second floor corner office of CEO Proellochs contains a flat screen computer, no plants but a basketful of tall bamboo shoots. I count three family pictures as well as two paintings of old sailing ships. His view? The window opens up to get the cool river breeze and, it allows him to see the hustle and bustle of the city. Of course I ask to see the watch he's wearing. Yep, it's a Vacheron Constantin. I later look up the price in the catalog he gives me---30,000 Swiss Francs.

Proellochs takes me on a guided tour of the company's 700 piece watch collection and then to the company's museum. The museum, an authentic re-creation of a watch workshop from the early 1800's, even has moving life-size watchmaker figures working at their benches. Picking up a handful of work orders from a watchmaker's bench, Proellochs says these are the actual purchase and repair orders from 1810.

In a glass display case filled with antique watches Proellochs points to a jewelry watch and says it's a reproduction. Why a reproduction? Back in 1972 a gentleman commissioned Vacheron Constantin to design a one-of-a- kind jewelry watch. Called "Kallista", it contains 130 diamond carats, took 6,000 hours of work and in today's dollars would be worth $11 million. Who is the man? Lawyers got involved, papers were signed and Vacheron Constantin is barred from ever disclosing the man's name. Hmmm, Richard Burton was in his prime around then and was always buying Liz presents. Then again, wasn't the Shah of Iran still around?

Vacheron Constantin is part of the Vendome Luxury Group (Cartier, Dunhill, Mont Blanc to name a few), which is in turn owned by Compagnie Financiere Richemont AG. I visited Richemont's head office in Zug, Switzerland six years ago during my first trek through Switzerland and was given a great reception.