We got together with Vacheron Constantin’s CEO, Juan-Carlos Torres, or Charlie Torres as he likes to be known in the industry, and chatted about various issues, ranging from the guiding principles for the 260 year Grande Dame to her important markets including the China play and the revamping of the collections.
By way of introduction, as this is the first Deployant interview with him, we begin with a brief profile. Juan-Carlos started work in Vacheron Constantin in 1981, initially in an accounting role before rising to become Finance Director in 1987, Finance and Manufacturing Director in 2000 and rising to become Deputy Chief Executive in 2002. In 2005, he succeeded Claude-Daniel Proellochs as CEO, and have been at the helm ever since. A strong leader, friendly, always ready with a smile, we have come to appreciate his steady hand on VC. Under his leadership, the Grande Maison grew from strength to strength, fortifying its position within the Big Three (Vacheron Constantin, Patek Philippe, Audemars Piguet). The launch of the new Harmony Collection is one high point, and this year’s revamp of the Overseas Collection will prove to be another.
Guiding principles for VC
So we started our chat with the same question we usually ask first time CEOs on our In Conversation series: “If you have had 20/20 vision you have now when you began as CEO 11 years ago, what would you have done different in your tenure, and wished you had known in 2005?”
Charlie approached the question by responding that VC is a Grande Dame. 261 years old. And as the oldest maison with a history with continuous production. She moves steadily, not slowly, but steadily. Timing is critical and changes to products must not be too fast. To him, VC remains guided by these three principles:
And this is apparent in the products we see. We have always been impressed with VC watches, but in recent years, with the Harmony Collection and this year’s Overseas Collection, even more so. We have been accused of gushing when we speak of VC watches. We are not ashamed of it. Rather proud that we have the taste to appreciate its excellence. The watches are magnificent. As an example, read our review of the VC Patrimony Ultra Thin Minute Repeater.
When Charlie started in VC 35 years ago, the company was 30 people. Today, VC employs some 1000 people. Our discussion then touched on the mix of generations. Watchmakers with experience work together with watchmakers who are new. Interestingly, the workshops are not organized like a production line like many other manufactures. But by craft. This is less efficient than modern mass production lines, but VC gets to retain the skills and promore the culture among her employees.
VC currently have 24 apprentices dedicated in their Watchmaking School. They stay in the school for 4 years. An additional 2 years are spent working in production with 1 additional year dedicated to more specific and technical tasks, and then and only then they are allowed to assemble movements. So 6 to 7 years from starting watchmaking school to being allowed to assemble movements. And to specialize in complications, the watchmaker has to demonstrate not only interest and skill, but also dedication for another 10 years or so to be a Master of Complications within VC. We noted that it takes 5 years in Singapore to qualify with an MBBS and be allowed to work as a Houseman, and possibly another 2 years to be a fully qualified doctor. And further training to qualify as a Specialist. Similar timelines.
The China Play
We move next to the markets, and it is a well known fact that VC have had much success in China. With the change in Chinese spending (see our article analyzing the China Phenomena) we wondered what was VC’s direct experience.
China remains a very important market for VC. And contrary to what many believe, remains very strong and is still growing. The key? Respect for the customer. The customer is respected, treasured for his custom. And accorded special treatment by VC.
One area where this is particularly important for the Chinese is After Sales Service. The Chinese buy from everywhere. In Europe, they form the largest customers for VC (as with many other high end brands). The issue then, is warranty and after sales service. Typically these are country specific, but for VC, in order to cater specially for these international Chinese customers, warranty and service support is global. Watches purchased from any Authorized Dealer worldwide, can be serviced in the VC center in Beijing and Shanghai. Either within or out of warranty. Charlie was particularly proud of the VC Twin Villa in Shanghai. A house, with a beautiful garden, built in the 1930s, the heyday of Shanghai. The Twin Villa is not only the flagship boutique, but also a Service Center, with 30 watchmakers in attendance.
Charlie also refuted mumbling among some journalists that VC is revamping their collection big time in the last 2 to 3 years because of the big slowdown in the China market. He pointed out that the new Overseas is now 30% more expensive than the line it replaces. This is because there is more VC value add to the collection. The entire Overseas Collection now comes with Poinçon de Genève certification and with in-house manufactured movements.
What’s his favorite watch for SIHH 2016?
Without the slightest hesitation, Charlie replied the Patrimony. The line remains VC’s best seller, and the new Patrimony which we reviewed here, in its 42mm case, and small seconds hand…sublime.
He also offered that this is where the majority of VC collectors start. With the classical line. The Patrimony, and move on from there.
As we ended, Charlie was in good spirits and in a good mood. He picked up my business card which was presented to him at the beginning of this meeting, took his loupe and posed for this photograph.
And with that, our hour was up, and we said our goodbyes. And Charlie Torres readies himself for his next interview.