What’s the deal with Vacheron Constantin?

I never thought I would see the day where I wrote about Vacheron Constantin, and the post was anything other than glowing praise. Many will already know how much I love the brand, and although I only own one watch from their collection, I had, and perhaps still have every intention of owning more of them (although they probably won’t sell me one again). I think the Vacheron executives have become too arrogant, too quickly, and it is extremely disappointing; Even if this behaviour is par for the course with hype brands, people who have seen and experienced the ‘old Vacheron’ have every right to feel disappointed. Sure, this will perhaps become the new normal for the brand, but let’s talk about it anyway.

I posted a story the other day, following the release of the new Overseas “Everest” edition. This was inspired by the one Cory Richards wore when he ascended Everest. Unfortunately, stories get lost, and many who didn’t see it followed up with me about it – so I decided to share a full post here with further context.

If you’re reading this, you are likely aware that the Vacheron Overseas is now a ‘hype watch’ – i.e. it trades for a large premium above list price, and is impossible to buy at retail. Back when the Cory Richards unique piece was first revealed, even people who didn’t like Vacheron watches, loved that particular watch. It was a runaway success… and easily an instant bestseller if it ever came to fruition. For years, Vacheron repeatedly said it wouldn’t happen, or couldn’t happen…

Then, they issue it as a limited release, along with a chrono version which nobody asked for. As @thewindingstem pointed out in an Instagram post – the availability of basic information was pretty poor, and in many places the allocations were made, and deposits were paid, long before today’s launch. I don’t know for certain whether it was 100% allocated / sold before today, but it was close. [This paragraph was in my original post – I later found out they were not 100% allocated on the day it was leaked]

So, was this a missed opportunity? I think so. Imagine if they had launched this a few years ago, as a potential entry point to the brand for those who never previously wanted a Vacheron. Given that the overseas is now already hyped, this being limited to 150 pieces isn’t really a game changer – as of today, you can’t even get a blue dial Overseas 4500v for 7 years in London, 4-5 years in NYC and similar times in other places I have asked… so most people never had a chance of getting this Everest edition anytime soon – the 150 piece limitation simply saves Vacheron the hassle with production on yet another piece for which demand is insatiable.

In summary then, it is just another watch which people can’t get hold of. Vacheron now wants to be like the other hype brands, and so it will behave like the too. You as a collector should act accordingly.

What do I mean by “act accordingly”? As I see it, Vacheron has evidently shifted their approach to how enthusiasts should be treated – (VC ‘enthusiasts’ historically haven’t cared about resale value remember). Now that they’re aboard the hype train, the allure of more sales means they will target people who probably don’t even care about these watches… But who will buy them because money isn’t a problem, and ‘hyped’ watches have an appeal because they signify something – it’s like many other veblen goods … and people with money love to own these items. From Birkin bags, to steel nautilus and royal oaks… that’s where Vacheron wanted to be. None of this is unusual by the way – and in many ways it is nice to see Vacheron getting the recognition they deserved.

So what’s the problem?

That being said, I then found out that a boutique offered this new Everest dual time to a client, provided he spends significant money (6 figures) on other VC products. Essentially, they were literally using this new watch as a tool to shift other products to people with deep pockets, to drive sales. There was no care given to the idea of selling the watch to someone who really wanted it, or loved it – just a numbers game. Worse, still, here’s his summary of the brand’s position with other watches – unrelated to the new Everest (shared with permission, but slightly redacted to preserve some anonymity, as requested):

So what does that mean? Basically, even if you had a close relationship with your Vacheron boutique, the rules have changed for the staff there too (and that is who your relationship is with – not VC the brand, who doesn’t give a sh*t about you). Vacheron bosses are setting these new rules or sales targets, and the boutique staff are merely employees following a script. Relationships are nice, but money talks when it comes to hyped brands.

I’m not naïve about this either – Vacheron are running a business, and they answer to Richemont, who have shareholders that demand a return, ASAP. The problem with this approach is the short-sightedness of it all. Hype won’t necessarily last forever, and the original clients who simply loved Vacheron, will be burned by this approach, and they are the very people who will come and buy the watches when the hype is gone – to illustrate the point, here’s an example of one reply to my story:

From @thebearjew17 via Instagram – shared with permission

Conclusion

I need to clarify firstly that this isn’t a ‘Vacheron bashing’ post – it’s more to highlight the ‘sad state of affairs with the new hyped-Vacheron’. The shift of Vacheron being ‘just another nice watch brand‘ to ‘a brand with hype models‘ happened so quickly, people generally can’t believe it either. I was chatting to a buddy Z (@sometimes_someotherstuff) about this, and he offered some interesting counter perspectives – noting that he is a long standing Vacheron client. He thinks that Vacheron are continuing to treat existing clients well – and my response to him, was that he was a VVIP based on his collection, so of course he would feel that way – they don’t want to turn away clients like him. My own perspective is closer to the average client, who won’t be spending 6-7 figures every year, and therefore be unlikely to get any allocations for hot pieces which are often relatively cheap compared to the other stuff from the brand.

Is this a big deal? No. Is it a big change, with regards to Vacheron? Yes. It is indeed awesome to see a brand and a watch (Overseas) getting some deserved recognition, in a market where worse watches are excessively revered by the irrational market. The downside is, the average or new collector won’t be able to come close to Vacheron anymore, and that’s a real pity. Also, maybe the hype for Vacheron is here to stay… or maybe the current executives think they hype will last for the duration of their own careers and simply don’t care what happens to the brand when they leave. Classic agency theory at play.

The really sad part of this whole story is how the brand’s own boutiques are now behaving like multi-brand authorised retailers… trying to bundle less-hot watches into purchases of hot watches. To me, this is the worst practice ever. Sure, boutiques can have VVIP and VIP lists, and they can exclusively allocate watches based on spend – but this practice of ‘teasing’ non-VIP clients with hot pieces by forcing them to buy crap they don’t want, simply devalues the experience, and the brand image.

Is this par for the course with all hyped brands? Perhaps. Many will point to AP and tell stories about how they try to sell you a Code 11.59 before you can talk about Royal Oaks… I suppose when a brand is hyped, or has some hype models, the classic rules go out the window and these abhorrent tactics take over. I don’t need to hear your speeches about ‘how the real world works’ – don’t worry, I get it 🙂 – doesn’t mean it isn’t sad to see.

Admittedly, the real world never fails to disappoint. The idea of true brand loyalty is dead, and the replacement concept is simply defined by the depth of your pocket. To any new collector considering big purchases – don’t buy into this nonsense. Try to find the next hidden gem… or just stick to independent watch makers!

-F

2 Comments Add yours

  1. This is completely accurate given the state of world affairs. I was somewhat inspired by your ownership to get my own 1st-gen VC Overseas – blue dialed, of course. I really do prefer the older bracelet style and smaller sizes. Real aficionados of brands and horology like yourself do so much leg work in actually promoting less mainstream brands like Vacheron. In return, what do we get? OVER ENTITLED RETAIL SNOBBERY. Apologies for the all-caps!

    Fortunately in the States, I don’t get any snobbery at the boutiques I visit, but that’s because most salesfolk know that shell out cheese like Kraft and realize I understand more about their own hustle better than they do. But there are too many dear friends of mine that do get the short end of the retail schtick – they walk in the clock shops, even in their best apparel, on their best behaviour, off-peak hours, and can’t get the time of day! I think 5th and 6th generation watchmakers in Switzerland are getting treated like cogs as much as their government permits, and the new generations of enthusiasts, ESPECIALLY in this hemisphere, are getting shite retail treatment.

    Liked by 1 person

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