As a ven­er­a­ble haute-hor­logerie house em­barks on its lat­est phase of ex­pan­sion, it em­braces cut­ting-edge tech­nol­ogy along­side a hall­mark of ex­cel­lence dat­ing back to the 19th cen­tury.

The Peak Selections: Timepieces - - Reviews -

Vir­tual re­al­ity is not the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks of watchmaking grande dame Vacheron Con­stantin. But this tech­nol­ogy is ex­actly what the com­pany is us­ing to share its rich 261-year his­tory with an in­creas­ingly con­nected au­di­ence. Vis­it­ing the brand’s his­toric mai­son – which houses its bou­tique, work­shop and ar­chives – in Quai de L’Ile on a sunny but chilly day in Geneva, I fi nd my­self hold­ing a de­cid­edly mod­ern vir­tu­al­re­al­ity viewer en­cased in leather.

As I put on the viewer, as­sisted by her­itage ar­chive man­ager Si­grid Of­fen­stein, a dark, bound­less space ap­pears be­fore my eyes, with mark­ings and num­bers form­ing a lin­ear path into the hori­zon. Es­sen­tially, it’s a jour­ney through the his­tory of the watchmaking house, which be­gan in 1755, when Jean-Marc Vacheron signed on his first ap­pren­tice. Us­ing a con­troller, I stop at var­i­ous years along the path, zoom­ing in to take a closer look at early pocket watches and hand­writ­ten doc­u­ments (mostly in French). En­ti­tled “Chrono­gram”, this is def­i­nitely not your usual his­tory ex­hi­bi­tion.

This is all part of a mas­sive archival digi­ti­sa­tion ex­er­cise that Vacheron Con­stantin em­barked on in 2014, in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Swiss Fed­eral In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy Lau­sanne (EPFL). There are two main parts to the project: digi­tis­ing the ar­chives, and bring­ing the digi­tised in­for­ma­tion to life through tech­nolo­gies like vir­tual re­al­ity. The lengthy process has al­ready been two years in the mak­ing. Of­fen­stein says: “We have more than 350 lin­ear me­tres of pa­per ar­chives, in­clud­ing cor­re­spon­dence and registers. So far, we have digi­tised 0.4 per cent of our files. That’s fewer than 8,000 pages.”

For­tu­nately for its his­to­ri­ans, most of the brand’s cur­rent-day records would



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