CENTRE OF EQUILIBRIUM
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.
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