Vacheron Constantin was founded in 1755 by Jean-Marc Vacheron, an independent watchmaker in Geneva, Switzerland. He was a close friend of leading Enlightenment philosophers Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Voltaire due to their common interests in philosophy, science and watchmaking. In 1770, Vacheron’s company created the world’s first horological complication, and nine years later he designed the first engine-turned dials. The son of Jean-Marc Vacheron, Abraham Vacheron, took over the family business in 1785. During this period, the company was able to survive the French Revolution (1789–1799). In 1810, Jacques-Barthélemy Vacheron, the grandson of the founder, became the head of the company. He was the first to initiate the company’s exports to France and Italy.
Later, Jacques-Barthélemy realized that he was not able to handle the business alone. In order to travel overseas and sell the company’s products, he needed a partner. Consequently, in 1819, François Constantin became an associate of Vacheron. The company continued its activities under new name Vacheron & Constantin. The company’s motto (which remains today), “Faire mieux si possible, ce qui est toujours possible (Do better if possible and that is always possible)”, first appeared in Constantin’s letter to Jacques-Barthélémy. The letter was dated July 5, 1819.
François Constantin traveled around the world and marketed watches. The main market at the time was North America. In 1833, Vacheron and Constantin hired Georges-Auguste Leschot, whose job was to supervise the manufacturing operations. In particular, Leschot was an inventor and his creations turned out to a success for the company. His inventions had significant impact on the watchmaking industry in general, and he was the first person to standardize watch movements into Calibers. In 1844, Georges-Auguste Leschot was awarded with a gold medal from the Arts Society of Geneva, which highly appreciated Leschot’s pantographic device – a device that was able to mechanically engrave small watch parts and dials.
Advertisement from 1896 promoting their observatory trial results
After François Constantin’s death in 1854 and Jacques-Barthélemy Vacheron’s death in 1863, the company was taken over by a series of heirs. At one point, the company was headed by two women. In 1862, Vacheron Constantin became a member of the Association for Research into non-magnetic materials.
In 1877, Vacheron & Constantin, Fabricants, Geneve became the official name of the company. In 1880, the company started using the Maltese cross as its symbol until today. This was inspired by a component of the barrel, which had a cross-shape and was used for limiting the tension within the mainspring.
In 1887, Vacheron & Constantin was reorganized into a joint-stock company. Notably, in the same year, Fabergé‘s 1887 Third Imperial Egg contained a Vacheron Constantin Lady’s watch as the surprise. For the remarkable achievements of the company, Vacheron & Constantin was awarded a gold medal at the Swiss National Exhibition in Geneva in 1887. The first Vacheron & Constantin boutique in Geneva was opened in 1906.
During the Great Depression, Vacheron & Constantin found itself in a difficult situation. In 1936, Charles Constantin became the head of the company, the first time since 1850s that a representative from the Constantin family became the president of Vacheron & Constantin. However, in 1940, Georges Ketterer acquired the majority portion of the stock of Vacheron & Constantin from Charles Constantin.