If watchmaking had a song, what would it sound like? And who would sing it? There would be more than a million possibilities but ask Vacheron Constantin and the answer would be Eternity by Benjamin Clementine. After all, the 263-year-old luxury watch company did co-produce the single with Clementine, who’s the English poet, artist and musician leading its latest brand campaign boldly entitled One Of Not Many.
Indeed, Clementine who’s most famously remembered as the barefoot singer-songwriter with a velvety warm croon—and gravity-defying hair—had intended the song especially for Vacheron Constantin. And since the Genevan manufacture is the world’s oldest watch company that’s been in continuous production since 1755, eternity sounds just about right.
Before Vacheron Constantin, Clementine, whose ‘live’ performances have consistently received praise, also fronted another campaign fairly recently. Maybe that’s why you thought he looked familiar. He’s collaborated with Christopher Bailey of Burberry several times since 2014 where he performed at the Burberry Prorsum menswear show in June that year—he was the first musician to have ever done that. The collaboration continued in 2016 when his song I Won’t Complain had been selected for a Burberry ad video which was filmed by the British film director, Steve McQueen CBE, who also did 12 Years A Slave, for which he won several awards including an Oscar.
In September this year, Clementine appeared at London’s famed Abbey Road Studios. But he wasn’t there to record an album, because that he’d already done—Eternity was recorded at Abbey Road Studios. What brought him to this legendary venue where so many of the world’s greatest performers such as The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Oasis, and Amy Winehouse have recorded numerous albums was Vacheron Constantin and its 150 guests from around the world, including Esquire Singapore.
Among the audience, there were people who’ve seen Clementine perform—or at least the 2016 Burberry campaign—and there were some who’ve never even heard of him. But as they say: the true beauty of music is that it connects people; when words fail, music speaks; music is an outburst of the soul; music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it’s impossible to be silent. By the end of the evening, it was eminently clear why musicians like Clementine, and also Vacheron Constantin’s other music ambassador, James Bay, was so perfectly suited for this particular watchmaking universe.
Rather than simply pouring money into a campaign with the hottest pop star or movie actor in the business, and strapping the watch onto his wrist with absolutely no regard for collaborative synergy, Vacheron Constantin stubbornly searched for people who had the same level of mad devotion to their craft as the manufacture did watchmaking. Seeing that special X factor in Clementine and Bay, the rest was history. It didn’t even matter than both these guys weren’t awfully famous. They have their own followers of course, even if Clementine’s hardly Bruno Mars and neither is Bay compared to Ed Sheeran. But that’s the whole point.
CEO of Vacheron Constantin, Louis Ferla, would be the first to agree. Speaking about the new One Of Not Many brand campaign, he says, “We have not chosen to work with these gentlemen because they are famous. Even among them there are different levels of fame and awareness. We chose them because they are really experts in their respective fields and they keep looking for excellence in that field. Speak to them and you’ll see how passionate and dedicated they are. Clementine for example spends hours and hours practicing just to get exactly the sound that he wants. He’s just 27, he’s super talented. It’s those values of excellence and dedication that we share with them.”
Ferla adds that the goal was not to search for brand ambassadors. “They don’t speak on behalf of our brand or about our brand. They’re partners with whom we explore ways to embark on common creative projects. With each, there will be a project release and it will be a collaborative effort. It’s not about them wearing our watches, it’s much more than that. It’s all about the collaboration.” So Clementine’s soulful single is just the first of a series of creative projects soon to be launched by Vacheron Constantin. This only means that up next is another musical surprise featuring Bay and Abbey Road Studios.
The two musicians represent Vacheron Constantin’s brand new FiftySix collection. And if you’re wondering why music for the FiftySix, what makes this world a natural fit for the collection? The answer, Ferla enthuses, is Abbey Road Studios. “For the FiftySix, we work with musicians. In this watch we got a lot of inspiration from the case which dates back to the 50s, and the 50s is this post-war era where business was good, people are relaxed, there’s a more casual life approach. Looking through our archives, we discovered a lot of clients are musicians who wore Vacheron Constantin and they hand links with Abbey Road Studios. Either they had recorded their music there or had some kind of collaboration.”
Acknowledging the dedication, passion and expertise of Abbey Road Studios, Ferla also mentioned the continual self-renewal exhibited by the legendary London studios as a reflection of Vacheron Constantin’s core values. Not only has it worked with generations of popular artistes, but Abbey Road Studios was also where iconic movie scores were recorded. Think evergreen films like Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and the Harry Potter films, as well as more recent productions such as Black Panther and The Shape of the Water.
Established in 1931, Abbey Road Studios is protected by the British government who in 2010 granted it the English Heritage Grade II listed status. This prevents anyone from making major alterations to the building, originally a Georgian townhouse built in 1831. Just a few yards away is the pedestrian crossing where The Beatles were famously photographed for their eponymously named album. These days, you’ll get just tourists crossing back and forth in a bid to get the perfect shot (and dodge any oncoming traffic) but the point has been made. Abbey Road Studios is an institution. Just like how Vacheron Constantin is an institution. And to a certain extent, the city of London, too, is an institution.
“What brought us here to London?” asks Ferla. Sure, it’s a rhetorical question but he answers it anyway. “London is a very cosmopolitan city. So much happens here. It’s a historical city, very old, but also very much open to the world. It’s a very dynamic city, and there’s nowhere quite like it in Europe, for example. Also of course we have this project with Benjamin [Clementine] and Abbey Road Studios, and not forgetting on 1stSeptember we just launched our full collection on Mr Porter.”
Over three days in this astounding city, Vacheron Constantin curated a unique experience best described as the FiftySix World, which was very English and very London, but not at all touristy. No rides on a London bus, no visit to Madame Tussaud’s, no feeding pigeons at Trafalgar Square. Instead, there was a vintage car tour that took us to the shooting locations of London’s most famous album covers, there was a bartitsu masterclass, we went vinyl hunting around Soho, visited the Sipsmith Gin Distilery, took a rock piano masterclass, went bowling, joined a DJ masterclass, and indulged in fine handcrafted shoes, tailoring and whiskey. Suffice it to say, FiftySix World rocks.
“I often say that, yes, Vacheron Constantin is the oldest watch manufacture in Geneva but why are we able to still be relevant today?” Ferla questions. “A lot of people tell me that Vacheron Constantin is known as one of the Holy Trinity brands and the reason is because we constantly innovate. If you don’t innovate, you lose momentum and speed. Having [a long] history is one thing but you can’t expect clients to buy your watches simply because we’re 263 years old. It should be because we are a manufacture with 263 years of history but that’s also constantly innovating and looking for excellence. It’s the combination of the two that makes us relevant today.”
FiftySix is a new collection yet arguably it isn’t all that new. In creating it, Vacheron Constantin was inspired by an old watch that had the same Maltese Cross style lugs. So in its own way, from the simple self-winding model to the high complication tourbillon piece, FiftySix is an example of how Vacheron Constantin reinvents and refreshes its style. Perhaps that’s how this centuries-old grand dame continues to look so darn elegant and relevant even after 263 years of being in the business—and frankly we could all learn a lesson here.