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Going the vintage way

Vacheron Constantin is stepping up its presence in the world of vintage watches – just what their customers want

TIMELESS ELEGANCE: Pocket Watch from 1931.

TIMELESS ELEGANCE: Chronograph Minuter Repeater Pocket Watch from 1925.

TIMELESS ELEGANCE: Minute Repeater from 1951.

Christian Selmoni, style and heritage director.

VACHERON CONSTANTIN has been selling on the quiet vintage timepieces since 2005. The low-key sale – confined only to Vacheron Constantin models – was known to only a small number of selected customers on its VIP list.Last month, more than a decade after it first started selling vintage pieces discreetly on the side, Vacheron Constantin called in the press to announce to the world that it is in the vintage watch business – and is stepping up its presence in it.

Coming at a time when there's a big demand for pre-owned timepieces – when even big watch brands like Audemars Piguet are jumping into the second-hand watch trade – the question is inevitably raised: Is coming out now to declare it is selling vintage timepieces – and expanding in the trade – Vacheron Constantin's way of cashing in on the hot resale market?

Christian Selmoni, the man Vacheron Constantin recently dispatched from its headquarters in Geneva to raise the profile of its vintage business in Singapore, is quick to deny it.

"We're now developing more and more (in the trade) because we are receiving many enquiries from customers," says Mr Selmoni, whose official title in the company is style and heritage director. "We're not selling pre-owned watches but vintages from the 1920s. They (the vintage watches) are selected very carefully."

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Mr Selmoni, who also came to present some 18 vintage Vacheron Constantin timepieces at an exhibition here, says the vintage models the brand is selling come from pieces it bought at auctions and from customers. Some are from Vacheron Constantin's private collections. These watches are at least about 25 years old, with the most recent one going back to 1994.

The latter is one of the 18 which are showcased at Vacheron Constantin's boutique in ION until April 27 this year.

The vintage timepieces which the brand offers have been refurbished to "pristine" condition and come with a two-year warranty – equivalent to that for the contemporary models it sells. They also carry a certificate of authenticity stamped by the brand's Heritage Department.

"We have an archive which can trace all the watches we have manufactured," Mr Selmoni says.

For its services, Vacheron Constantin charges a premium above the market rate for its vintage timepieces, but Mr Selmoni says the brand still offers a superior deal to collectors of vintage watches. Vintage timepieces not bought from Vacheron Constantin may be of dubious quality or will cost a lot more when they are sent for repair and servicing, according to him.

While there are some very rare and complicated Vacheron Constantin vintage watches available, Mr Selmoni says the simple and elegant models are currently more popular in the market.

The preference is also for wrist rather than pocket watches, which make the latter undervalued and good purchases.

Mr Selmoni says the number of vintage timepieces Vacheron Constantin sells is very tiny compared to its main watchmaking business, which produces around 22,000 timepieces yearly. "It (the vintage watch business) is more a marketing tool and a demonstration of our know-how and long legitimacy."

Ten of the timepieces in the vintage collection currently shown at the ION boutique are wrist watches, and eight are pocket watches. Their prices range from S$18,000 to S$600,000.

Many of the watches are simple models first produced in the 1900s, among which is a gentleman's three-hand wristwatch from 1952. It has a silver dial with Arabic numerals and the 35mm yellow gold case houses an automatic movement. The watch is priced at S$24,800.

Another of the simple vintage timepieces is a 1931 open-face pocket watch in a 44mm platinum case with a two-tone silver dial and a seconds sub dial. The Arabic numeral indices are in white gold. Ticking at the heart of the watch, also priced at S$24,800, is a hand-wound movement.

There are also two highly complicated watches in the collection. One is a 1951 minute repeater wristwatch powered by a manual winding movement which is nestled in a 36mm yellow gold case. The other is a 1925 chronograph-minute repeater open-face pocket watch. This has a hand-wound movement in a 49mm yellow gold case. Both timepieces are priced at over S$500,000. W