In today’s world almost everything can be purchased through the Internet, which takes away the charm of having products specially designed according to our specifications. Historically the most exclusive watchmakers have been creating custom made pieces for their special clients. We should note that the manufacturing process of these one of a kind watches can take up to five years. Vacheron Constantin is one of the oldest and most prestigious watchmaking labels in the world. In 2006, the company (founded in 1755) launched Atelier Cabinotiers, a special service created to accommodate the great demand their watches continue to enjoy. The house will handcraft, of course, timepieces made to order that can only be described as a horologist’s dream come true, reviving the 18th century spirit of the Geneva-based firm.Atelier Cabinotiers has concentrated its efforts in two very special orders. Philosphia (so named by its owner) was constructed according to the strict specifications and needs of the buyer. The second timepiece, commissioned by an anonymous client, is named Vladimir (the watch, not the client). It took more than four years to make because of some very special and precise features that were included. The watch was a challenge for the atelier, and apparently it has surpassed Vacheron’s Tour d L’ile (valued at $1.6 million) as the most complicated mechanical watch in the world.As for the time required to make a custom watch, you are typically on a waiting list, which in the case of master watchmaker Philippe Dufour, can exceed 12 years. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Dufour not only makes unique watches, but is also a true craftsman known for the simplicity of its pieces. He is the genius behind the amazing Duality and Simplicity models. Occasionally he receives commissions for watches with very specific instructions, or with severe transformations to his own models and refuses them, arguing that the resulting watch would no longer be his own creation. His prices are rather modest, if you take into account the passion and perfection that characterize his work. The Simplicity may cost between $54,000 and $68,000. Not a bad deal!
Though these watches are highly coveted by collectors, in many cases they fail to exceed the original price at auction. The situation can change depending on the name (or the celebrity) of the person who commissioned the piece or, why not, the manufacturer. It is much more difficult that a global brand like Patek Philippe would accept a commission for a personalized watch. So on November 2002, at Christi’s Geneva, the Bulletin d’ Observatoire, an exclusive platinum watch created in 1952 by Patek Philippe at the bequest of the legendary collector J.B Champion, reached a record $4.2 million.
Brands like Dufour, Grönefeld and Roger W. Smith have such a limited production that, in fact, each of their pieces is somehow unique. Roger W. Smith makes only 10 editions per year of its Series 2 model, with prices between $130,000 and $180,000. Smith is not a big supporter of complicated watches; for him it is more important that the watch reflect his style and design, and that it passes on from one generation to another.
The longevity of these pieces is perhaps the best way to measure the real success of these legendary master craftsmen. There are certainly many watchmakers and watch brands willing to make custom pieces, but who knows if those will be around after more than 200 years, as has the legacy of Vacheron Constantin. ■
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