Inside Vacheron Constantin's Dazzling New York Flagship

·5 min read

Bennifer's rekindled flame has nothing on this surprise revelation: Marlon Brando and Zsa Zsa Gabor shared more than mutual admiration in Hollywood's golden age. Did they date? Was there something more? Clearly, something sizzling went down.

During a recent tour of the new Vacheron Constantin boutique on East 57th Street, a slim gold watch was produced. The watch was gifted from the nine-time married Gabor to three-time married Brando after he won an Oscar for On the Waterfront with an inscription that reads, "To Marlon love Zsa Zsa June 24 1954." Now part of their museum's archives and currently on display in New York, the watch practically bursts with possibility. What occurred between these two Hollywood sex symbols to warrant a gold watch? The conjecture is every bit as dizzying as the watch's zig-zag guilloché patterned dial.

Photo credit: Vacheron Constantin
Photo credit: Vacheron Constantin

Equally as head-spinning, Swiss watchmaker Vacheron Constantin's recently unveiled boutique on New York's 57th Street. The flagship is a watch lover's paradise, brimming with horological dreams come true. This whimsical concept is reflected in the Maltese-cross patterned front window, in the tiny gold cars race cars zooming around the store's windows, in a frenetic three-dimensional cityscape display created in partnership with the estate of American artist Chris Burden, inspired by his kinetic sculpture installation Metropolis II located at L.A.'s LACMA museum.

Photo credit: Vacheron Constantin
Photo credit: Vacheron Constantin

This playful take on horology pairs Vacheron Constantin's passion for mechanical mastery with a sense of fun. That combo, combined with New York's fast pace, is reflected in one of Vacheron's most celebrated timepieces, the American 1921.

Famously worn by Chef Eric Ripert of New York's Le Bernardin, the watch was designed to be admired while driving, its slanted dial, and off-center crown are best observed with your hands on the thin-rimmed wood wheel of an elegant old grand tourer. This 100th Anniversary, one-of-a-kind exact recreation of the original American 1921 can also be found in store. The "pièce unique" was so lovingly reproduced, specific tools had to be recast before the heritage and restoration departments could build the new watch entirely by hand.

Photo credit: Vacheron Constantin
Photo credit: Vacheron Constantin

Of course, opening a 4,500-square-foot, two-floor boutique in the heart of Manhattan during a pandemic had its challenges. Just ask incoming President of the Americas Alexander Schmiedt about scaffolding.

"I didn't know what scaffolding was because, in other global cities, it's not such a big problem. I learned that in New York, you have to be prepared for things like this. And then, I learned that there are different types of scaffolding and so on. We wanted to create something almost like a frame to highlight the beauty of the facade," Schmiedt said.

Photo credit: Vacheron Constantin
Photo credit: Vacheron Constantin

Still, with more than 266 years of history behind it, Vacheron has a knack for perfect timing; the store's grand opening ceremonies synced nicely with the city's reopening. And the exterior scaffolding that remains? It was cleverly modified to be out of sight and out of mind.

Themes of endless possibilities run throughout the new flagship, and the shop's built-in amenities allow well-heeled imaginations to run wild. Skilled artisans will be on hand to provide insight into the process of fine watchmaking, showcasing different types of finishing throughout. In addition, an entire area devoted to straps and bracelets offers up endless personalization provided by an embossing machine on-site.

Photo credit: Vacheron Constantin
Photo credit: Vacheron Constantin

The bespoke "Les Cabinotiers" department is a literal cabinet of curiosities, many of which are on display like American auto magnate James Ward Packard's legendary complicated pocket watch from 1918. Newer celestial marvels—a house specialty—are also on hand.

Photo credit: Vacheron Constantin
Photo credit: Vacheron Constantin

On permanent display, the clever "Chronogram," an enormous innovative touch screen near the entrance, recounts more than 266 years of brand history meticulously kept since 1755.

"You can really delve into the archives," explains Goldschmied. "It is something unique, and you can easily spend a day or two simply browsing through and getting lost in the history of Vacheron."

Photo credit: Vacheron Constantin
Photo credit: Vacheron Constantin

Another flagship feature is the permanent offering of "Les Collectionneurs," a selection of 20th-century pieces that are carefully restored in-house and offered for sale alongside contemporary timepieces, warranty included. Curated by Vacheron's fashionable heritage and style director, Christian Selmoni, the unusual collector's pieces are worth the trip alone.

Besides all the technical prowess on offer, Vacheron flexes its glamorous side. The new boutique serves up high jewelry masterpieces with more rare stones and diamonds than you ever thought possible, from the new Egérie collection to Elizabeth Taylor's scorching "Lord Kalla," a bracelet watch set with rows upon rows of rectangular diamonds. The extravagant piece was gifted by her good friend Michael Jackson. Even Diana, Princess of Wales, was a client of Vacheron.

Photo credit: Vacheron Constantin
Photo credit: Vacheron Constantin

But besides the impressive archival pieces on view, not everything has a price tag. The new American 1921 Pièce Unique re-creation is still looking for a home.

"I would love to have that piece remain accessible to the public. For me, the piece speaks about watchmaking, tradition, innovation, but also Vacheron Constantin," said Schmiedt. "So ideally if we could find the right place to loan it, display it, and make it accessible to, maybe not only for watch lovers but showing the link between Switzerland and America, art and design, the past and the future, this will be for me, the ideal solution. Perhaps MoMa might be interested? If you have any great ideas, I'm happy to take them!"

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