Vacheron Constantin front
Vacheron Constantin inside 1
Vacheron Constantin inside 2
Octagonal watch, front
Octagonal watch, back
'I deeply respect these artisans, whose watches, centuries later, still work'
Dick, do tell: what ignited your passion for watches?
'Well, love, basically. When I was young I worked in outland shipping. When I fell in love with Ron, I got involved in the business of her father, who was a dealer in clocks, watches and jewellery. Early on in my relationship with Ron he gave me an antique pocket watch and said: 'Why don't you disassemble and reassemble this watch over the weekend?' I succeeded. It made me realize how skilled these artisans were, centuries ago, in producing well functioning timepieces. Plus, I enjoy doing very precise work, such as maintenance on jewels and watches, but also bookkeeping.'
What is the most special watch you've ever had in your collection?
'Oh, that's easy: a gold watch by Vacheron & Constantin we acquired at auction in 1982. After viewing the watch I started researching the complications (= technical features) of this particular watch. It was hard to find something, except for a technically very elaborate watch by Patek Philippe, the Caliber 98, which is, with its 31 functions, the most complicated watch in existence. My gut feeling, and also Ron's, said we had to buy it. Which we did, for 11.000 guilders, it was all the money we had.
When we inquired at Vacheron & Constantin, we discovered that this watch, with number 367058, was made in Geneva in 1913. In 1917 it was sold to a resident of Amsterdam. Back then it was already very special, because after close examination it appeared to have the following complications: time, day, date, month, moonphase, perpetual calendar, equation, sunrise and sunset. Only 25 other watches with similar features are known.
Most of the clockworks in these watches were made in the workshop of Louis Elysée Piguet in Le Brassus. The most charming part of the history of this particular watch is that originally the latitude was set for Paris, thus indicating sunrise and sunset for that city. But naturally, that doesn't do much for someone living in Amsterdam. A watchmaker of Vacheron & Constantin spent several weeks to convert it to the latitude of Amsterdam!
We sold the watch to the museum of the Swiss company Beyer in Zurich. These days a watch like this would fetch about 150.000 euro...'
What makes dealing in antique watches so much fun?
'The contact with clients. Each and every one of them are collectors with whom I share a passion for precision and technique. Usually they are well educated, with very different backgrounds, but technique always plays a role: dentists, radiologists and architects, but also bankers and engineers. The relationship we have with these collectors are usually long-term. In the 70's and 80's we established good relationships with other dealers, but collectors also dropped by to inquire whether we had important watches for them. At a certain point you know who is interested in what, and from there it grows. But next to the shared passion for watches, the personal relationship is as important. For example, we love to go for a boat ride on the Amsterdam canals with our clients.'
We've covered the most special watch, but what kind of watches make your heart beat faster?
'Every remarkable watch, for whatever reason, is always very gratifying. I've always focused on Dutch watches from the 17th and 18th centuries. But for me personally, 1 type of watch particularly stands out: those from the second quarter of the 17th century with octagonal rock crystal cases, enamel painted decorations on the dial plate and with gold mounts. The one we had in our collection, we bought it from an Italian count who used to proceeds to pay for medical treatment here in Holland. That's how it works sometimes...
These watches are so special to me because of the combination of 3 techniques: the cutting of the rock crystal, the decorations in enamel - in itself an extremely difficult technique - and the sophistication of the clockwork. The techniques are so flawlessly executed, while so much can go wrong in the process. Centuries ago those artisans produced these masterpieces, with much more limited means than we have nowadays. And the watches still work! I have the deepest respect for the craftmanship of these makers.'