Vacheron Flagship Store – Too Much or Too Little?

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Vacheron Flagship store

I’m not an expert on retail design, nor do I play one on the Internet. But I’ve visited more than a few watch stores and purchased more than my fair share of watches. I know what sort of retail environment warms-up my credit card. I haven’t been to the new Vacheron flagship store. Judging from the pictures, the Big Apple boutique is more about corporate flexing than creating a relaxing place where watch enthusiasts’ cash can go to die a peaceful death. I blame Apple . . .

Apple store interior

Launched in May 2001, the Apple store took minimalism mainstream. The company’s austere aesthetic was a huge hit. “In 2004 [Apple’s stores] reached $1 billion in annual sales,” wikipedia.org reports, “the fastest of any retailer in history.”

Imitators sprung up like bluebonnets in the [45 minute] Texas spring. Light, airy, clutter-free spaces for goods ranging from shoes to cars are everywhere. The pictures of the new VC U.S. HQ tell the story: Vacheron Constantin has tapped into its inner Apple to sell really expensive Swiss watches to Wall Street bankers and international tourists (as when the pandemic fades).

Vacheron Flagship store - day

The nighttime rendering of VC’s NY HQ at the top of this post highlights the storefront’s unrelenting angularity. Look carefully and you’ll see half a Maltese cross – the watchmaker’s logo – jutting out of the left hand side of the window. The lines coming out of the cross make no sense. The result isn’t exactly a spider’s web, but it’s not exactly not a spider’s web either.

Daylight makes the asymmetrical inhospitality worse. The Apple stores’ foundational idea: eliminate technological intimidation, both physically and electronically. No barriers to entry baby! Vacheron’s design puts a literal and symbolic barrier between potential customers and the timepiece treasures within. (No wonder the couple and the exec haven’t moved.) The mailboxes in the foreground show how it should be done: symmetry and simplicity FTW.

Interior 2

Inside the Vacheron flagship store, it’s cold, cold, cold. I reckon there are more soft furnishings inside the International Space Station. Do I see a hexagram in that wall pattern? Is that a math problem masquerading as lighting (11 – 1)? No, but shouldn’t I be focusing on, I dunno, watches?

OK, sure, if Vacheron let you browse the store wearing roller skates, fine. Otherwise, I’d bet dollars to donuts the space reverberates with the clip-clopping of $1525 John Lobb loafers or the shrill squeak of $540 Alexander McQueen sneakers. It’s not the kind of place people wearing lesser footwear will feel welcome.

VC island

How conspicuous would you feel sitting on that chair at that island – the only rounded surface in the image – looking down at timepieces, your reactions on display to gawkers?

Whereas the Apple store encourages you spend quality time at a desk – facing the products without human or design distractions – the Vacheron flagship store’s “all the world’s a stage” layout means there’s nowhere to run. The overall gestalt reminds me of the design that makes glass-fronted car dealerships showrooms so daunting; what people in that less-than-honorable trade call the “the fishbowl.”

To be fair, the Vacheron New York City flagship’s downstairs decor will eventually change. This is the brand’s opening salvo in their mission to liberate horophiles from their hedge fund income. According to watchesbysjx.com . . .

In a nod to the brand’s long presence in the United States, the boutique’s decoration during its opening is modelled on inspired by the works of Chris Burden, an artist best known for sculptures and installations. The bronze cityscape and railway tracks on the facade and interior are inspired by Burden’s Metropolis II.

Now that’s cool! But nope. The VC flagship’s store decor looks like the pre-Nazi architecture of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, rather than Mr. Burden’s ode to the movie. Anyway, being inspired by an artwork inspired by an art movie is a bit to meta for me.

VC NYC spiral staircase

That’s the downstairs. Let’s head up a narrow spiral staircase – nothing daunting about that for women wearing high heels – to the upper floor of Vacheron Constantin’s inner sanctum.

VC lounge NYC 1

Steal that guitar! The trumpet? The ONE cushion? While those couches look like they cost a couple Overseas, what exactly is supposed to happen here?

No doubt Vacheron created this space for corporate gatherings or, more likely, product reveal parties for bejeweled benefactors. It’s at least as inviting as a frequent flyer’s airport lounge. But no more. Branding? We don’t need no stinking branding!

VC NYC lounge looking back

Looking back towards the entrance to the first floor’s soulless conclave we discover that “there is an in-house watchmaker for consultations, adjustments and watch engraving.” Sounds like fun! Looks like a hotel lobby.

It’s bizarre. Hublot and other funky manufacturers aside, Swiss watches are miniature works of classical art. The only sensible design for stores selling products answering to that description: classical architecture and small, warm, discreet, intimate spaces. Check out Ralph Lauren’s flagship New York City store . . .

Ralph Lauren flagship store

The entrance is both imposing and inviting (symmetry works wonders). Despite the enormous size of the converted mansion, the interior is divided into a range of diminutive, soft spaces, replete with leather and wood. With plenty of scope for private browsing.

I get that VC’s New York City boutique is, in effect, a jewelry store. That watches are hard little machines, not soft pieces of cloth sewed together by small Chinese hands at an enormous profit (for the retailer).

Vacheron Constantin Malte on wrist

But watches aren’t iPads and MacBook Airs, either. The act of trying on a watch is an intimate one. As far as I call tell, the Vacheron store is about as intimate as a neighborhood swimming pool. A really clean, beautifully maintained upmarket swimming pool, but just as charming.

Just so you know, the venerable Swiss watch brand is luring buyers into its NYC store by channeling popular pieces away from their authorized dealers into their American mothership (not to mention boutique exclusive models). The funny thing is, there are customers who’d buy these watches at a bus station if it came to that. Bottom line? This flagship store is God’s way of telling Vacheron Constantin they’re making too much money.

5 COMMENTS

    • The watchmaker-owned boutique trend is a zero sum game. By starving their dealers, the big brands are eliminating the generational goodwill engendered by family-owned firms. (People are loyal to people more than things.) Vacheron, Audemars, Patek, etc. are increasing profit at the expense of long-term grass roots support.

      I’m not convinced they sell more watches this way. That said, right now, they don’t have any more watches to sell. I think it’s fascinating that Foundation-owned Rolex has not bought into this model, sticking to franchisees and shunning online sales.

      • Selling expensive watches (or expensive jewelry) is about clientelling and developing relationships with sales people. Unless they’re going to poach the sales people, I’m pretty sure they’ll end up selling to newbies only or not very good customers. Plus it’s the Richemont group, so if they were smart they’d group them all together.

  1. Very sterile and soulless. It’s an old brand and the modern look just doesn’t fit my brand perception. I’d expect massive Oriental rugs, ornate tile, VIctorian wallpaper and wood wainscoting. A mini-Vanderbilt mansion if you will. Or art deco, something with grandeur but pleasingly swank aesthetics.

    I guess they were trying to be edgy and current. The sleek minimalism says “easy to wipe down” to me, and all the glitz is detracting from the product, which should be the centerpiece. Maybe this appeals to Russian oligarchs and Arab sheiks? Christian Grey would love it.

  2. This is a good reminder that I have to watch Fritz Lang’s Metropolis.

    It is embarrassing that this store is inspired by an art installation clearly “inspired” (to put it kindly) by the original movie. It would be cleaner to claim to be inspired by the movie directly.

    I have to admit that whatever people’s opinion of this store, it has gotten people talking about Vacheron Constantin. Which is no small accomplishment. Although that probably has more to do with Patek and AP being unavailable.

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