Ask any Chinese to name a prestigious luxury watch brand that comes to mind and one of the answers you would likely get is Vacheron Constantin. While it doesn’t seem like much, the world’s most populous nation is notoriously hard to crack – and managing to create a strong top-of-mind awareness in these parts is no mean feat.
So how did Vacheron Constantin do it? Some have chalked it up to the early-mover advantage it gleaned from entering the Chinese market as early as the 19th century. “The brand has been in China for a very long time,” reveals its Chief Marketing Officer Laurent Perves in an exclusive interview with Luxury Society. “Our archives show that the first delivery of watches to China occurred in the 1840s and since then, our watches have [met with] great success in China,” he adds.
It doesn’t hurt, of course, that it places a great deal of emphasis on its Chinese clients. So much so the Vacheron Constantin Maison in Shanghai actually has a watchmaker from its Geneva manufacture stationed permanently at its customer service centre. This is, however, not to say that the brand views its consumers in other markets as any less important. “The Shanghai “Twin Villas” Maison is a landmark that highlights our service, but it is not the only place providing it,” Perves points out. “The goal is to be able to provide more services to our clients in the most convenient way. We focus on serving our clients in every boutique.”
The Vacheron Constantin "Twin Villas" Masion in Shanghai
Contrary to what many might believe, the Chinese consumer, notes Perves, is not very different from its global clientele. The only distinction, he says, is probably in terms of demographics. “Our Chinese clients are slightly younger than our global average, showing the great interest new generations have for our Maison,” he says. Youth, however, has not stopped these discerning consumers from appreciating the fine and traditional art of high watchmaking. Which is why Vacheron Constantin extends its Les Cabinotiers service to clients at the Shanghai “Twin Villas” Maison. With this, clients are able to commission one-of-a-kind pieces from the manufacture, specific to their tastes and preferences.
It was a selection of unique pieces from this very same programme that made a rare appearance at the brand’s exclusive exhibition at the Shanghai “Twin Villas” Maison a few months ago. Staged in celebration of the locale’s 10th anniversary, timekeepers on display were straight out of the Les Cabinotiers workshop and mostly grand complications. Other exclusive horologes from the manufacture were also showcased in tandem.
The Shanghai "Twin Villas" Maison celebrates its 10th anniversary. From left: Christian Selmoni, Style and Heritage Director; Clemence Charrier, International Retail Director; Ellen Sorensen, Managing Director, China; Pierre Liu, General Manager, China; Dominique Bernaz, Les Cabinotiers Clients Director
“The Maison’s [expansive worldview] and creativity has been a real key to our success in China,” asserts Perves. “Chinese clients [look for] singular designs, unique creations and rare techniques. A great example of this comes in the form of our Metiers d’Art collection, which is strongly sought after by Chinese collectors,” he adds. Heeding the preferences of this consumer group, Vacheron Constantin has been creating special editions of its Métiers d’Art timepieces that are culturally relevant over the years. One such example is the ongoing Legend of the Chinese Zodiac collection, which features watches engraved and enameled with animals from the Chinese zodiac calendar. Then there is also last year’s limited edition Traditionelle models that came with engravings of the Great Wall of China on its dials.
The interior of the Shanghai "Twin Villas" Masion
Understanding that capturing market share goes beyond putting forth strong product offerings, Vacheron Constantin has also taken it upon itself to wholly understand and master China’s digital landscape. Besides being present on all the social media platforms that matter, the brand also takes care to create a two-way dialogue with its clients and integrates WeChat as part of the sales and service experience. At a global level, it recently participated in a live chat session on social platform Reddit’s Ask Me Anything (AMA) channel where Style and Heritage Director Christian Selmoni spent an hour fielding questions from luxury watch enthusiasts and members of the media alike. “We believe that in the near future social media should open new opportunity to discuss, exchange and truly connect with our clients and audience,” says Perves. “In that spirit, we will keep sharing more information and materials while making sure we connect these platforms with our physical points of sales, offering new services and opportunities to our clients.”
The brand has also recently ventured into the realms of e-commerce within Mainland China, starting with an online-to-offline campaign on its WeChat account last year. Created to launch the aforementioned Great Wall of China Traditionelle timepiece, the WeChat campaign allowed consumers to either place reservations for the watch through WeChat or make an appointment to view it at an offline boutique. “This is what e-commerce is about for us; much more than a simple click-and-buy operation. We will keep moving in this direction in the near future with our global and local partners,” Perves comments.
The Traditionelle Great Wall of China pieces (Image: Jiemian)
If anything, Vacheron Constantin has proven that there is no silver bullet when it comes to conquering a specific market – in this case, China. Every market has its moving parts, and strategies and tactics have to be adapted accordingly. But at the crux of it all, the key ingredients that go into building a strong brand presence is not unlike those that go into every successful relationship: Time, two-way communication and mutual understanding.
Credits: All images otherwise unless stated are courtesy of Vacheron Constantin