15 Minutes With: Sandrine Donguy, Product & Innovation Director, Vacheron Constantin, on how the brand's latest novelties were built

From the multifaceted Grand Lady Kalla to the nanotechnology-boasting, perfume-infused Égérie, Vacheron Contantin's Sandrine Donguy gave us an insight into what led to the development of the brand's latest unique offerings.
Watches and Wonders 2024 featured several firsts for Vacheron Constantin, right from the Berkley Grand Complication, which featured an incredible 63 complications and was 11 years in the making, to the diamond-studded Grand Lady Kalla, which for the debuted a combination of high watchmaking with high jewellery with the first interchangeable ornament for jewellery. Then there was also the 'Pleats of Time' concept watch, a collaboration with designer Yiqing Yin and and perfumer Dominique Ropion that showcased nanotechnology using fragrance capsules inserted into the strap, which released a scent when scratched.  

Given its rich repertoire of innovations, WatchTime India sat down with Sandrine Donguy, Product & Innovation Director, Vacheron Constantin, to understand how these unusual timepieces were developed. 

Sandrine Donguy

WTI: The theme of ‘geometry to artistry’ that Vacheron Constantin’s novelties are based on - how do the timepieces execute it?
SD: It is echo of the development process from geometry, which is, say the first drawing, to the production pieces, to the artistry, which is the creativity of the final timepieces and the pieces of art that have been created. So all the novelties express this, from the material and rough idea to the final delicate creations. 

The Vacheron Constantin Overseas Collection at Watches and Wonders 2024

WTI: The Patrimony line has new colours and a new size, but continues to maintain its signature minimalism. What do the updates mean for people who enjoy the line? 
SD: The idea and intention behind the 20th anniversary line was really to pay tribute to the timelessness and vintage appeal of the Patrimony collection, making the link between the past which is the new old silver dial, which is a warm silver colour dial, inherited from golden, salmon, very warm 50s vintage timepieces. At the same time, keeping the codes of the line like the domed dial, alligator strap etc. 

The Vacheron Constantin Patrimony Moonphase Retrograde Date 

WTI: How did the collaboration with Yiqing Yin and Dominique Ropion happen, and what was that process like?
SD: Yiqing Yin is fact the face of the Égérie collection as a talent, expressing haute couture since the creation of the collection in 2020. Among her creations, she used to have these pleats as artistry in the dresses. So we found a parallel between our current collection with the tapestry of the pleats. In 2021, she collaborated with [perfumer] Dominique Ropion on the occasion of Dubai World Exhibition at the French Pavilion. The idea came from him - he designed a fragrance and she was supposed to design a dress with the fragrance scented into the dress. When we started collaborating with Yiqing Yin, we thought it was interesting to merge three different universes – the precision, the rigour, the mechanical aspect of high watchmaking; the creativity of haute couture; and the alchemy of the fragrance industry. The perfumer is the bridge between the rationale of high watchmaking and the emotional aspect of haute couture. 

Yiqing Yin

Yiqing Yin briefed Dominique Ropion on a unique scent around the theme of the ‘Pleats of Time’ to create something very airy, ozonic, floral, but woody in the background. They collaborated to create this scent, which is ingrained into the strap as nano capsules. It is invisible, non-scented, and it is only when you scratch the strap that the fragrance is released. It is nanotechnology that was already used in the dress earlier. Everything is made by hand. The embroidery is artisanal, where we have used shards of mother-of-pearl evoking the lilac mother-of-pearl dial, and she has also used threads which are iridescent and which evoke the iridescence of the dial. The body of the strap is calfskin, also ingrained with the non-scented fragrance, whose scent is released when you scratch the back of the strap. The drops are coated into the aquatic emulsion -  it is invisible and this scent is captured into a cell, and released when scratched.

The Égérie 'Pleats of Time' Concept Watch

WTI: How was the strap developed? 
SD: We worked with four different partners – there was Dominique Ropion for the fragrance, which he gave to a small start-up in the South of France, that interpreted it for the strap. Then there was Yiqing Yin, who designed the embroidery, and a strap manufacturer in Italy  who developed the final strap. So four different partners, who we have never been able to connect before, were willing to come on this amazing adventure not knowing where we are going. 

WTI: Is this the first time that a fragrance has been inserted into a strap?
SD: As a non-scented one, yes. We could have sprayed an eau de toilette, but the idea was to keep it discreet and invisible, like the philosophy behind time, which is something that is tangible and intangible. 

WTI: It is concept watch right now. Would you think of making it commercially? 
SD: Before Watches and Wonders, no, we would not have thought that. But now I won’t say never. 
We also have another limited edition timepiece (100), which is equal to this one, but we have kept the hour markers and it is a regular strap.

Égérie Moonphase

When you start going into our archives, you see the pioneering spirit of our founding fathers. Many times they demonstrated that they were pushing boundaries either on mechanism, or even in feminine watches. We have the testimonies in many letters, where women have asked for miniaturisation of calibre, winding the time in another way etc. So this is something that is rooted in the DNA of the maison. Here we wanted to surprise and create something unexpected. 

WTI: Égérie is a young line. What are the response to it been like, and how do you see the line developing?
SD: This is the only collection dedicated to women, because of the pebble shape. It is a very attractive collection with a small assortment -  there is the automatic 35, and the moonphase 37. We play on diversity with interchangeability of bracelets, with new colours of straps and dials. 

WTI: how did you decide to revisit a heritage piece like the Lady Kalla? 
SD: The Lady Kalla is an icon unto itself because it has several different aesthetics since it was  created in 1980. The idea was to see how we can rejuvenate an icon such as this one, given its very recognisable aesthetics of emerald-cut diamonds. It is quite difficult to reinterpret this creation. The idea came from other collections, like the Overseas. We have this versatility thanks to the self-interchangeable system, and we were looking for a system that allows the client to wear the pendant or the watch in different position. That was the starting point, to integrate the interchangeability into a high jewellery timepiece. And finding the right balance between this technical complexity, and the thinness and delicacy of the ornament. 

Grand Lady Kalla

WTI: Your favourite jewellery timepiece from the brand’s archives? 
SD: I love this bangle watch. Instead of using the crown to wind the movement, the gem-set bezel is used for winding. It’s very delicate and feminine. I found it quite brilliant. 

Images: Vacheron Constantin