How does a traditional watchmaker spread its influence across the wider cultural landscape? For Vacheron Constantin – makers of some of the most intricate and exquisite timepieces to ever walk the workshop bench – the answer lies in music. It is obvious: musical assemblies, also known as striking watches or minute repeaters, which are considered one of the most difficult feats of engineering in the world of watchmaking, are a specialty of the House of VC. And just like a self-written “Greatest Hits” album, the legendary Swiss brand likes to outdo itself with amazing inventions.
Just think of the brand’s 2020 release called Les Cabinotiers Split-Seconds Chronograph – Tempo, a double-sided chiming watch with a chronograph function and a perpetual calendar, as well as a host of functions dedicated to astronomy. Comprising 1,163 pieces, it’s a work of art that’s hard to believe – if it were human-sized, it would warrant a Marvel film of its own. It really is that amazing.
A love of music at VC has resulted in a mentoring program that is completely outside the brackets of his expertise, if only in the literal sense. Conceptually, the idea behind this support system – which aims to help young musicians with industry advice and studio time, among other things – fits perfectly with the Manufacture’s MO, which is dedicated to preserving rare watchmaking skills and ensuring they endure through the generations.
The not-for-profit platform, known as the One of Not Many Mentorship Program, is an ongoing collaboration established in 2018 between Vacheron Constantin and Abbey Road Studios in London. The 2022 initiative is spearheaded by French musician, director and polymath Yoann Lemoine, aka Woodkid, whose work weaves in and out of multiple genres including illustration, video direction, graphic design, songwriting and production. This has given him a stepping stone to opportunities that have led him to work with singers such as Katy Perry, Lana Del Ray and Pharrell Williams, as well as Japanese game designer Hideo Kojima, fashion designer Nicolas Ghesquière and Parisian street artist JR.
If anything, Woodkid should be cast to play the aforementioned Marvel character, a sort of transmorphic clock/man hero, given his many artistic tastes and creative ticking bits. As “meta” as that may sound, there is no denying that VC – one of the oldest watchmakers still in existence, founded in 1775 – is venturing into more fluid and abstract territory with this project, which can only be a good thing. In fact, the company has already shown how music can be used with flair and ingenuity in its timepieces: at Abbey Road Studios, Vacheron Constantin organized the recording of the acoustic imprint of its Les Cabinotiers chime watches presented in 2020.
While awaiting his Hollywood call-up, Woodkid has grasped his more relatable Crusader role with both hands and singled out Ewan J. Phillips, a young London-area singer-songwriter, as his shining star, making him the first musical prodigy to thrive joins the VC mentoring fold. The new song by Phillips say you never loved me is now available on vinyl and streaming services.
“I was fascinated by the precision and perfectionism”
Here, The Week talks to Woodkid about this unique mentorship project that combines singing with the fine art of watchmaking.
How did you come to this project? What was your first reaction?
It is always very pleasant to work with brands that are about craftsmanship and expertise. So I said yes straight away. There is something about VC’s ideology that reminds me of ideals and goals that I have in life as a creator. I was also very touched by the idea of transferring and collaborating on this project.
What have you learned about watches thanks to this collaboration?
To be honest, I didn’t know much about watches before. I was mesmerized by the precision and perfectionism it requires, especially with VC. I’ve always been fascinated by the question of time, almost in a metaphysical way, so learning more about how watchmaking is all about telling time in such a small space is something that really inspires me.
You’ve worked with pop icons like Harry Styles to progressive composers like Philip Glass. What has been your most exciting project so far?
Maybe at the ceremony in Tokyo you will compose a track for the Paris 2024 Olympics. I have to say it was a great honor but also a great challenge but I always love to explore new avenues of expression.
Does something scare you?
Yes, forgetting and the passage of time in general. Also failing or giving the wrong message. But I can handle it better!
You are undoubtedly a polymath, what would you like to work on that you don’t already have?
I am always very interested in anything creative. I recently collaborated on the creation of a perfume, which was extremely exciting and new to me. I would now like to develop my skills towards video games.
Can you tell me more about Ewan? What distinguished him?
He has a timeless pop sensibility, it has to do with the way he sings, the way he writes. I always like it when music can travel through someone’s eras. And he has a great voice, which is always wonderful to work with.
Can you tell me what you think mentoring means?
I’m not entirely sure, but I know certain things from my personal experience as an artist. As someone who has worked with many other artists, these are the things I like to share. I think I know about identity and emotions, two things that are essential for a great artist.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to support a young talent if it’s not financial?
We all know things, to be sure of what you know and what you are an expert at you must be aware of what you don’t know and have the humility to accept that you are not proficient in every area. It’s not about knowing everything or having an answer for everything. A lot is about identifying your expertise and qualities. We’re all experts at something.
Did you have a mentor? If yes, who?
I’ve had a few yes, my first manager was very referential to me, I also have friends who I admire and borrow a lot from. Knowing about the people you love for their intelligence and perspective is very valuable.
https://www.theweek.co.uk/arts-life/fashion-jewellery/watches/956648/music-for-the-times-vacheron-constantin-woodkid Music for the times: Vacheron Constantin teams up with Woodkid