The Observer closed our umbrella Wednesday evening and walked into the new Vacheron Constantin boutique on Madison Avenue. The watchmaker, which reigns as the oldest horologist in the world, just opened its first American boutique and held a series of dinner parties last week to celebrate the landmark event.
Guests, dressed in full black tie, milled about the shop and examined the luxury watches. The cosmopolitan crowd appraised the pieces, sipping champagne and discussing the minutiae of watchmaking in both English and French. Collectors and aficionados chatted with Vacheron Constantin’s International CEO, Juan Carlos Torres and the newly minted president of North American operations, Hugues de Pins both of whom eagerly discussed the company’s new outpost.
A glass of champagne was accidentally spilled on one of the cases (containing the ladies diamond watches, as it were). “Baptisee!” a French voice genially declared as handkerchiefs were swiftly pulled from breast pockets to mop the spill.
After welcome remarks from Mr. Torres, the party was escorted outside where a fleet of Rolls Royces were standing by to take guests to the dinner venue.
An impossible seven blocks away, an Upper East Side mansion (a certain real estate developer’s digs currently on the market for a cool $50 million) had been set-up for the occasion. A harpist plucked her instrument in the corner as waiters offered guests champagne upon entering the massive home.
Downstairs, storied chef Thomas Keller of Per Se and French Laundry met with diners and explained the philosophy behind the evening. “We have a menu tonight that we tried to play on some of the nuances and some of the interesting things about kitchens and watchmaking,” the master chef explained. “Of course a sense of refinement comes to mind… In fine dining there is a refinement in the food that we prepare as much as there is in fine watchmaking,” Mr. Keller continued. He explained that both chefs and watchmakers must be fanatical about precision, and that both industries rely on their suppliers to provide the highest-quality materials to craft the perfect product. Although at first The Observer found the connection between fine food and fine watches a bit of a stretch, Mr. Keller’s endearing introduction to the meal made us fast believers.
Led back upstairs, the group of about 20 guests sat down in the formal dining room. Caviar was served with wafers, made specifically to evoke the the jewels and gears of fine watches. (To The Observer it still looked like fish eggs on crackers.) A fleet of waiters soon whisked the dishes away and served white wine to accompany the next dish, a vegetable medley featuring sunchokes that had been flown in from California for the occasion.
Guests, several Vacheron Constantin collectors among them, showed off their own timepieces and discussed with shared enthusiasm the luxury watch industry.
The Observer talked with Mr. de Pins about his hopes for the new boutique. Asked if he was worried about the market for luxury goods in the struggling economy, Mr. de Pins seemed largely unconcerned. “We feel like we are out of the trends,” he explained. “This is timeless, this is something which has been done for many generations of watchmakers since 1755 and we believe that we will continue for many may years and centuries after us,” he said.
Before long the waiters descended upon the table once again, bringing a delicate sea bass dish topped with shrimp. Guests had little time to digest the course before the plates were cleared and servers poured red wine into fresh goblets. A lamb dish followed, cooked for precisely 4,400 seconds in the elaborate ‘sous-vide’ method. Good thing he had so many watches on hand for the preparation.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the meal came with dessert, in which bite-sized sweets had been arranged to look like the face of a clock. With fanciful flare, Mr. Keller’s crew had crafted edible hands which pointed to the time 10:10, precisely the moment at which the dish was served.
After dinner guests relaxed, still chatting about watch collecting and Vacheron’s exciting new venture in America. The crowd was led upstairs after dinner for a final round of digestifs.
We left the surreal mansion and were promptly called back to reality as the rain began to fall.