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Thursday, November 8, 2012

A Luxury Marketing Partnership: Rolls-Royce, Vacheron Constantin Host A Thomas Keller Dinner

Chef Thomas Keller explains the meal he prepared for the well-heeled guests of Rolls-Royce and Vacheron Constantin. Photo credit: Derek Gardner Photography

Luxury automobiles and high-end timepieces seem to go hand-in-hand among collectors. Those who appreciate the high-powered engines and vivid design of the most expensive automobiles, also admire the miniature components of mechanical watch movements and the more subtle finishes of well-crafted haute horlogerie. Many of these car and watch brands develop long-standing partnerships that include joint product introductions and long-term marketing agreements. This is especially true when it comes to sports cars.

However, it was a different kind of partnership that recently occurred between Rolls-Royce and Vacheron Constantin. The British luxury automobile company and Swiss luxury watch brand invited about 50 of their clients to dinner, but it wasn’t just any meal. 

Guests talk in front of a Vacheron Constantin watch display.  Photo credit: Derek Gardner Photography

The event was held in a villa on the Monterey Peninsula in a development at least partially owned by Clint Eastwood. The food was prepared by a staff led by Thomas Keller, arguably the best chef in the United States. The event was held on the night before the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, the internationally renowned annual antique car competition held on August 19.

While the event was formal, the partnership between the two brands was informal and temporary, which is how they both want it. They have worked together a few times for small events in the past—including annual private events in Europe and when Vacheron Constantin opened its Madison Avenue boutique in late 2011. But this is the first time they’ve teamed up to put together an outing of this magnitude.

“There is a natural attraction between both maisons. We share a lot of customers. And there is a mutual appreciation from their customers for both nice cars and nice watches,” said Hugues de Pins, Vacheron Constantin, CEO of North America. “As far as I know this is the only one (company that Vercheron has partnered with). This is very punctual. There is no agreement between both companies.”

A Vacheron Constantin watchmaker explains the finer points of a luxury timepiece.  Photo credit: Derek Gardner Photography

De Pins defines this type of event as providing an experience for what who he describes as “friends” of the two brands. The event he says is not about sales.

“What we organize today is a dinner among friends and what we want to bring is an exceptional moment and an exceptional experience,” he said prior to the event. “What best can we get for our friends then having this world-class dinner by Chef Thomas Keller, surrounded by extraordinary cars and extraordinary watches in this beautiful scenery? I think this is going to be magic. This kind of takeaway is at the end of the day what our customers are looking for and expect. Not just the single fact of purchasing a watch but what comes beyond the purchase of a watch. The nice experience we want to live together.”

David Archibald, president of Rolls-Royce North America, Chef Thomas Keller and Hugues de Pins, Vacheron Constantin, CEO North America. Photo credit: Derek Gardner Photography

This is a sentiment echoed by David Archibald, president of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars North America.

“Luxury should not be defined by a single item, but viewed as a lifestyle. Rolls-Royce and Vacheron Constantin share a discerning clientele who seek superior craftsmanship and innovative design, as well as unique and memorable experiences.”  Archibald said. “An event such as this, with its stunning setting and Chef Keller’s unparalleled cuisine, is the epitome of the luxury lifestyle that both Rolls-Royce and Vacheron Constantin represent and offer to their clientele.”

But there is product placement. Dinner was served outside and in plain view was a two-tone Rolls-Royce Ghost strategically fronting both the view of the valley below and in front the setting sun. Inside the villa Vacheron had its collection of timepieces available for viewing. De Pins stresses that they are not for sale. Some of the items were one-of-kind pieces. The brand also brought a watchmaker who gave demonstrations for the guests. 
Thomas Keller created an open kitchen where guests can enter while the staff works. Keller us standing in the background.  Photo credit: Derek Gardner Photography

There was a bit of sticker shock for the Rolls Royce customers who I shared a table with when they learned that a few of the watches on display were nearly double the cost of a Rolls Royce.

In a kitchen open for guests to enter while the staff worked, Keller designed a dinner themed with the two luxury brands in mind. 


“We tried to bring inspiration from both of these companies and bring them to life on a plate,” he said. “I think we were to at least able bring some recognition to some of the key words and key phrases that are so ingrained in the philosophy and culture of these companies.”

Among the courses was a caviar dish titled “Silver and Platinum,” the metals for Rolls Royce cars (silver) and for luxury watches (platinum). The staff cut the vegetables for a hearts of palm salad in a way that resembles the watchmaking technique of beveling. A braised short rib was titled, “Best Made Better,” after the Rolls-Royce slogan. A final desert was titled “Bespoke,” of course named after what many define as the most ultimate luxury experience. It was a chocolate tart with a selection of condiments. 

A bespoke Rolls-Royce Ghost was in perfect view of the dinner guests as the sun was setting'. Photo credit: Derek Gardner Photography

The meal from appetizers to desert was not favorable, artfully prepared and flawlessly served. To pull this off Keller brought in 19 employees from his restaurants around the country, describing it as a major undertaking that included hotel accommodations during one of the busiest times of the year in Monterey and daily transportation to and from the villa.

“It’s a major commitment,” he said. “Vacheron has the same standards. Rolls-Royce has the same standards. I don’t do many of these events.”

It also was a major expense. It was rumored that the cost of hosting this event was about $1,700 per person. 

These two Patrimony Traditionnelle timepieces were among the watches the Swiss luxury watch brand had on display. Photo credit: Derek Gardner Photography

It’s the price of what de Pins describes as creating “magic,” for friends of the brand. Magic is certainly a way to describe the evening. Few details were left unattended from the greeting at the entrance of the villa to the gifts at the end of the night. As the sun set behind the Rolls-Royce and the evening became cool as it often does in this part of the country, women were given bright orange silk shawls—with the Rolls-Royce logo.

At the end of the night the two car collectors at my table, obviously moved by the experienced, declared that were going to buy another Rolls Royce.

Now that’s what I call magic. 

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