Vacheron Constantin Historiques American 1921 Small: How The Traditional Becomes Modern
For Christian Selmoni, Vacheron Constantin’s director of style and heritage, the watches the brand releases in its Historiques line are among the most difficult ones to design in the entire collection.
Despite the difficulty, though, Vacheron Constantin specializes in taking elements of its long past and revamping them for exquisite use in a very real and modern present. This traditional maker has been producing timepieces uninterruptedly since 1755 and it often draws on that heritage for the models in the Historiques collection model.
A great example is the Historiques American 1921 Small.
The origins of the “1921,” as collectors and fans of the style are wont to call it, lie in the so-called driver’s watch style, which allowed the driver of a (for the time) newfangled automobile to see the time without taking eyes off the road.
“The American 1921 model can be considered one of the earliest driver’s watches,” Selmoni explained to me in Paris during the official launch of the latest Historiques 1921 collection model. “A few examples of a similar watch were made in 1919.”
The 1919 examples were a bit different than the 1921 models we are familiar with today: the crown was on the left side of the top lugs and the subsidiary seconds dial was at 6 o’clock – in contrast to both of those elements now placed on the right side of the watch, with the subsidiary seconds at 3 o’clock.
The movement was most likely originally designed for a pendant watch, whose crown was placed at 12 o’clock. Then the crown was shifted slightly to the left, while the subsidiary seconds counter was consequently moved from 6 to 5 o’clock.
In 1921, Vacheron Constantin switched those elements to the right for the serial version of the watch. And the combination of cushion-shaped case with a crown placed unconventionally at 11 o’clock made for a particularly striking timepiece.
Selmoni confirmed, “The current models within the Historiques collection are based on the design of 1921.”
The “American” connection
While the earliest origins of this watch are automotive at their source, you may ask where the “American” in the name of this watch comes from, and you’d be right to do so.
The first model inspiring the Historiques American 1921 was issued in an edition of 12 pieces, its crown now positioned at 1 o’clock.
And, interestingly, the initial three pieces were sold to clients in the United States; the first owner was Reverend S. Parkes Cadman, a prominent clergyman, newspaper writer, and pioneering Christian radio broadcaster of the 1920s and 1930s, an outspoken opponent of anti-Semitism and racial intolerance. “He wanted to be able to deliver a sermon without turning his wrist to see the time,” Vacheron Constantin’s charming new CEO Louis Ferla explained. “The idea was to offset the time so that it could be easily and discretely seen.”
Two more were bought in 1928 by an American client, bringing the grand total of American owners of the first 12 pieces to five – which is reason enough to call this model the “1921 American.” The 12 pieces were made over a ten-year period, with the last model delivered in 1931.
Today’s American 1921
“From the beginning I have been a big fan of the 1921 watch, it’s what I love in the Historiques collection,” said Selmoni. “Of course we are a classic brand, but we like to revisit this twist that we have from the past.”
The visually arresting 1921 American is perhaps Vacheron Constantin’s most recognizable model. Among connoisseurs it certainly is one of the most popular – which allows us to forgive the Geneva-based company many reissues of it, most notably the 40 mm size in gold and platinum available until now.
While 40 mm might sound like a reasonable size, its cushion-shaped case wears quite largely even on large wrists. The brand chose that size back in 2008 during the era of larger watches, and it proved to be successful.
But now that the desirable size of wristwatches has once again headed into a more classic era, Vacheron Constantin felt it was indeed time to redesign this classic to make a unisex model – in particular because women have shown great interest in it over the years, but have been largely unable to wear the 40 mm version.
“It was very difficult to design a unisex watch,” Selmoni revealed. “The main risk is that you end up pleasing neither women nor men.”
Now offered in 36.5 mm pink gold, it is a very easy watch to wear whether you are male or female (“it’s a great mid-size,” Ferla interjected at this point, “not too big and not too small.”). In fact, Vacheron Constantin’s own representatives do not hesitate to call this a perfect dandy watch: “classical yet quirky.”
The asymmetrical sizing is just right on any wrist, an instant reminder to any connoisseur of Vacheron Constantin of the brand’s illustrious past, which extends into its wonderful present.
While it pays almost direct homage to the unusual model released in 1921, it has also been updated in accordance with modern production methods and consumer expectations: it is water resistant to 30 meters and outfitted with scratch resistant sapphire crystal rather than simple glass, which was the material available in the 1920s.
Additionally, it was given a sapphire crystal case back allowing the wearer to see the beautiful in-house caliber at will.
And, of course, it is stamped with the Geneva Seal.
New CEO, romantic new approach
As the new CEO of Vacheron Constantin, Louis Ferla, graciously took the time to explain to me in Paris during the launch of the latest edition of the American 1921, “Having stories to tell and building on them is key for Vacheron Constantin, we need to romance a bit more.
“The Historiques line always provides us with an opportunity to talk about our heritage and our know-how. And I always put innovation together with heritage.
“Having 260 years of history is a tremendous asset, but you need to continuously innovate to surprise and engage your clients.”
For more information, please visit www.vacheron-constantin.com/en/watches/historiques/historiques-american-1921-small-model.
Quick Facts Historiques American 1921 Small Model
Case: 36.5 x 7.25 mm, pink gold
Movement: manually wound Vacheron Constantin Caliber 4400 AS; 65-hour power reserve, Seal of Geneva, 28,800 vph/4 Hz frequency
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds
Price: €29,500 (including tax)
* This article was first published on October 19, 2017 at Vacheron Constantin’s New Historiques American 1921 Small: Transforming The Traditional Into The Modern.