Vacheron Constantin remakes American 1921 as a unique historic piece – Robb Report
How are you celebrating the centenary of your most legendary model? In the case of Vacheron Constantin, no update was necessary.
Although the 266-year-old watchmaker released versions of his coveted 1921 American model in new size and case materials this year, the Resistance Piece is his unique literal recreation of the original from the Roaring Twenties. Every component, with the exception of the bracelet, bridges and plates, has been manufactured exactly as it would have been a century ago.
The original iteration, created in 1919, saw the company’s first cushion-shaped timepiece, paired with an off-center dial, created so the wearer could tell the time better while driving. Only 12 pieces were made and most sold in the US market. This piece had a military-inspired dial and different lugs, but by the time the second series debuted in 1921, with just 24 pieces, it had been refined.
“When we redesigned the American 1921 in 2008, we took inspiration from the 1921 timepiece because we thought the design was better to reinterpret,” explains Christian Selmoni, heritage and style director at Vacheron Constantin. “We preferred the 1921 model which has more sophisticated lugs and a beautiful enamel dial. But both models had the same movement and the same case. The second series, from which the American 1921 takes its name, is also the inspiration for this historic remake.
Specifically, the exact watch that was used as a physical model for this singular piece (apart from archival components and documents with renderings of the original design) was a 1921 American that was once owned by Reverend Samuel Parkes Cadman. Famous in the United States in the early 1920s as a pioneer of Christian radio sermons, Cadman purchased two pieces from the first series in 1928. One was acquired by Vacheron Constantin in 2012 and was used by the company’s heritage and restoration specialists to help create this modern overhaul.
It took the in-house team 15 months to create the timepiece from scratch. Of the 118 caliber components, including the needles, gear train, wheels and hairspring up to the balance and pinions, all were old stock parts from the 1920s, in mint condition, stored in the archives since the dawn of the 1921 American creation. “Some of them were already in finished condition and some of them were rough. We had to finish them by hand, ”explains Christian Selmoni. “This project is here to demonstrate VC’s ability to maintain, repair, restore and recreate all existing components of VC watches.” In addition to having hundreds of thousands of parts in historical stock, Vacheron Constantin has 420 linear meters, or approximately 1,378 feet, of archives in which each part has been recorded since its founding in 1755.
But despite this vast know-how, the original 16 ruby bearings proved to be an additional challenge. “Setting jewelry in the 1920s was a whole different process than it is today. They were set like diamonds, and we had no record of how to do it, so it took a lot of testing, ”says Selmoni. For the tests, five watch kits made up of plates and bridges (the only parts made on modern CNC machines) were created to learn the process. Four out of five were used before the ancient method was mastered.
From the only Côtes de Genève finish (not produced in-house since the 1930s) to the 31.5 mm 18-carat yellow gold case and big fire enamel dial and index, everything (except the bracelet, bridges and plates) required the use of machines adapted to the time and, in some cases, tools that had to be recreated by hand.
“We made the enamel dial in exactly the same way, with pure white enamel, which we applied to a copper base that was fired to become solid,” says Selmoni. “It is very interesting to mention that we have exactly the same technique, which is to say that the small seconds is set on the main dial. This is because the hour and minute hands are so close to the dial that the small second must be below the surface of the dial. It is constructed in two parts, both in enamel, and topped with Arabic numerals in enamel.
No detail has been spared. Even the logo on the dial remains true to the original, indicating “Vacheron et Constantin Geneve Suisse”. And while the bracelet is of course not vintage stock, it is from a supplier who was able to provide one that closely resembles an early 20’s.e-Style in calfskin of the century.
“It was almost an impossible project because at first we weren’t sure we’d get there,” says Selmoni. “For the watchmakers and the restoration workshop, they learned a lot from carrying out this project. It is a super important material for them for the future. Learning watchmaking is a never-ending story.
Like its predecessor, the watch will cross the Atlantic to land in New York next month when Vacheron Constantin unveils its new flagship on Fifth Avenue, where it will remain on display until October. It will then be part of a traveling exhibition yet to be announced on tour in other countries. So far, VC says it has yet to decide whether it will offer the watch for sale, but it wouldn’t hurt to inquire. It will be the only one of its kind. Of the 12 pieces of the first series of 1919 and the 24 pieces of the second series of 1921, Selmoni estimates, there are perhaps only 10 first models (of which three belong to the private collection of the company), this would therefore be a crown jewel in any safe. “The last time I saw a 1921 American original at auction was in 2005, and I still remember the estimate, which was around $ 10,000,” says Selmoni. “A great deal these days!” This one, if sold, will likely have an astronomical price tag.