The Vacheron Constantin Historiques American 1921, a unique cushion-shaped model with a diagonal display, celebrates its centennial in 2021. One of our favourite models at MONOCHROME, the Historiques American 1921 has a great story behind it and has not lost an iota of its idiosyncratic personality in the past 100 years. Three new iterations of the American 1921 were unveiled during the latest edition of Watches & Wonders – two in 18k white gold and a third in platinum. Today we’ll be taking our loupe to the 40mm white gold edition and discover its indisputable and enduring Art Deco appeal.
The exhilarating 1920s
The aftermath of WWI heralded a decade of optimism and excess known as the Roaring Twenties. Characterised as a decade of emancipation with flappers dancing the Charleston and jazz music bursting on the scene, it also marked the advent of Art Deco, a style that graced everything from skyscrapers to furniture and from jewellery to watches. Sleek curves, geometric shapes and streamlined profiles were the bywords of the Art Deco style that infused the unconventional case shapes of many Vacheron watches of the early 1920s – including the Historiques American 1921. Another consequence of the war was the popularisation of wristwatches. Having proved their worth and practicality on the battlefield, the wristwatch gradually replaced the pocket watch and was no longer regarded as an effeminate trinket. America’s booming post-war economy animated a consumer culture ready to indulge in the latest consumer goods. This included the advent of affordable cars, like the Ford Model T. The unusual diagonal display of the American 1921 proved particularly useful for drivers who could consult the time without having to lift their hand off the steering wheel.
The American 1921, as its name suggests, was originally made for the North American market and produced in ultra-limited numbers. To set the record straight, the American 1921 – as we know it today with the crown on the upper right-hand corner – had a predecessor. In fact, as Tom Mulraney writes, “the Historiques American 1921 is not actually based on a single Vacheron Constantin watch from the 1920s, but rather on an amalgam of two different models”. Its predecessor was a 1919 wristwatch (reference 11032) with a cushion-shaped case, the crown at 1 o’clock and a diagonal display. Fitted with a miniaturised pocket watch movement, the dial of the 1919 model was swivelled so that the numeral 12 lined up diagonally with the crown and with the small seconds counter tucked in between 5 and 7 o’clock. The extra-large Arabic numerals and wide hands were treated with luminescent material. If the watch was worn on the right wrist, American motorists could consult the time without having to lift their hands off the steering wheel, making it an ideal driver’s watch and a much sought-after male accessory.
If you want to see what the original watch looked like before it was revamped to become of the brand’s most delectable collections in the Historiques family, don’t miss Frank’s chronicle of how an owner of an original vintage Vacheron Constantin American got in touch with him in 2010.
In 1921, Vacheron Constantin made a few adaptations to the watch and christened it the American 1921. Known as reference 11677, the watch changed the position of the crown from the upper right corner to the left corner and replaced the oversized numerals for more elegant black Breguet-style numerals and matching Breguet hands with hollow ‘moon’ tips.
the American 1921 enters the Historiques Collection
The American 1921 belongs to Vacheron Constantin’s acclaimed Historiques family sharing the limelight with other golden oldies like the Cornes de Vache 1955, the Triple Calendrier 1942 and the Ultra-Fine 1955. When the American 1921 was admitted into the Historiques at the end of 2008, Vacheron Constantin fused features of both the 1919 and 1921 models. Basically, the position of the ‘crown right’ 1919 model was retained but combined with the more elegant dial design of the 1921 model with black Breguet-style numerals. However, the incorporation of a new in-house manual-winding movement (calibre 4400 AS) meant that the small seconds counter of the original models changed position and was now perched between 2 and 4 o’clock.
Unlike the two vintage models in which the crown, the 12 o’clock numeral and small seconds counter formed a diagonal line, the re-edition of the 40mm American 1921 positioned the running seconds counter in a rather unusual position. Undeterred by the criticism from some quarters regarding the unaligned small seconds counter, Vacheron Constantin produced a smaller 36.5mm version in 2017, and the quirky small seconds became as much a part of its personality as its diagonal dial and eccentric crown.
Given its elegant Art Deco personality, the Historiques American 1921 has popped up over the years in different guises. To celebrate the opening of Vacheron’s first boutique located on the corner of Madison and 64th Street in New York, a special 64-piece edition of the Historiques American 1921 Boutique New York was released. Closer to the original 1919 model, the 18k yellow gold Boutique edition featured thicker beige-coloured Arabic numerals and similar lugs.
White gold 40mm
We introduced the trilogy of the Historiques American 1921 in April this year, but we have to admit that this 40mm white gold model takes the cake for lovers of sheer Art Deco elegance. The 18k white gold cushion-shaped case measures 40mm with a slim height of 8.06mm. With its gleaming polished surfaces and short straight lugs, the contrast with the grained silver-toned is beautifully subtle. The Breguet-style Arabic numerals and railroad minutes track are painted in black, and the 18k gold hour, minute and seconds hands are blackened for heightened contrast. The small seconds counter, picked out with a snailed interior, is nestled at 3 o’clock.
The overarching tagline at Vacheron this year been the ‘classics with a twist’, and you will admit that no watch collection embodies this leitmotif more eloquently than the Historiques 1921. Everything, from its diagonal dial, crown at 1 o’clock and small seconds at 3 o’clock, is twisted to create a watch that is still unique after one hundred years! For women or men with smaller wrists, the good news is that Vacheron has also produced a 36.5mm model in white gold.
IN-HOUSE HAND-WOUND CALIBRE 4400 AS
The Historiques American 1921 models are powered by Vacheron’s in-house manual-winding calibre 4400 AS visible through the sapphire crystal caseback. Developed in 2008, the movement is offset from its usual axis by 45 degrees. With its generous 28.6mm diameter, the calibre is just 2.8mm thick and the barrel can store up to 65 hours of power reserve. Bearing the Poinçon de Genève hallmark, the movement is beautifully hand-finished with Côtes de Genève, perlage, bevelled edges and brightly polished screw heads.
Availability & Price
The 40mm Historiques American 1921 comes on a dark brown calfskin leather strap with an 18k white gold buckle representing half of the brand’s emblematic Maltese cross. The strap is handmade by Serapian, the prestigious Italian leather goods company based in Milan. The retail price is EUR 36,100.
For more information, please visit www.vacheron-constantin.com.