Recently, Vacheron Constantin unveiled a mid-size version of one of its most appealing watches, the desirable and highly original Historiques American 1921. Yet, there’s something tricky with this watch, and it’s all about its name, and the size that is implied by this “mid-size” appellation. Such watches have always been complex in terms of market segmentation… Large feminine watch, smaller masculine timepiece? It often falls between two stools, but in the case of the American 1921 Mid-Size, my decision is now clear… I needed to wear it and here’s what we (a unanimous decision from the Monochrome editorial team) think.
Quick thoughts about “mid-size” watches
Mid-size? What does this name imply? And why has this name been created? We have to go back to the mid-1970s when some of the high-end brands created their now iconic luxury sports watches – and that does also include Vacheron Constantin, with the ref. 222 (the predecessor of the Overseas). At that time, all of these watches were created bold, angular and mainly for today’s matters, in large sizes – 39mm for the AP Royal Oak, 42mm for the PP Nautilus, 38mm for the VC 222. All of them introduced the concept of “Jumbo watches”, something that is now widely accepted, but which was totally disruptive back in the days. And that clearly affected sales, which remain quite low for these 3 watches.
Soon after, these 3 watches were launched in smaller cases: 37.5mm for the PP Nautilus (ref. 3800), 36mm for the AP Royal Oak (ref. 4100ST) and 34mm for the VC 222. Right at the moment these watches went onto the market, they were advertised and named by collectors “medium” or “mid-size”. Surprisingly, at that time, the “mid-size” appellation referred to reduced diameters, although still men’s watches – and they were, at that time, selling much better than the larger versions. The situation today is quite different: with diameters of all watches increasing drastically, the “Jumbo” versions became the most collectable, and the mid-size versions remain undervalued. The same goes for the modern iterations of these watches that are still in current collections. These are barely seen as men’s offers anymore (think RO 37mm, Overseas 37mm or Nautilus 35mm – all mostly ladies’ watches). And so that is why we say that the “mid-size” appellation is tricky… But as always, there are exceptions to the rule, and the new Vacheron Constantin Historiques American 1921 Mid-Size is one of them.
The Vacheron Constantin Historiques American 1921 Mid-Size 36.5mm
Back to the present, and the Vacheron Constantin Historiques American 1921 Mid-Size. When the watch was presented at first, via a press release, there were some questions here internally. Is it a ladies’ watch? is it meant for both genders? Is it the version that many of us secretly expected? The latter is important… While the design of the American 1921 has always been praised and widely applauded, there was, for many collectors, something not quite right about it: the size. Advertised at 40mm (which feels like a relatively reasonable diameter on paper), it appears that the large version is… large. This is mainly due to the shape of the watch (cushion case), which covers much more surface than a standard round watch. On the wrist, this large American 1921 felt big and heavy (gold or platinum… heavyweight).
We secretly hoped for a smaller version of this watch… Maybe 38mm. However, the American 1921 was presented back in 2008, when large watches were really hot, whereas on the other hand in recent times we have seen a discreet comeback of smaller diameters these days, mainly on dress / elegant watches. However, when Vacheron showed its vintage-inspired, mid-size 1921 with a 36.5mm, it really was quite a surprise. At first, we were doubtful, for 2 reasons. First, we’re so used to 40mm+ watches that such a small diameter immediately categorised it as ladies’ watches. Second, Vacheron Constantin showed the watch both on a dark brown strap and on a glossy red strap. Both genders were clearly in focus. In fact, if you look at the brand’s website, the first image of this watch is with the red strap… A ladies’ watch then? False… You have to try it to understand.
As said, the American 1921 in 40mm wears more like a 42mm watch. So, if you apply the same principle to the new mid-size version, you end up with a watch that feels more about 38mm when worn… And that becomes quite interesting. As you can see on the image above, nothing in this “mid-size” edition, at least on dark brown leather, implies femininity. The watch is fully identical (size apart) to the existing large version. Being vintage-inspired and overall quite dressy, the smaller diameter even gives the watch the full package in terms of elegance, and to the exception of men with large wrists (above 20 cm/8 inches), the 36.5mm version is worth considering. Now, let’s take a tour of the watch itself.
With the exception of the diameter, there are no drastic changes on this new mid-size version. The unique flair of the Vacheron Constantin Historiques American 1921 is still fully present. In fact, this watch has always been an interesting mix of boldness, elegance and originality. While many vintage-oriented pieces are inspired by 1950s or 1960s pieces, and fewer inspired by art-deco designs (1930s/1940s), the American looks at another era, quite forgotten by brands: the early 1920s, so-to-say the birth of the wristwatch. This implies some modernity and risks in the design, combined with elements reminiscent of pocket-watches. This can be seen in the placement of the indexes, in the overall shape of the watch, in the bold numerals…
The Vacheron Constantin Historiques American 1921 was based on an amalgam of two different models of the brand. In 1919, the company made a watch in a cushion-shaped case with a crown placed at the upper left corner, at 11. Due to the crown position and the use of a conventional movement from a pocket watch, the dial was turned slightly so that the 12 position aligned with the crown. The idea was that if you wore the watch on your right wrist while driving, you could easily the read time. This model was produced in a limited run of 12 pieces, all of which were originally meant to be shipped directly to New York. Two years later, in 1921, Vacheron Constantin followed up with a variation of this model, called the American 1921. The most noticeable change was that the crown had been relocated from the upper left corner to the upper right corner, and now sat at the 1 o’clock position. The dial was tilted the opposite way as well, so that the 12 o’clock position still aligned with the dial, and the small seconds sub-dial was diagonally opposite at 6 o’clock. This model was also limited to 12 pieces, all of which were sold over a 10-year period, with the last one being sold in 1931. Read more here, including photos of the old version.
This unique design, which is immediately recognizable, is fully back, but in a 36.5mm case. The 18k pink gold case has the same cushion shape, slightly sharper than the vintage watch though. Also identical are the lugs that feel like they have been added later to the case, with a cabochon on their tip. And the good news comes from the proportions. While the size of the case has been decreased, the movement and the sub-dial haven’t. We thus can enjoy a watch with a slim bezel (always good for the elegance) and with a sub-dial that is perfectly positioned and proportioned.
The dial appears at first to be the same: large “Breguet” type numerals painted in black, railroad minute track, black oxidized gold hands with half-moon eyes and, of course, the same weird and unique position with the 12 index at 1 o’clock… What seems different is the execution of the dial, it’s more grained than before, with a slightly warmer colour. Also, the sub-dial has a deeper circular motif. The result is extremely qualitative and very pleasant to look at.
The backside of the Vacheron Constantin Historiques American 1921 mid-size reveals the same movement as the 40mm version. Once again, nothing to complain about here, and even something enjoyable: the movement feels sized accordingly to the diameter of the watch. This calibre 4400 is one of the classical movements by the brand (now widely used in the collections, even if it has debuted with the American 1921), and one with modern features: 65h power reserve, 4hz frequency, hand-wound with nicely curved bridges.
This movement bears the Hallmark of Geneva, meaning the highest standards of quality and precision. All edges are cleanly bevelled by hand, some even featuring sharp internal angles, all screw heads are brightly polished, the main-plate is adorned with perlage, wheels are circular-grained, with bevelled spokes… Overall, nothing overtly showy at first, but a very elegant and qualitative execution. Furthermore, the Hallmark of Geneva also implies some accuracy tests, meaning that this watch should provide a pretty reliable indication of the time.
It’s a real pleasure to have the superb Vacheron Constantin Historiques American 1921 in a smaller (mid-size) case. Most men (and also women who want a large watch) can now enjoy the beauty of this 1920s-inspired design in a watch that really is well proportioned on the wrist. The model gains in elegance and discretion, while not loosing its daring side.
To those who may be put off by the 36.5mm announced, try it! Don’t take this as a nonsense. Don’t stop on numbers and remember that 36.5mm is not that small, especially for a cushion-shaped watch. Indeed, the mid-size Historiques American 1921 is much more masculine than some will tell, and more than specs will make you believe. And if that’s not for you, you still have the option of the 40mm version – and offer this one to your better half. More details on www.vacheron-constantin.com.
Technical Specifications – Vacheron Constantin Historiques American 1921 Mid-Size Model
- Case: 36.5mm x 7.25mm – 18k 5N pink gold – sapphire crystal on front and rear – 30m water resistance
- Movement: calibre 4400 AS – manual wind – 4Hz frequency – 65h power reserve – Hours and minutes, small seconds on sub-dial – Hallmark of Geneva
- Strap: Brown alligator leather / Red alligator leather with 18k 5N pink gold buckle
- Reference: 1100S/000R-B430
- Price: EUR 30,300