VIDEO: The Vacheron Constantin Historiques American 1921 collection VIDEO: The Vacheron Constantin Historiques American 1921 collection

VIDEO: The Vacheron Constantin Historiques American 1921 collection

Zach Blass

The roaring 20s was a tumultuous time in America that included the aftermath of the First World War, prohibition and the infamous Wall St crash. But sometimes the most chaotic environments lead to a surging sense of creativity. The 1920s were certainly a productive time when it came to watches, with many of what we now consider to be heritage designs emerging in this era. It was an arms race of sorts, each brand looking to figure out how they would evolve from the pocket watch into what we now know as the wristwatch. Where manufacturers distinguished themselves was through their interpretations of watch design – the more distinct, the more luxurious. Vacheron Constantin excelled in this aspect. With their Art Deco sensibilities, Vacheron created timepieces unlike anything anyone had ever seen before. One such model that caught the gaze of the market then, and holds our attention even today, is what we now know as the Vacheron Constantin Historiques 1921.

One of the watches that inspired the modern collection: the Vacheron Constantin ref. 12070 (1919)

Vacheron Constantin considers themselves among the first to produce timepieces in a cushion shape. While a somewhat common format today, especially from brands like Panerai, at the time this was a game changer. This particular watch from 1919 was known to be popular among “Dandy Drivers”, its asymmetrical dial perfect for glancing at the time while holding the large steering wheel of a motor car. But in this era of gentlemen’s timepieces, smaller sizes were desired and expected – with this particular Vacheron Constantin ref. 12070 design clocking in at 37.9mm lug-to-lug. You read that right. Not diameter, lug-to-lug. Context is key remember. Wristwatches were originally invented for women, typically in the format of super small jewelry pieces. Once upon a time it was considered taboo for a man to wear a watch, rather than carry the more gentlemanly pocket watch in his waistcoat.

This dressy and gentlemanly ref. 12070 has many elegant design elements including a compact 18k gold case and enamel dial. But its blued cathedral hands and large numerals filled with luminous material give it sporty daily wear sensibilities as well. Don’t forget, it’s design was for drivers after all.

The present day Vacheron Constantin Historiques American 1921 36.5mm and 40mm

By today’s standards, the Historiques American 1921 collection is entirely situated in the dress category. While it could easily be worn daily in an office setting, most would not feel comfortable being active with these watches on. Therefore these dials, while still speaking to the modern market through desired classical/traditional elements, do not utilise luminous materials on the dial. We still have the presence of enamel, but not throughout the entire dial plate – just the Breguet numerals. Now each of the asymmetric dials leverage a grained metallic base – differentiating their design within our present era. They also have shifted the placement of the running seconds register, occupying the 3′ space of the dial instead of its previous 6′ position. The register has a concentric texture to it, causing a light play akin to what you would find from a sunburst finished dial.

You still have a very classic case design, just a tad enlarged with the 36.5mm x 7.41mm x 41.8mm models and fully modernized with the 40mm x 8.06mm x 46mm models. Each of the cushion cases are fully mirror polished, with short and compact lugs that mitigate its flat stance on the wrist. Aside from the distinct and beautiful designs of the dials and cases, my favorite aspect of this collection is that the same caliber is used in each size.

Too often manufacturers use less illustrious movements in smaller variants of their larger watches, not here. All sizes are treated equal, utilising the phenomenal in-house manually wound caliber 4400 AS throughout the range. Elaborately decorated with Côtes de Genève, perlage, and chamfering to the Geneva Hallmark standard, the 4400 AS also is a technical performer with 65 hours of power reserve thanks to its large barrel. Its layout is quite traditional and pocket-watch inspired, with a sizable centre wheel visible right in its heart. Modern technology, classic aesthetics – an attractive and faithful re-interpretation of a Vacheron Constantin watch from that era.

Vacheron Constantin Historiques American 1921 36.5mm and 40mm pricing and availability:

The Vacheron Constantin Historiques American 1921 reference in white gold 36.5mm is $43,600AUD, the white gold reference in 40mm is $53,000AUD and the 40mm piece in platinum is $73,500AUD and is limited to 100 pieces. For more details, visit Vacheron Constantin right here.