As the oldest watchmaker in existence, Vacheron Constantin has a relationship with its clients that goes long and deep. In America, for example, it has been supplying watches to private individuals since at least the early 1830s. In the first decades of the 20th century, Vacheron Constantin became an elegant status symbol for well-to-do Americans like Henry James, various Rockefellers, and automotive entrepreneur James Ward Packard. It was, in fact, the burgeoning automotive industry, post-WWI, that inspired the first watch the brand made expressly for the U.S. market, when it created what is now known as the American 1921, a cushion-shaped watch jinked deliberately off the vertical to make it easier to read when driving.
The house has played continually with the American 1921 since it was first recreated in 2008, producing a number of modern versions in precious metals and enlarged to suit modern tastes. This year marks the centenary of a style that is now a popular fixture in its ranges. To celebrate the opening of its brand-new store on New York’s 57th Street, the house set itself a singular challenge: to recreate an exact, one-off replica of the original American 1921, using vintage parts and tools. For inspiration, watchmakers looked to an original American 1921 that is now in the Vacheron Constantin archive. It was one of two sold in 1928 to pioneering evangelist (and car nut) the Reverend Samuel Parkes Cadman, who was one of the first to use the medium of radio to reach huge new audiences for his sermons.
Apart from the movement’s bridges and the leather strap, the house used all original parts dating to the 1920s that it had kept under wraps in its inventory for the last 100 years. Some parts were still in fully finished condition. Others required meticulous hand finishing by the company’s watchmakers. As an exercise, the project serves—for the OG of Swiss watchmaking—to underline its unimpeachable heritage and show that its in-house skills are still relevant today.
Although you won’t be able to buy this three-years-in-the-making one-off, there are a number of modern versions available in two sizes, 42mm and 36mm (the same size as the original). But if this project has actually whet your appetite for vintage Vacherons instead, the brand has an unusual take on its back catalog. Unlike most of the loftier names in Swiss watchmaking, Vacheron recognized its unique reputation in historic watches and began, a few years ago, to create Les Collectionneurs, a series of vintage VC watches, primarily pocket watches from 1910-1930 and wristwatches pre-1970. Each was bought back from collectors then painstakingly restored in-house, and the whole lot are now offered for sale through Vacheron Constantin stores. And that’s just one more reason to head to the new store in New York, where some of the Collectionneurs watches are on display right now.
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