Review: Vacheron Constantin Historiques American 1921 in White Gold
The Roaring Twenties was a period in the 1920s that, for nearly a decade, brought a wind of renewal to the United States and Europe. Synonymous with artistic and cultural effervescence, the period was a time for boldness and overturning conventions. As fate would have it, this was also the point in history where pocket watches were beginning to give way to wristwatches. In Vacheron Constantin’s workshops, the powerful inventive surge of these years gave rise to new creations, one of the most iconic of which was nicknamed the American 1921. Produced primarily for the American market, the original American 1921, which featured an experimental cushion case shape, a diagonal dial display and an offset crown placement, perfectly captured the essence of the Roaring Twenties. The initial versions were notably appreciated by driving enthusiasts who could thus read the time at a glance without having to take their hands from the steering wheel. It is these vintage 1921 models that serve as the direct inspiration for the Historiques American 1921, the modern remake that we all know and love today.
To mark its 100th anniversary this year, several new iterations of the Historiques American 1921 have been introduced, two of which are the white gold models. Identical in almost every aspect, they come in either a 40 mm case, or a daintier 36 mm case to suit customer needs. Here, we give you the low-down and our thoughts on the latest debutants to Vacheron Constantin’s much acclaimed Historiques collection.
The case, dial, and hands
The American 1921 model stands out first and foremost in terms of design, with a distinct cushion-shaped case defining its look. This year, the metal of choice is white gold and the watch is available in two sizes: 40 mm and 36.5 mm. This is not the first time that the manufacturer has offered two sizes for the same watch – this was done for the pink gold variant of the Historiques American 1921 as well. Providing different case sizes allows a broader audience to enjoy the timepiece. Those will larger wrists or more contemporary tastes can go for the 40 mm case, while those with smaller wrists, male or female, or preference for more traditional sizing can opt for the 36.5 mm casing. Another endearing feature of the case is the offset crown, located at the 1 to 2 o’clock position in the upper right hand corner of the case. This oblique positioning of the crown, in theory, makes it easier to operate while the watch is on the wrist. That said, it is still a bad idea to do so, as the risk of accidentally bending or breaking the stem while trying to manipulate the crown is comparatively higher than when the watch is off the wrist.
The other aspect of the Historiques American 1921 in white gold that will catch the eye is, of course, the dial, offset by means of a 45-degree clockwise rotation. From a practical point of view, this makes it easier for the wearer to tell the time at a glance when the arm has to be outstretched, say when driving a car; it’s why the American 1921 is dubbed the “driver’s watch”. But the reason why the Historiques American 1921 is so beloved isn’t because people wanted a watch that is marginally easier to read while on the wheel. Rather, it is the novelty of the diagonal reading of time and overall originality of the design, even by today’s standards. Compared to the other variations of the Historiques American 1921, the dial on the new white gold variants comes across as the most sober and thus elegant in the sense of dressiness. The grainy silver dial is particularly satisfying to behold as it contrasts splendidly with the smooth, polished surface of the case. Coupled with the Breguet-esque Arabic numerals and hands, as well as the black-painted minute track, you get a visage that is as classical as it is atypically orientated.
Movement: Caliber 4400 AS
Driving the new Historiques American 1921 in white gold is the tried and tested Calibre 4400 AS which is offset from its traditional axis and extended by a crown positioned at 1:30. The manually wound movement has a comfortable power reserve of 65 hours and operates at a modern 4 Hz frequency.
While the Calibre 4400 AS may only have basic time-telling functionality, its build quality and finishing is anything but rudimentary. Quite the contrary, the movement bears the prestigious Hallmark of Geneva which is testament of exceptional construction and finissage. Visible through the sapphire crystal, the Calibre 4400 AS is decorated with even Côtes de Genève, chamfered and polished edges, gold-filled engravings, inward and outward anglage, black polishing, and perlage.
The Competitive Landscape
From a design perspective, the Historiques American 1921 belongs in a special place whereby nothing else is quite like it. There are approximates, of course, but even those are palpably different in aesthetics and quality. The introduction of the white gold variant for the Historiques American 1921 is sensible in that it fills a market gap. Previously, the only ‘low-key’ version of the model was the platinum iteration. While immensely elegant, the platinum variant of the American 1921 is unsurprisingly the priciest of the lot. The white gold variant presents itself as a slightly ‘stealthier’ alternative (black numerals instead of blue) minus the platinum premium. The Historiques American 1921 in white gold is priced at SGD43,600 for the 36.5 mm version, and SGD53,000 for the 40 mm version.
While the Historiques American 1921 may be the most upscale driver’s watch available in the current market, it certainly isn’t the only option. Last year’s revisit of the iconic Tank Asymetrique by Cartier means that we have an equally quaint alternative to the Vacheron Constantin. Similar to the Historiques American 1921, the dial of the Asymetrique is rotated slightly to ease reading when the hand is outstretched. But unlike the case of the aforementioned, the Asymetrique has a parallelogram-shaped case. The Asymetrique does not possess the same level of finissage as the American 1921, but neither is it as costly. The gold variants are priced in the ballpark of SGD37,000.
For a watch with an even bigger twist – literally – look no further than Tiffany & Co’s East West Automatic. Introduced in 2016, the East West Automatic is based on a travel clock by Tiffany & Co. from the 1940s. Instead of a mere 30-degree rotation as in the Cartier or 45 degrees in the Vacheron Constantin, the East West Automatic dial display goes the full 90. This is a watch you’ll either love because of its utter charm, or hate because of the awkward, neck-twisting dial orientation. Priced at USD4,750 for the steel variant or USD12,000 for gold, the Tiffany & Co. East West Automatic is the least expensive of the three pieces here.
Between its unorthodox design and poetic history, the Historiques American 1921 has positioned itself as one of Vacheron Constantin’s most sought after contemporary timepieces. The introduction of the new white gold variant will provide prospective clients with more options to deliberate upon. Now available in platinum, pink gold and white gold, one can only speculate if more variations – say yellow gold or stainless steel – will be launched in future. Either way, Vacheron Constantin has got a winner in its hands. Thanks to its timelessness, the American 1921 has prevailed for a hundred years and will probably thrive beyond the next century.
The Vacheron Constantin historiques American 1921 models were photographed in the VC Boutique in Ion Orchard. Hasselblad H3D-39 with HC 4/120 Macro and HC 2.8/80 with H28 extension tube. Profoto strobe.