One could make the argument that 2020 made the dress watch irrelevant for a time. After all, who's strapping on a fancy, precious metal timepiece to go along with his tracksuit for yet another slogfest of Zoom meetings and work-from-home grind? But 2021's shaping up to be different. Now we're finally starting to see the light of day.
Just in time for the reemergence of the workforce from a year-long, WFH hibernation, famed Swiss watchmaker Vacheron Constantin launched several new pieces within its Historiques collection in celebration of a timepiece that debuted a century ago. The new watches include two new references in white gold —at 40mm and 36.5mm — and a special reference in platinum. We spoke with Vacheron's Style and Heritage Director, Christian Selmoni, about the new pieces.
They're based on watches that debuted during the Roaring Twenties
Whimsical and unusual, the original references 11032 (designed in 1919) and 11677 (1921) debuted during a time when the men's wristwatch was still in its infancy following its adoption during the First World War. The firm was experimenting with unusual case shapes at the time — which were produced in small series — one of which was the cushion case. The first watch with an offset dial was produced in 1919, and the second, also a small series for the U.S. market, debuted in 1921. The face, which is rotated such that 12 o'clock (and the winding crown) is either at the top right or left side of the case, became particularly popular with early adopters of the (then-new) automobile, as it's easily scannable with one's hands on the wheel.
"The Twenties was a decade of extravagance, of enormous creativity, breaking (design) codes, etc. — and I think (the 1921) is also an interesting testament to Vacheron Constantin's creativity and audacity" explained Selmoni. "It's about designing new shapes, and also exploring different origins. The theme for this year's Watches & Wonders is 'classic with a twist,' and so I think there's no better example (of this) than the American 1921."
But they're not out of place in the 2020s
Available in three versions — two in white gold and one in platinum — the 1921 is as striking today as it was during the Jazz Age, when the miniaturization of the pocket watch movement into wristwatch-appropriate sizes was still a cutting-edge proposition. Though perhaps too unconventional — and precious — for all tastes, they'll certainly resonate not only with dedicated Vacheron Constantin collectors, but with anyone with an appreciation (and budget) for something a bit different.
"We love watches because we appreciate the beauty of the design, we appreciate that they're pieces of engineering, of micro-mechanics," Selmoni continues. "There is a lot of craftsmanship and human ingenuity in watches. They link us with the analog world. We're made of flesh and bone, and deep inside I think we need this connection with tangible objects. We're one hundred years after the launch of this timepiece and it's still very much sought-after. So I think this speaks to the ability of certain Vacheron Constantin designs to transcend time."
The customer has a choice of size and material
Building upon 1921 models relaunched in 2008, the new versions include models in white gold at 36.5mm ($30,400) and 40mm ($36,800), as well as a 40mm platinum version ($51,000). Interestingly, larger versions launched at SIHH in 2008 — during the heyday of the "oversized" watch — were popular with both men and women. In response to interest from female clients, the maison ultimately decided to produce a smaller version of the watch, though men who favor a dressier, more svelte look will certainly appreciate this 36.5mm version as well.
All three models are powered by the Vacheron Constantin cal. 4400AS, a manual-winding movement with 65 hours of power reserve and an operating frequency of 4 Hz. Each features a transparent sapphire crystal case back and a case with 30m of water resistance, as well as dark brown calf leather and burgundy calf leather straps (white gold models) or a blue alligator strap with platinum stitching (platinum model).
Two original 1920s models belonged to an interesting (if obscure) American figure
A fascinating footnote to the story of the 1921 is that two original models belonged to an American preacher named Samuel Parkes-Cadman — one of his watches even sits in the maison's archives today. Parkes-Cadman was a clergyman and writer whose sermons — which decried the anti-Semitism and racism of the time — were broadcast to millions via the radio. Very much a public figure, he favored the cushion-cased, rotated-dial models because they allowed him to discreetly wear the time while at the pulpit. Parkes-Cadman, had he been preaching in 2021, would likely have fit right in with Vacheron Constantin's diverse array of customers and brand ambassadors.
It would seem that throughout history, the Vacheron customer has been a discerning one. "We are not concentrating on double-digit growth every year, continues Selmoni. "We're taking great care with craftsmanship and on top of that, we have a very classic, elegant, sophisticated design — sometimes with a twist. I think this is what makes us unique, together with our very high level of technical watchmaking and finishing. It's what makes our motto 'One of not many' a very good one."