A LEGENDARY WATCH, ONE OF ONLY SIX PRODUCED, MAKES A RARE APPEARANCE AT AUCTION
By Tai Sione
In the world of Swiss watchmaking, three brands sit above the rest in terms of quality: Patek Philippe, Audemars Piguet and Vacheron Constantin. Though not as widely known as the former two names, Vacheron Constantin is similarly steeped in rich history, dating to 1755. One of the oldest Swiss watch brands, Vacheron Constantin manufactured only pocket watches until the early 20th century, but as the industry and technological innovations evolved, so did the brand’s production. During World War I, when soldiers needed a more convenient way to tell time, brands began modifying their pocket watches with straps so they could be worn on the wrist. But this style didn’t stay on the battlefield. With the popularity of wristwatches booming among civilians, watchmaking brands observed the trend and followed suit. Vacheron Constantin’s response to this change in tastes was its “American 1921,” a now-iconic wristwatch known for its avant-garde design.
In Heritage Auctions’ June 1 Fine Watches & Timepieces Signature® Auction, bidders will have the rare opportunity to acquire an original example of the Vacheron Constantin “American 1921” model, one of just a few produced upon special request for the American market. The “1921” has an interesting display: Rather than the standard dial orientation, the face of the watch is offset by 45 degrees. The theory behind this design cue is that, as automobiles were in their infancy in the early 20th century, drivers could read the time on the watch with their arm outstretched, resting on the steering wheel. The model “1921” is so named for its primary production in 1921, but the present example dates to 1919. There were two series of the “1921” model made. The 1919 series has the dial offset 45 degrees to the right, with luminous hour plots on the dial and luminous cathedral-style hands. The 1921 series is similarly offset, this time 45 degrees to the left, with nonluminous Breguet-style hour markers and nonluminous hands. Both series were made in exceedingly low numbers, with likely only six examples produced for each series and only 12 examples made in total.
Vacheron Constantin reintroduced the “1921” in the 1990s, and thanks to the unique orientation of the dial, it has become synonymous with the brand. Though the model is immensely popular, original examples of the “1921” rarely appear publicly, let alone for sale. Of the luminous series, there has been only one offset example sold publicly within recent years, and it likely went back to the brand as a featured highlight of its Geneva museum. That rarity, coupled with the fact that this 104-year-old watch is in amazing original condition, makes this offering an extraordinary opportunity to purchase one of Vacheron Constantin’s rarest and most historically significant models. And, as the watch comes with a Certificate of Authenticity, bidders can have full confidence in its indisputable pedigree.
TAI SIONE is Consignment Director of Fine Watches & Timepieces at Heritage Auctions.