An enthralling era of artisanal watchmaking retold in the faithful reproduction of reference 1921 from Vacheron Constantin.
All watches tell time, and some watches tell stories. Now, there is One Watch that travelled through time – both metaphorically and literally – to share a glorious past that historians and horophiles dream about: The singular Vacheron Constantin American 1921 Pièce Unique.
Recently unveiled to commemorate the American 1921’s 100th anniversary, and faithfully recreated as if in 1921, the American 1921 Pièce Unique is the pride and prize of a year-long joint endeavour of the Vacheron Constantin Heritage department and Restoration workshop.
Months of research, observation, analysis, and experimentation went into its production; with the Heritage team providing a rich trove of vintage machines, tools, documentation and iconographic archives, and the Restoration artisans undertaking the exceptional challenge of reviving forgotten skills and combining the knowledge and expertise of 265 years of watchmaking.
Rebuilding the American 1921’s vintage movement from scratch was quite a Herculean task. To start, the artisans disassembled, examined and measured each of the 115 components of the original 11-ligne Calibre Nouveau before making plans and mock-ups which required exceedingly complex calculations.
Numerous questions needed answering: How could each component be adjusted and calibrated prior to assembly? How should the vintage machines be regulated? How could the jewels be set on the movement, whereas they are now generally driven in? How could the exact colour of the gilding on the wheels be achieved? At what distance and at which height should they be placed in order to be faithful to the original calibre?
This was where the Heritage department’s archives proved crucial, particularly in the recreation of the bridges and mainplate according to the specificities of the century-old calibre.
Manual craftsmanship was also put to the test in recreating the dial and case of the American 1921, which comprised both period components stocked in the Restoration workshop and components that were entirely recreated according to the dimensions of the ancestral American 1921 model.
The 31.5mm case was crafted in the same gold alloy (18K 3N yellow gold) as the original American 1921, with a laser engraving on the back to set the American 1921 Pièce Unique apart from its forebear.
Specialised expertise was also called upon in crafting the Grand Feu enamel dial. This involved an old, delicate ornamentation technique, which requires several firings in the kiln at a heat of more than 800 degrees Celcius.
Described by the Manufacture as “the fruit of a fascinating odyssey” into Vacheron Constantin’s rich, creative past, the identically remade American 1921 Pièce Unique is a horological fantasy come true. Calling to mind the vitality and creativity of the Roaring Twenties, it is also a faithful retelling of the remarkable history of watchmaking, with its ancestor emblematic of a time where the wristwatch had only just begun to replace pocket watches.
The original American 1921 remains highly coveted as only 24 were manufactured, and only one is housed in Vacheron Constantin’s private collection. But being the one and only of its kind, the American 1921 Pièce Unique may indeed be deemed priceless – by many. A masterpiece in its own right.
Images courtesy of Vacheron Constantin, artwork by Curatedition. All rights reserved.