Introducing the Vacheron Constantin American 1921 Pièce Unique

Introducing the Vacheron Constantin American 1921 Pièce Unique

Imagine yourself as an 11 year old. Not in present day but the year, 1875. Not as a carefree, school-going preteen, but a child subjected to the harsh labour of a coal mine. It is quite the unimaginable predicament, but such were the realities of a certain 11-year old Samuel Parkes Cadman born in Ketley, Shropshire, England.

In fact, this was his life for an entire decade, into the age of 21. Cadman’s only respite from his said reality was his insatiable appetite for reading. The story goes that he was reading at every given opportunity, even his breaks at the mine.

This thirst for knowledge ultimately opened up an opportunity for education, and an escape, at the Richmond College of the University of London and at the Wesleyan Methodist College seminary. Later, upon completing his studies at the seminary, Cadman moved to New York, USA where he served as a pastor in various churches all the way into 1936, when he breathed his last.

Portrait of Rev. S. Parkes Cadman (1864-1936) at age 46 in 1910 (Wikimedia Commons)

In his time serving his churches, he also pioneered preaching over the radio, an absolutely novel practice in the timeframe of things. He also wrote a daily newspaper column for the New York Herald Tribune and authored multiple books. Hi legacy in everything he did while in service to his faith, rooted in his advocacy of ecumenism, as an vocal challenger of anti-Semitism and racial prejudice. Clearly radical mind and human being, well ahead of his time.

Now, why is a watch publication recounting the story of a preacher from the early 20th century? It has all to do with this radical man’s, radical choice for a wristwatch, the Vacheron Constantin American 1921.

On the left you have the 2021 recreation of Cadman's original American 1921, which is the very watch on the right

“The American 1921 has been one of Vacheron Constantin’s most iconic modern watches since it was relaunched back in 2005, based on a design conceived in the early part of the 20th century,” shares Wei Koh, founder of The Rake & Revolution. He goes on, “The Roaring Twenties in the United States was a time of great cultural and artistic change. In particular, the automobile had created an unprecedented level of interconnectivity and freedom. Vacheron Constantin responded to a request for a watch that was easier to read when the driver’s hands were on the steering wheel, by taking a stunning cushion-shaped watch and tilting the dial and movement by 45 degrees.”

“The original watches came with movements that were canted both clockwise as well as counter clockwise,” adds Wei. “The interesting thing was that the seconds subdial was always at six o’clock relative to the placement of the crown at 12 o’clock, as presumably the watches were using modified pocket watch calibers. In contrast, the modern interpretation has its subdial at three o’clock, relative to a crown placement at 12 o’clock, which is normal for a modern wristwatch using the VC caliber 4400. What is impressive is that the shift in placement of the subdial in the modern watch works perfectly, and the watch has become one of the most beloved in the Vacheron lexicon.”

But today, we’re not going to speak of the contemporary American 1921, rather the exact watch of Samuel Parkes Cadman’s. Because you see this specific American 1921 is presently one of close 1,400 timepieces that form Vacheron Constantin’s Heritage and Restoration departments’ historical collection and it is also the subject of a yearlong, special project that is being unveiled today.

The one of 2021 recreation of Cadman's original American 1921

The project brief on hand was a straight forward one: “to recreate exactly the American 1921, as it was in 1921,” shares Christian Selmoni, Style & Heritage Director at Vacheron Constantin. The motivation to undertake such an extraordinary task? To mark the 100th anniversary of the American 1921 with an extra ordinary feat.

For this all of Vacheron Constantin’s Heritage and Restoration department had to be activated. Because, as a 266 year old name in the industry, the maison has an immense store of, not just knowhow, but parts and machines as well that could be drawn upon to recreate Cadman’s American 1921 using components and tools that are actually from the correct period in time. Selmoni shares that other than having to create the main plate and bridges for the movement from scratch, but using tools of the era, every other component for the movement was provided for by the vast library of parts stored by the Heritage and Restoration department.

Says Selmoni, “Something which is highly important to add on this note, is about the setting of the jewels on the movement, it was really a tour de force. I think for me, personally speaking, this is maybe [one of] the major difficulties that our watchmakers had to face when recreating these timepiece. The practice in the early 20th century was to drive the jewels into their spaces. And while the watchmakers at Vacheron Constantin are aware of this method and are able make repairs for when they encounter damaged jewels in vintage timepieces, no one has had to actually do the setting themselves. It’s a complicated task. When I spoke with our master watchmaker, who was in charge of the jewels part of the movement, he shared with me that the necessary research and finally being able to execute the setting required him no less than 700 hours to accomplish.”

The case for the watch, too, had to be forged from scratch. No form of CNC was used in this. All 31.5mm of the case had to be recreated using specifications of the original watch, including soldering of the lugs onto the case body, and was executed with a specific gold alloy, with the help of a spectrometer, that would bear the correct yellow hue of a yellow gold watch from 1921.

The crown hands and dial of the watch were also sourced from the Heritage and Restoration department’s inventory of parts. The dial is made up of two parts, the subdial and the larger primary dial, that have been individually decorated with grand feu enamelling and hand painted with the numerals and logo.

Pertaining to the hands Selmoni shares that these were found without the heat treatment in the inventory of the maison’s Heritage and Restoration department and were lovingly blued for the purpose of the watch on hand.

Funny thing is, for all the trouble it’s taken for Vacheron Constantin to religiously create this masterpiece, they haven’t quite figured out how to price it. And considering the provenance of the piece of treasure the watch was modelled after, perhaps what we have on hand is a piece of history re-created that’s simply, priceless.

Technical Specifications: American 1921 Pièce Unique, Reference 1921H/000J-B949

Calibre 1921; developed and crafted by Vacheron Constantin; mechanical, manual-winding; 24.8 mm (11‘’’) diameter, 4.31 mm thick; approximately 30 hours of power reserve; 2.5 Hz (18,000 vibrations/hour); indications Hours, minutes; small seconds

18K 3N yellow gold, same alloy as the 1921 original timepiece; hand-crafted in the Vacheron Constantin restoration workshop; 31 mm in diameter, 8.75 mm thick

White, Grand Feu enamel; blued steel open-tipped hands – blued in our workshops

Brown calf leather, hand-sewn, tone-to-tone stitching, calf lining; Buckle 18K 3N yellow gold pin buckle, same alloy as the 1921 original timepiece

Hand-crafted in the Vacheron Constantin restoration workshop

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