What a year it has been for Vacheron. As the oldest maker in continual production, 2021 has marked the centenary year for the now iconic 1921 model. Not only that, but its Overseas has become the must have steel sports watch alongside the Royal Oak and Nautilus. Since the discontinuation of the 5711 and 15202, the time only, 42mm steel Overseas has seen waitlist explode in length. But we are of course here to discuss the wonderful 1921. So, a little background on Vacheron to kick things off. The Genevois watchmaker Jean-Mark Vacheron founded the company in 1755 at just 24 years of age (he must have weathered his fair share of storms over the years - how many businesses make it through 5 years today). His ambition was to create timepieces that would stand out for their elegance and quality. In 1785, Vacheron's son Abraham took over the company, which survived the French Revolution, among other economic crises. By 1814, third-generation watchmaker Jacques Barthelemy Vacheron was leading the company, but Vacheron realized that he needed a partner if the company was to survive. It wasn’t until 1819 when Francois Constantin, became a partner in the firm. From that point forward, it was "Vacheron & Constantin”.
The 1921 is a rare and unusual watch. You either love it or hate it (as all good design should be). Few will know that Vacheron Constantin did produce a similar looking watch first watch in 1919 which had the crown to the left of the lugs. It was a run of twelve pieces originally intended for the American market but later made available more widely. Vacheron then chose to re-issue the later American 21 with the crown to the right of the lugs in a run of twelve pieces sold in the US between 1921 and 1931. Only later in 2008 did Vacheron re-issue the model as part of it’s ‘Historiques Collection’.
One of the fascinating elements of the 1921 is that it is generally accepted as a drivers watch, and while that may be true, there is another school of thought is that these watches actually were based on the watches American soldiers made for themselves in the trenches during the Great war - with pocket watches strapped on their wrists and turned to the side to accommodate the trap. Either way – it’s a cool back story.
2021 saw several variations on the 1921 launched, with a pair of white-gold models in 36.5mm and 40mm (which we have here), and a special limited-edition platinum 40mm version for Vacheron Constantin's Collection Excellence Platine. In the past we have also seen yellow gold variations and even perpetual calendars. The 1921 case has been compared to the Panerai Radiomir – it is after cushion shaped, but it is far more refined and elegant. The lugs have a beautiful downward taper, with a ball on either side to create the illusion of holding the spring bars in place. The entire case itself is polished and the crown delicately placed to the right with the Maltese cross we know from the brands logo on top. Inside is the Vacheron designed and delivered 4400 cal, hand wound and supremely well finished as well as accurate.
The Value Proposition
So, the white gold 1921 is priced at $36,800. Question is, what does it go head-to-head with at that level? For $30,000 you could get a classic Calatrava, the reference 6119R from Patek. It is 39mm in rose gold, and just 1mm shy of the 1921 at 40mm. Will it hold its value better? Possibly? But Vacheron are certainly on the march in pre-owned prices and certainly at auction for its vintage designs. Something a little sportier, think the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms 45mm in red gold which comes in at $35,800. Ok, not a direct comparison, but you see where we are going. And finally, an off the beaten path kicker might be a RESSENCE Type5BB for $35,800.
Vacheron’s tag line is “classic with a twist”. There really isn’t a model it produces that encapsulates that messaging more. While it looks formal and certainly elegant, it is in fact a tool watch at hard – possibly one of the very first. And in that regard, it is this wonderful contradiction. Haute horology that deserves to be worn and beaten up. With Vacheron producing less than 20k watches a year (let’s not forget Rolex are believed to be around 1 million!) – you are unlikely to ever see one in the wild. If you are into movements, you will get a kick out of the view into the caseback and the fine edges of the hand wound 4400 cal. If you are into design – you won’t see anything else like it! and if you are coming at it from a historical standpoint, as the name suggests – you won’t be disappointed!
If you would like to see more of the Historiques 1921 American, be sure to check out our full video review here.