American 1921 Pièce Unique

The 100 years challenge

American 1921 Piece Unique

A few months ago, we offered you an article about the story of the Vacheron Constantin’s American 1921.

You know our interest in this piece and you can easily imagine our enthusiasm when we heard that the Restoration workshop and the Heritage department were collaborating to celebrate the centenary of this piece.

Let us take you on this adventure!

A century-old piece for model

Let us travel back to the roaring twenties, more precisely in 1021 in the United States. It’s during this year that the wristwatch is born. Inspired by the ardor and creativity of these years, the watch with this particular case and that different dial was presented to the world. That novelty was a little revolution at the time. In the early 20th century, the pocket watch was standard with a male wardrobe composed only by these as jewels for men, while wristwatches were already par of women’s fashion.

Of the 24 pieces produced between 1921 and 1931, there’s only one of them in the Vacheron Constantin’s Museum. It’s on that same piece and thanks to the brand’s archives, that the teams from the Heritage department and Restoration workshop were able to work to achieve their project.

Dans les archives de Vacheron Constantin
An example of what we can find at Vacheron Constantin

The longevity of the brand, 266 years old in 2021, gives the brand an expertise and know-how that its teams protect and value.

More precisely, there are no less than 800 machines tools, workbenches and watchmaking tools. There are also no less than 420 meters of shelf space that house the manufacturing and accounting records, as well as all the correspondence between the company’s associates as well as between suppliers and clients.

It’s on this ensemble that the teams are working to enhance the heritage, but also to draw inspiration for the creation of future collections.

And today, they have mobilized this entire ensemble to take up a challenge: to reproduce the original model of the American 1921 identically.

Cadran émail grand feu
The work of the grand feu enamel dial

Challenges for the Restoration workshop and Heritage department

To carry out this project, it is necessary to combine the approach of the historian by analyzing all the watch history and by finding all the documents relating to the part which would allow the workshop of Restoration to advance in their task. In addition to this, a scientific study of the piece must be conducted. It must be completely disassembled, and the 115 elements of the 11 lignes Nouveau caliber studied in great detail.

If the project was limited to the reproduction of the original piece, the challenge would not have been very interesting. A simple dismantling of the calibre followed by a 3D modelling of the movement would have been enough. The numerically controlled machines and the production capacity of the brand would have been more than enough.

In order for the project to live up to the watch’s history, teams have revived some forgotten expertise, they have used old 1920’s machines and they have combined everything with today’s techniques so that this unique piece remains modern.

Machine à arrondir
Rounding machine

To shape identically the case, they used a fixed chisel from the late 19th century. A rounding machine from the second half of the 19th century was used to modify the profile of the teeth of the wheels and adjust their diameter. In addition, to drill the movement’s bottom plate, they used an 18th century upright drilling. If machines had to be created especially for this project, the different teams worked step by step. From understanding how to use the tools to the proper calibration of the components, with the design of the frame and the choice of the right gold (18k 3N yellow gold), every decision made was important. If a mistake was made, the project slowed down.

Here are the Pièce Unique’s technical characteristics:

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)
115 components
16 jewels

Indications: Hours, minutes Small seconds

Case: 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

Dial: White, Grand Feu enamel.
Blued steel open-tipped hands – blued in our workshops

Strap: 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.

Ressort spiral de l'American 1921
Installation of the Pièce Unique’s balance spring

My interest for this watch remains unchanged. Its twist does not leave me indifferent and an American 1921 will be part of my personal collection.

Now it’s up to you to tell us if you appreciate the work done by the Vacheron Constantin teams and if we have been able to arouse an interest in this watch.

The comments area is yours!