In this year’s Best of the Best, we continue to honour the brands and people who have continued to create covetable products, even in the midst of a global pandemic. Here, we have Vacheron Constantin, the best of all heritage tributes
How do you celebrate the centennial of your most legendary model? In Vacheron Constantin’s case, no update was necessary. Although the 266-year-old watchmaker did release versions of its coveted American 1921 model in new sizing and case materials this year, the piece de resistance is its literal one-of-a-kind recreation of the Roaring Twenties original. Not only the method of craftsmanship but also every component, save for the strap, bridges and plates, has been made exactly the way it would have been a century ago.
It took in-house specialists from the heritage and restoration department 15 months to recreate the timepiece from scratch. Of the 118 calibre components, including everything from the hands, gear train, wheels and hair- spring to the balance and pinions, all were old new-condition ’20s stock parts stored away in the archive since the dawn of the American 1921’s creation. “Some of them were already in finished condition and some of them were raw. We had to finish them by hand,” says Christian Selmoni, Vacheron Constantin’s heritage and style director.
The 16 original ruby jewel bearings proved an extra challenge. “Setting jewels in the ’20s was an entirely different process than today. They were set like diamonds and we had no record of how to do it, so it required a lot of trials,” explains Selmoni.
For the practice runs, five watchmaking kits consisting of plates and bridges (the only parts manufactured on modern CNC machines) were created to learn the process. Four out of five were used before the antique method was mastered.
From the single Côtes de Genève finishing (not done at the house since the ’30s) to the 31.5mm 18-carat yellow-gold case and grand feu enamel dial and hour markers, everything (save for the strap, bridges and plates) required the use of era- appropriate machines and, in some instances, tools that had to be recreated by hand.
The extraordinary handmade piece is on display this month at Vacheron Constantin’s new flagship on Fifth Avenue in New York City. As of press time, the company says it hasn’t yet decided if it will offer the watch for sale, but it wouldn’t hurt to enquire. It will be the only one of its kind. Of the 12 first-series pieces from 1919 and the 24 second-series pieces from 1921, Selmoni estimates, there may be only 10 early models still in existence (three of which belong to the company’s private collection), so it would be a crown jewel in any vault. “The last time I saw an original American 1921 at auction was in 2005, and I still remember the estimate, which was around US$10,000 (S$13,575),” says Selmoni. “Quite a bargain these days!” This one, should it be sold, will likely come at an astronomical price.