Month: February 2021

The ‘old Driver’ In The Watchmaking Industry? The Real Story Of Vacheron Constantin American 1921

With its eccentric dial, Vacheron Constantin American 1921 is often called the ‘Drivers’ Watch’, but is there any evidence to prove that this is its original intention? A recent auction of Vacheron Constantin’s antique wrists has prompted Adrian Hailwood of Fellows & Sons to make up their minds to explore the story behind the so-called ‘driver’s watch’.

Vacheron Constantin American 1921 antique watch

   Vacheron Constantin’s American 1921 is rare and eccentric. In 2008, it was re-interpreted as part of the Historic Masterpiece series. The difference between the modern Vacheron Constantin American 1921 and the antique Vacheron Constantin American 1921 lies in the sub-second dial layout-the former uses a modern movement, the sub-second dial is set at 3 o’clock and is at right angles to the crown; the latter is a sub-second dial. Set at 6 o’clock, just opposite the crown.
   The first Vacheron Constantin watches of this type were produced in 1919 with the crown on the left lug. According to relevant literature, this batch of watches was originally limited to 12 pieces and was exclusively for the US market, but the scope of the watch was later expanded. This is understandable. If the direction of the dial is taken into consideration, when it is difficult to read with the left hand, it seems appropriate to wear it only with the right hand. Perhaps there are not enough lefties in the United States to absorb the initial production, which means that the watch must seek other markets. Later, Vacheron Constantin chose to reissue American 1921. This time the crown is set on the right lug, and it is also limited to 12 pieces. It was put on the American market from 1921 to 1931.

Vacheron Constantin Historiques historical masterpiece American 1921 modern watch

   I believe that when you see this type of watch, a question pops up in your mind immediately: why the crown should be offset? The usual answer is that this is a ‘driver’s watch’, which makes it easier to read the dial information when holding the steering wheel. This is an attractive design that often repeats itself, as is Cartier Tank asymmetric watch. But I must admit that I do not believe the answer to the so-called ‘driver’s watch’.
   The ‘driver’s watch’ does exist, usually referring to the curved watch originally produced by the American brand Gotham (also used by brands such as Jaeger-LeCoultre). When normally worn, the display dial is located on the side of the wrist. After holding the steering wheel, the display dial turns into Straight up. Later, Girard Perregaux Casquette, Bulova Computron, Riehl Syncronar, Amida Digitrend, and MB & F HM5 On the Road Again watches, which have been re-released in recent years, have adopted this design. These ‘side-view’ watches make it easier for the driver to read time information, but not the Vacheron Constantin American 1921.

Waltham Offset Crown Watch

   Exploring the historical background of these offset watches, we can see that Vacheron Constantin is not the first brand to produce such watches. The origin of offset watches is the United States, influenced by the driving force behind the production of more watches before the First World War. According to Stan Czubernat, an expert on Trench Watch and the author of the Elgin Trench Watch and the Waltham Trench Watch, ‘the first round case of the offset crown was seen around 1914 … offset after 3 years The crown-cushion case comes out. ‘
    ‘During the First World War, the movements produced in the United States were basically divided into two categories: Savonette and Lépine, with the crown set at 3 o’clock ( (Traditional configuration), the latter crown is set at 12 o’clock (offset crown configuration). Because of the outbreak of war, trench watches are generally in short supply and in great demand. I believe that when the United States finally entered the war in 1917, most American watches Case makers began to increase the production of offset crown cases to meet actual demand. Originally the movement manufacturers had sufficient stock of open case movements, so when the case manufacturers began to produce more offset crown watches, The strong demand for watches can be more easily met. ‘

Elgin Offset Crown Watch

   Basically, early watches were mostly equipped with pocket watch movements, of which Savonette movements were relatively rare, because hunting watch cases were more masculine and larger in size. For women, the smaller watch (Fob Watch) uses a Lépine movement and an offset crown case. Nine case manufacturers produce circular offset cases, and three other case manufacturers produce pillow-shaped offset cases, mainly supplying Elgin and Waltham. The final output is trench watches, with ‘driving’ and ‘drivers’ ‘Nothing.
   Speaking about this issue, Stan Czubernat said: ‘I think the design of the offset crown has nothing to do with ‘driving.” In the fall of 1913, Elgin released the company’s first male watch and chose a racer as the spokesperson. They are Louis Disbrow and Endicott. In a print ad, two people drive a car and wear an Elgin watch.

Elgin watch print ads

   In these advertisements, we do not see the offset crown watch; instead, the watches in the advertisement have the traditional configuration, the crown is set at 3 o’clock. In September 1915, Elgin launched a new advertisement. The advertisement image was a gentleman driving a car and wearing a watch. The watch still uses the traditional configuration. As far as I know, in the United States during World War I, there were no advertisements for driving cars and wearing offset crown watches. Even when the scope was expanded to include print ads featuring pilots during the First World War, the conclusions were generally the same.
   If the birthplaces of offset crowns were not initially regarded as ‘driver’s watches’, then we can safely assume that they are indeed not. On the contrary, it is very likely that an American soldier arrived in Europe in 1917 wearing a pillow-shaped offset trench watch. A few years later, Vacheron Constantin upgraded this design to the luxury watch level and sold it back to the United States. Of course, the lépine style pocket watch was applied. Movement, this is a creative choice.
   Back in history, the original is clear, all this does not detract from the rare characteristics and charming charm of Vacheron Constantin American 1921. The creative use of the pillow-shaped offset case design, which has been transformed into a unique brand logo, has been circulated forever, and even re-interpreted after 87 years. It is all the rage in the world, and the audacity and vision of Vacheron Constantin are amazing. Vacheron Constantin American 1921 is not only scarce in production and elegant in appearance, it is also eye-catching and worthy of possession.