Fellows, Birmingham, January 31 2017
Sold for £34,720
There are few of us (if any) writing about watches who could honestly claim never to have accepted as fact the stories which are often spun to us by the brands in their attempts to glean coverage for their latest creations. After all, a watch without some sort of tale attached can be a very dull thing indeed.
So, when Vacheron Constantin unveiled a modern day take on its American 1921 model in 2009 I – and plenty of others – dutifully recounted the official story of how the original had been made 88 years previously, specifically with drivers in mind. The dial, we were told, was rotated 90 degrees within the case and the winding crown set at the 12 o’clock position in order to make the watch easier to read by early automobilists wrestling with the bucking steering wheels of pioneer cars on rough roads.
As stories go, it seemed perfectly plausible to me (and still does) – but shortly before Fellows’ January sale Adrian Hailwood, head of the firm’s watch department, called me up to enthusiastically voice his thoughts on the subject after consigning for auction an original American 1921 from, er, 1921.
Having experimented with wearing the watch and grasping an imaginary steering wheel, Hailwood concluded that the car connection was somewhat implausible as the canted dial and oddly-placed winding crown actually made it harder to read and use than with a conventional set-up. It was far more likely, he decided, that it was simply inspired by U.S. trench watches which, in order to fulfil demand during World War One, were made using converted Lepine fob watch movements.
Given that a mere dozen examples of the watch are thought to have been made in a decade of production, and Hailwood’s theory seems to make sense – although I still rather like the idea of a be-goggled driver from the jazz age glancing down at his off-centre Vacheron as his sporty “raceabout” threw-up rooster tails of dirt.
In summary: A rarer watch than many people probably realised, and one with an intriguing story behind its existence. A quintessential example of Art deco horology.