“Classic with a Twist” is the year’s theme for Vacheron Constantin. The “twist” is obvious in several of the brand’s new releases, including the 1921 Collection Excellence Platine and Égérie for ladies, which were launched at the virtual watch fair Watches & Wonders. Interestingly, the launch also provided a glimpse of a few equally quirky watches from Vacheron Constantin’s vast archive.
Now those historical gems have been transformed from virtual to tangible with an exhibition in Singapore that delves into the form watches that Vacheron Constantin produced in the early- to mid-20th century. Intriguing, unorthodox, and pretty, the dozen or so watches are on show from now until August 26 2021.
Here’s a roundup of highlights from the Singapore exhibition.
Show and service
The Singapore event is one of several Classic with a Twist exhibitions taking place around the world over the year. Another is happening simultaneously in Vacheron Constantin’s recently-opened boutique in New York City, where it’ll run until November 2021.
But unique to the Singapore event is a complimentary servicing for any American 1921, the distinctive wristwatch that’s celebrating its centenary this year – Vacheron Constantin even created a near-exact replica created with vintage parts for the occasion. The overhaul offer is open to any American 1921 wristwatch owned locally, including examples with expired warranties.
Stretched Art Deco
The wristwatches on show date from the threes decades of the 1910s to the 1930s. It was an era when wristwatches – which had been originally conceived as an accessory for ladies – started to evolve into a timepiece for men. The result a period of diverse, adventurous design during which watchmakers experimented with myriad case forms as they transitioned from the round form of a pocket watch to virtually any shape.
Those decades also gave birth to some of the most iconic form watches ever, most notably Cartier’s creations like the Tank and Santos. While Cartier remains synonymous with those designs, many of which remain in production, Vacheron Constantin has only a handful of form watches in its catalogue today, which makes the historical watches on show even more special.
A best-of-show is unquestionably the ref. 11551 from 1918. Essentially a tonneau case made more angular – pinched at the ends and stretched in the middle – the watch is an elongated lozenge.
Interestingly, the flamboyant style extends beyond the case. Examine the dial up close and the numerals reveal themselves to be stretched in an echo of the case shape, while being printed in blue, a dash of colour that complements the case. When this watch was fresh and new in 1918, the combination of blue on a silver dial along with a yellow gold case must have been spectacular.
Compact Art Deco
Next up is a pair with even fancier cases. More unusual is the ref. 10754 from 1926 that has a cushion case resembling a lucky four-leaf clover, giving rise to the nickname “La Vogue”, French for “the fashionable”. Notably, the brand logo is arranged in an arc to fit the small dial, a detail also found in other watches but particularly useful here as it echoes the whimsical style of the case.
Many of the watches on show featured fired enamel on the dial or case, reflecting the artisans; craftsmanship that was once common in dial making. The Arabic numerals on the dial of the ref. 10754 are not printed but are instead rendered in champleve enamel – the markings were engraved before being filled with enamel paste and fired in an oven, creating indelible markings in relief that give the dial a little bit more depth.
While the majority of watches in the exhibition are time-only, the show also includes several examples with complicated movements within a cushion case.
First up is a 1920s doctor’s watch, the mono-pusher chronograph ref. 11059 with a pulsometer dial. Like many early chronograph watches, it’s a tiny watch with even tinier twin sub-dials, which can almost pass as an enlarged hour markers.
If this looks familiar, it’s because this very watch inspired the modern-day Harmony Chronograph, the limited edition made to celebrate the brand’s 260th anniversary in 2015.
But the most exquisite is arguably the ref. 11243 minute repeater. This watch, and also the chronograph above, is historically significant for being an early example of complications successfully miniaturised in order to fit into wristwatch cases, which were significantly smaller than pocket watch at the time. Remember that the typical diameter of a man’s wristwatch in the early 20th century was a mere 30 mm or so.
But the minute repeater is not just a staid, historical artefact – it is a beautiful watch. Even its most minor details were thoughtfully designed, ranging from the Breguet hands and numerals to the the minute track fashioned from pink gold spheres – along with the pink gold minute-repeater slide to match the dial.
Classic with a Twist
August 8 to August 26, 2021
Open daily 10:30 am-9:30 pm
Vacheron Constantin ION Orchard Boutique
2 Orchard Turn
#02-07 Singapore 238801
For more, visit vacheron-constantin.com.
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