“Classic with a Twist” in Shanghai: An exhibition celebrating Vacheron Constantin’s creativity and boldness at the dawn of the 20th century
- VAC_CWAT_Exhib_Set4_10983Cushion shape, 18K yellow gold with white enamel dial with 11 black enameled Arabic numerals, small second at 6 o'clock, external ""railroad"" minute track 1921
- VAC_CWAT_Exhib_Set4_11032Gentleman's wristwatch 18K yellow gold, enamel dial offset 45° to the right This cushion-shaped model, with crown set at 1 o’clock, is part of a small series manufactured in the 1920s. A variation of this model with the crown on the left-hand side also exists. The dial position enables fast and discreet reading of the time.
- This year, Vacheron Constantin is celebrating the 100th anniversary of the American 1921 watch, a timepiece that has become a much-loved icon among collectors.
- The "Classic with a twist" exhibition pays tribute to a spirit in which technique and style converse in subtle harmony between the conventional and the atypical.
- Exhibition dates: May 8th – Jun 16th, 2021
- Venue: Vacheron Constantin Mansion, No. 796 Huai Hai Road Middle, Shanghai
May 8th, Shanghai - On the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the American 1921 watch, the "Classic with a twist" exhibition celebrates the creative freedom of Vacheron Constantin at the dawn of the 20th century. From the 1910s to the 1930s, Vacheron Constantin was particularly renowned for its extraordinary artistic effervescence. The wide range of different-shaped ‘form’ cases and special displays on show in this exhibition reflects an exciting chapter in the history of Vacheron Constantin.
"Classic with a twist" is first and foremost a story of freedom, the tale of a singular style that emerged in the context of the Roaring Twenties and the Art Deco movement through a daring variety of shapes, designs and geometrical figures: atypical shapes, strict squares and surprising lozenges, elegant cushions, as well as a few examples of special displays and off-centre indications. The "Classic with a twist" exhibition bears witness to the creative energy expended by Vacheron Constantin between 1910 and the end of the 1930s: an exhilarating period conducive to making daring moves, flouting convention and opening up to all kinds of stylistic fancies.
Considered an exclusively feminine accessory at the end of the 19th century, it was at the turn of the 20th century that the wristwatch began to conquer the hearts of men, won over by the functionality and comfort of keeping track of time on their wrists. True to its pioneering spirit, Vacheron Constantin showed an early awareness of the evolution in the art of wearing a watch by creating – in 1889 already – a ladies' model on a bangle-type bracelet, probably the oldest wristwatch in the company's heritage known to date. Thanks to the considerable progress made in the miniaturisation of its movements, Vacheron Constantin freely expanded its field of creative expression through an incredible variety of avant-garde designs. Tonneau (barrel), lozenge, rectangle, cushion, oval, curved or cambered silhouettes: through the choice of pieces on display, "Classic with a twist" reminds us that all the iconic case shapes we know today were created between the 1910s and 1920s.
Quintessence of an era
The stylistic abundance of the "Classic with a twist" exhibition illustrates Vacheron Constantin's ability to capture the spirit of the times and the customs of its era. Above and beyond watchmaking, the exhibition reflects a way of life, the societal changes taking place at the dawn of the 20th century, as well as the evolving tastes and trends in clothing. It tells the story of the Roaring Twenties, the new-found sense of freedom and lightness, the artistic effervescence, the good life and the ebullient cultural world. It also traces the rise of the Art Deco movement and the appeal of a geometrical aesthetic that emerged in architecture as well as in art and watchmaking. Finally, it evokes the new spirit taking hold of Europe and the United States, a market in which Vacheron Constantin had developed strong ties from the outset, having been present there since 1832.
It was within this euphoric context that the Manufacture was one of the first to adopt the cushion shape. Between 1919 and 1921, it produced a few models intended exclusively for the American market. With its avant-garde design consisting of a cushion-shaped case, an atypical diagonal display and an offset crown, this rare timepiece particularly sought-after among collectors is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. Unveiled on the occasion of the "Classic with a twist" exhibition, this original model is one of the most striking examples of the creative energy that the Manufacture has demonstrated throughout its existence.
An American legend
Adopted by dandy drivers probably drawn to the possibility of reading the time diagonally without having to let go of the typically large steering wheel of 1920s cars, this legendary watch was also much appreciated by progressive personalities of the time. Among them was Reverend Samuel Parkes-Cadman. A clergyman and newspaper writer renowned for his fight for racial equality and against anti-Semitism, he was also one of the first to use radio to broadcast his sermons to millions of listeners. While on holiday in Montreux, he acquired two of the watches produced at the time, one with luminescent numerals and the other with black enamel Arabic numerals. This original model is displayed in the "Classic with a twist" exhibition and is one of the most striking examples of the creative energy that the Maison has demonstrated throughout its existence, particularly at the dawn of the 20th century.
Cushion-shaped watch in in 18K yellow gold, finely grained satin-brushed silver-toned dial, Ref. 11521 – 1919
True to its pioneering spirit, Vacheron Constantin was one of the first watchmakers to dare to shake up convention by devising a multitude of case shapes suited to the art of wearing a watch on the wrist. The cushion shape appeared in the Manufacture's production as early as 1919, as shown by this elegantly understated model featuring a cushion-shaped case in 18K yellow gold framing a vertical satin-brushed silver-toned dial. The classic Arabic numerals and outer minute track are in black enamel.
Cushion-shaped watch in 18K yellow gold, white enamel dial, Ref. 10983 – 1921
Based on a daring cushion-shaped case in 18K yellow gold, Vacheron Constantin enjoyed the freedom of exploring a wealth of stylistic variations designed to make a perfect match with the curves of both women's and men's wrists. Produced in 1921, this 18K yellow gold watch framing a white enamel dial takes on a jewel-like appearance, extended by a flowing yellow gold bracelet.
Cushion-shaped watch in 18K yellow gold, gilded champagne-coloured dial, Ref. 11625 – 1928
Neither square, nor rectangular, nor round, the cushion-type case derives its atypical shape from all these geometric figures and appears with its curved lines, that Vacheron Constantin began interpreting in many different ways from 1919 onwards. In 1928, the Manufacture reinterpreted it in through this 18K yellow gold model, featuring a gilded champagne-coloured dial, black enamelled Arabic numerals and blued steel "œil de perdrix" hands.
Cushion-shaped watch in 18K yellow gold, crown between 1 and 2 o’clock, Ref. 11032 – 1919
Between 1919 and 1921, Vacheron Constantin produced two series of six cushion-shaped watches with diagonally offset dials and offset crowns. These now iconic watches feature a number of aesthetic differences depending on production year: luminescent or black enamel Arabic numerals, screw-on or soldered lugs, and a crown positioned on the right or left. On this 1919 yellow gold timepiece powered by the RA’’’11 Nouveau Amérique calibre, the crown is positioned on the right, in line with the upper part of the dial punctuated by wide luminescent numerals.
Tortoise-shaped wristwatch in 18K yellow gold, Ref. 10583 – 1926
The Vacheron Constantin archives reveal that the "Tortoise" shape appeared circa 1925. This refined, modern and elegant shape proved an immediate success. “Tortoise” watches generally feature the characteristic aesthetic codes of the Manufacture, such as the semi-circular signature and the flame-blued hands, as illustrated by this 1926 model in 18K yellow gold.
Square-shaped watch in 18K yellow and white gold, Ref. 10087 – 1927
In the 1910s, the aesthetic break with the traditional round pocket watch was illustrated by the development of the square or rectangular wristwatch. This emergence of this new geometry was not accidental, since the fields of industry, art and architecture were all already using this innovative shape. Produced in 1927, this square watch in 18K yellow and white gold with a vertical satin-brushed silver-toned dial perfectly reflects this trend.
Round two-tone pocket watch in 18K yellow and white gold, Ref. 11194 – 1929
During the 1920s, Vacheron Constantin also expressed the scope of its creativity through special displays that showcase the encounter between aesthetics and horological sophistication. This 1929 Art Deco pocket watch is distinguished by the use of an "in-line" date display with apertures at 9 and 3 o'clock. To adorn this "American calendar", Vacheron Constantin chose a two-tone case in 18K yellow and white gold, whose modern styling makes a striking contrast with the codes of the previous century.
Round two-tone pocket watch in 18K yellow and white gold, Ref. 11626 – 1929
This two-tone pocket watch in 18K yellow and white gold that once belonged to the Serbian royal family is characterised by a pure, restrained design. Produced in 1929, this model is distinguished primarily by the originality of its display, with the black enamelled hours appearing in a central aperture while the minutes move past a semi-circular opening.
Marking the 100th anniversary of the Historiques American 1921 watch, the "Classic with a twist" exhibition celebrates the creativity and boldness of Vacheron Constantin at the dawn of the 20th century. Through a selection of avant-garde historical pieces, from special-shaped ‘form’ watches to original displays, this exhibition mirrors an era marked by the carefree spirit of the Roaring Twenties and the aesthetic influence of the Art Deco movement. From the 1910s to the 1930s, from Geneva to the United States, it recounts the tastes of the time and the evolution in the art of wearing a watch. A pivotal period that Vacheron Constantin was able to accompany by developing an unexpected aesthetic vocabulary in which technique and style converse in subtle harmony between the conventional and the atypical.