Why Vacheron Constantin’s Overseas Is The Connoisseur’s Watch
How the grande maison’s 1970s 222 line became the high-concept luxury sports watch for those in the know
If you have dipped even the smallest of toes into the world of watch design, you will be familiar with the name of Mr Gérald Genta. The closest thing horology has to a rock-star designer, Mr Genta is credited with turning entrenched concepts of luxury on their heads when, in 1972, he designed his magnum opus, the Royal Oak, for Audemars Piguet. Mr Genta went on to produce the Nautilus for Patek Philippe (famously sketched on the back of a napkin) and the IWC Schaffhausen Ingenieur SL Jumbo as well as the Rolex Oysterquartz.
Within five short years, the sports-luxe category had been magicked out of thin air. Born of demand from the Italian market, and forged in a climate of changing tastes, as automotive and fashion designers abandoned the fluid curves of the 1960s for angular and geometric forms, these new steel sports watches quickly became icons of their time.
But what of Vacheron Constantin? The third of the “Big Three” grandes maisons of watchmaking (and the equal of Patek Philippe and Audemars Piguet in terms of both quality and exclusivity) surely wasn’t going to be left behind? Of course not, and in 1977, it launched something called the 222, an integrated bracelet design notable for its trapezoid centre links, strongly sloping “shoulders” and toothed bezel, together with the interplay of brushed and polished textures that Mr Genta had established as core parts of the sports-luxe DNA. Named for the 222nd anniversary of the company, it used the same movement as both the Royal Oak and Nautilus (a movement made by Jaeger-LeCoultre, as it happens).
So much of a piece with its rivals was it that for decades it was assumed that Mr Genta was the man responsible (record-keeping wasn’t what it is today, and designers not accorded much, if any, public recognition). It was established a couple of years ago, however, that the creator was in fact Mr Jörg Hysek, who went on to become one of the most influential watch designers of the 1990s, working for everyone from Cartier to TAG Heuer and Seiko. As for Mr Genta himself, he professed to be “flattered” at the assumption he was also the father of the Overseas.
In 1996, the 222 – which was only ever produced in tiny numbers; fewer than 750 are thought to exist – was reborn as the Overseas, which saw the adoption of Vacheron Constantin’s signature Maltese cross logo as the basis for the bezel design. Subsequent reiterations in 2004 and 2016 have honed the shape further still and added a wider variety of strap choices and sizes.
Today, at a time when the sports-luxe watch’s star could not be higher – fuelled in large part by the watch-buying community’s apathy towards simple round watches from the top-tier brands, as well as the general enamourment with all things 1970s – the Overseas is available with a wider range of complications and aesthetic configurations than any of its rivals. And in terms of finishing and engineering, it stands comparison with any other; this being Vacheron Constantin, all movements are certified with the Poinçon de Genève seal of quality.
These are strengths visible to anyone, of course. But what makes it the luxury sports watch of the nonconformist is what you don’t immediately see – a design story that’s still only understood by connoisseurs. Mr Hysek will most likely never receive the rapture reserved for Mr Gérald Genta, but even among those who know of him, the fact that he designed the forefather of the Overseas remains a bit of a secret. That kind of “in-the-know” detail sets the Overseas aside from its peers.
Where the modern-day Overseas really shines is as a vehicle for some of Vacheron Constantin’s finest high-concept watchmaking, from the perpetual calendar to the Tourbillon, newly released this January, with a vivid blue dial. Tourbillon watches are more widespread than they once were, but Vacheron Constantin makes some of the most impressive in the business, crowned by the distinctive Maltese cross-shaped tourbillon cage and all finished to the Poinçon de Genève’s exacting specifications.
THE GOLD STANDARD
No watch collection is complete without a perpetual calendar, a complication that keeps track of days, weeks, months and even leap years. A feat of ingenuity packaged in an 18-karat rose-gold case, Vacheron Constantin’s Overseas Perpetual Calendar Ultra Slim also happens to be exceptionally versatile on the wrist. With a blue alligator strap, it’s boardroom-ready; switch it onto a blue rubber strap before you head to the beach.