For those who are too young to remember, a casual/sports steel watch with a prestigious horological name just didn’t exist until about 35 years ago. But the 70s were not only the age of bellbottoms, flower power, experimental music and drugs, but for all WIS the arrival of the luxury sports watch filling the horologically famished sportsters (or those wanting to look as good on the slopes in Gstaad or on their yacht in Monte-Carlo as with a bespoke suit) with joy and gratitude. Its in 1977 that Vacheron Constantin launched its first official sports watch, the sleek chic 222 evolving into the Overseas via the 333 and Phidias. 2009 sees the arrival of a viciously cool new version of the Overseas in steel/titanium on (finally) a strap.
click on scans for larger view
During this era we can’t really talk about sports watches from Vacheron Constantin but the brand did produce steel watches with a rather non conventional look which today could be considered as sporty. The first being an extremely rare model from 1933 with a screwed back and bezel for water resistance. The question remains if this piece inspired the 222 and the Overseas, but a certain family resemblance cannot be denied.
In 1975 Vacheron Constantin took a step in the direction of a sports/leisure model with the introduction of the reference 2215 or 42001 (reference numbers changed along the way), its originality residing in the fact that it was of the lineage of the prestigious Chronometre Royal models but this time in a steel or gold rectangular case and integrated matching bracelet. This model was produced for a very short time and in very low numbers and was certainly a first trial before the launch of, in my opinion, the coolest leisure watch of the 70s: ladies and gentlemen - the 222.
|2215 or 42001|
Vacheron Constantin had been toying with the idea of a sporty luxury watch for some time but it was in 1977 that the brand officially launched a sleek, cool masculine watch that would rapidly become an icon for the brand and later the inspirator of the Overseas. The 222 was launched in celebration of Vacheron Constantin’s – you guessed it – 222nd anniversary.
|scan courtesy of Leonardo|
Contrary to popular belief it is not Gerald Genta but young design maverick Jorg Hysek who is responsible for the 222’s disruptive design.
Documentation from the time states “Vacheron Constantin has introduced a functional, exclusive model to commemorate its own age. This code name masks a heart of gold: a calibre 1121 movement, driven by its rotor in 21k gold, an extra thin self winding design with shock protection. Born from the heart of the matter, noblest steel or purest gold, the 222 is entirely crafted by hand. Exclusive in form and function, it is designed for those who confront realities of today”. The said “realities of today” most probably being the difficulty of pronouncing Caipiriñha correctly while sunbathing on Copacabana beach with some gorgeous Giselle Bundchen look alikes in skimpy bikinis near…but I’m getting off topic…
The 222 was produced in 3 variations, steel, gold/steel and all gold and in 2 case sizes (38mm and 34mm in quartz). Its case was somewhat tonneau shaped with a clever one piece construction opened by a screwed in porthole type fluted bezel giving it a 120m water resistance. The 222 was available only with an integrated bracelet of the same metal as the case.
scans courtesy of Leonardo
|mono bloc case||bezzel||dial|
From a purely aesthetical point of view it seems that Hysek got inspiration of the serrated bezel from the ref 4709 of 1951. The case furthermore included a protective antimagnetic screen, a rather unusual feature for the period.
An extremely rare rectangular version directly inspired by the Chronometre Royal from 1975 also existed even though I have never seen one and find less appealing.
Movement wise the 222 housed what many consider as one of the best and most reliable thin automatic calibres: cal 1120 developed by Jaeger LeCoultre as the caliber 920 in 1967 for exclusive joint use by Audemars Piguet and Vacheron Constantin (JLC never used this movement itself). Interestingly the Big Three as Vacheron Constantin, Audemars Piguet and Patek Philippe are known used the same ebauche for their leisure/sports models launched in the 70s (respectively the Royal Oak, 222 and Nautilus). Patek switching to its cal 335 sometime in the mid 80s).
When it comes to watches it is said that if the model is a success in Italy then it will be a success elsewhere and the 222 became an instant hit with the design savvy Italian cognoscenti and still today is considered as a design classic among the Italian and European collectors.
Unfortunately the 222 (made in about 500 pieces during its 7 year career) was rapidly discontinued and replaced in 1984 by a more…how should I put it...80s looking timepiece which will certainly not go down in the annals of successful designs (but then what can we expect from a decade having given us fuchsia leggings, padded shoulders and Pia Zadora?): the 333 (seems that little energy was wasted in finding the name as well). An octagonal case shape with integrated bracelet (quite similar to that of the 222) existing in either steel, gold or steel/gold. Furthermore the sporty and disruptive design of the 222 was eased out with the 333 for a more urban look. The quartz version housed the caliber 1012 and the automatic version the cal 1124. The 333 was made in less than 550 pieces for the lady’s model and less than 650 for the men’s.
The 333 then evolved in to the Phidias in 1989, existing in white or yellow gold or in steel/gold with an integrated bracelet. Its round case and bezel gave the Phidias a much more classical look breaking the link to the sportier look of the 222 and 333. The Phidias existed in different variations such as a time only with date using a Piguet based cal 1130, a chronograph using calibre 1136 and a world time with calibre 1180. An extremely original Chronometre Royal version housing the manual wind cal 1126 was also available making it the second and last sports related Chronometre Royal model. This latest piece was an update of the original Phidias model with a larger case size, crown protectors and a guilloche dial.
However the short lived 333 and Phidias gave way in 1996 to a real Vacheron Constantin sports watch, a direct evolution of the 222 and what has become over time a true icon for the brand: The Overseas.
“With time the Overseas has become symbolic of Vacheron Constantin, but I don’t define it as a sports watch, but rather a casual / leisure watch. A sports watch is made for sports, the Overseas of course can be worn during sport activities but it is a discreet model which can be worn during week ends, leisure periods and fit for every day use” says brand CEO Charly Torres.
Around end of 1994 it was decided to create a sports / chic watch directly getting its design cues from the 222 launched almost 20 years before: a tonneau shaped case with a round serrated bezel this time in the form of a broken Maltese cross. The design team was composed of Dino Modolo, independent designer in charge of many Vacheron Condtantin designs of the time and Vincent Kaufmann a young inhouse designer today heading the VC design team. First was launched the time only model housing cal 1310 based on GP calibre 3100 in a 37mm case (also a 35mm model as well as a lady’s 24mm model was also launched) including an extremely rare left hand version made in only 3 pieces, followed in 1999 by the chronograph housing the Piguet based automatic calibre 1137 based on the Piguet calibre 1185 specially modified to add a big date mechanism. “The success of the Overseas went beyond our expectations” says Christian Selmoni Marketing Product and Product Development Director.
|prototype with blue and black dial|
The only issue with the 1st generation of the Overseas was the very tense bracelet which often caught the hairs on the arms. As requested by many collectors the design team at Vacheron Constantin started working on an evolution of the Overseas with the specification of creating a new bracelet having the advantage of not shaving the hairs off the arm! The new Overseas was a beefed up version of the original model with a more aggressive look with identifiable codes: the Maltese Cross bezel and bracelet as well as a Maltese cross inspired guilloche dial. The bracelet was a true work of craftsmanship and art by itself: a bracelet which integrated the brand’s symbolic Maltese cross with brushed and polished angles for the most impressive effect. The Overseas 2 was thus launched in 2004 and as Mr. Torres says, it has become symbolic of the brand.
The original Overseas models were muscled up: a time only and a chronograph both in 42mm cases. These models were no longer certified as chronometers but came with an antimagnetic protection. The reason for the abandon of the chronometer status is explained by Christian Selmoni “at the time we were already thinking of relaunching a Chronometre Royal and wanted to reserve the COSC certification only for this model”.
Furthermore Vacheron Constantin switched to the cal 1126 for the time only model.
Where the Overseas 1 was a bit too tame to my taste The Overeas 2 is a potent mix of design, muscle and elegance representing a perfect evolution of the 222 and Overseas 1. The only issue I have with the chronograph model is the 3 sub counters of different sizes which lacks equilibrium.
For the model’s 10th anniversary in 2006 Vacheron Constantin put the gear in overdrive by launching the chronograph in yellow gold with yellow gold bracelet and a new dual time model in steel, yellow gold and a gorgeous pink gold version (all in a 42mm case) with a scrumptious chocolate dial (limited to 250 pieces). This new model houses the automatic calibre 1222 with the second time zone situated at 6 o’clock with a day/night indicator.
Meanwhile, responding to the success of the new Overseas models a certain number of special requests for specific markets were answered.
A time only version in steel with rose gold bezel was made in 300 pieces for the men’s model and 200 for the lady’s version for Hong Kong in 2006.
The year after, not less than 4 special chronograph versions were created. The Japanese “Engine” in collaboration with car a magazine with the same name. This new model opened a new path for Vacheron Constantin as it used two materials never used by the brand before: titanium and carbon fiber. As usual in the case of the special Japanese pieces this model gave an indication of a future direction the design of the Overseas would be taking.
To underline even more the car connection the chronograph hands on the watch mimic the indicators on a car's dashboard. The hands do not start at the habitual 12 position but rather at 7. Case is 42 mm in steel with titanium bezel and screwed in push pieces, limited to 50 pieces.
Don't ask me what I think of the "engine start" on the chrono pusher.....
The same year two steel chronographs also for the Japanese market were launched with a sportier grainy dial and blue or beige numerals made in 50 pieces each. Extremely sporty and a forbearer of the US special Overseas chronograph of 2008: grainy dial, orange/red numerals but with a huge first: a strap. Unfortunately only 100 were available and it rapidly sold out.
|2007 Japan editions|
|Overseas US edition on strap||Overseas US edition on rubber|
In 2008 a drop dead gorgeous rose gold chronograph with anthracite dial and for the first time with a dark brown rubber strap (also delivered with a crocodile strap) was launched, probably one of the nicest looking versions of the Overseas. Same year a dual time model (in either rose or white gold) with diamond studded bezel on rubber strap was launched, watch which would look fantastic on Posh Spice and her football playing husband David B’s wrists. Followed this year by rose gold versions (with strap) of the Dual Time and chronograph (with light dials).
|on rubber strap||on rose gold bracelet|
|rose gold dual time|
|on rubber strap||on rose gold bracelet|
The main question Overseas aficionados are rightly asking is why a rubber strap on the gold version but not the steel model? To quote Bjork they will be “Violently Happy” to see this mid year’s surprise right in time for the summer. A gorgeous steel Overseas (either chronograph or time only-the latter being a bit too Ingenieuresque to my taste) with a titanium bezel and anthracite sunray pattern dial of the coolest monochromatic effect, delivered with a dark grey and a black rubber strap. The good news is that this is a regular production model. The next question I’m sure will be asked is “will the bracelet models be able to be fitted with a strap?” and the answer is yes, even better the brand is actually developing a whole new offer of straps.
Surprisingly even though Vacheron Constantin is mostly famous for its classical timepieces the Overseas and its elder cousin the 222 have gathered quite a following. It’s no surprise as they both share common design genetics such as a tonneau case, fluted bezel, chic yet deliciously aggressive.
As for the evolution of the Overseas? There are some interesting developments ahead but as Mr. Torres say “there will be an Overseas 3 but not until we can equip it with a manufacture movement”. Chances of seeing a tourbillon or minute repeating Overseas in funky metals is close to zero but Vacheron Constantin will continue offering variations which will appeal from the more classical to the more casual oriented of Vacheronistas who would like to look as good on the slopes of Gstaad or on their yacht in Monte- Carlo as with a bespoke suit. I personally would love to see the 222 reborn i