Since its launch in 1996 the Overseas collection has developed somewhat of a cult following amongst horological aficionados. The revapm of the collection for its 20th anniversary in 2016 was a great opportunity to sit down with Christian Selmoni (Vacheron Constantin Artistic Director) and Vincent Kauffmann (Head of Design) and ask them about the philosophy behind these new models.
What was the original brief and idea for a new Overseas?
Christian Selmoni (CS): Le’ts go back to the origins and the Overseas 1 which was launched in 1996, a very classical piece replaced in 2004 by a bolder, sportier model. And for us it was important to move on to a new generation after 12 years with in mind the spirit of travels and exploration.
But why the need to create a new generation?
VK: The design of the Overseas 2 remained very recognizable as the 2000s, the design was very strong and identifiable. We found the design codes less in line with the direction we wanted to take Vacheron Constantin designs in general. We wanted more refinement.
What is a year 2000 code?
Vincent Kauffmann (VK): The case, the bezzel and bracelet were very angular, the overall watch looked ferocious . With the new designs we wanted to add more roundness and fluidity whilst maintaining the case’s dynamism. I find the new Overseas more elegant and refined.
CS: We need to ask ourselves what the Vacheron Constantin style is today? It is elegance, refinement and understatement. The success of Vacheron Constantin remains within a subtle mix of these elements. As such, the previous Overseas generation was too aggressive in design and no longer in phase with the direction VC is heading.
We didn’t want to loose the Overseas’ soul and personality but we wanted to bring it more subtlety and intergrate certain stylistic elements which you find in all of Vacheron Constantin timepieces
When did you start working on this new project?
VK: About 3 years ago. Interestingly we decided to attack the project by defining the elements that we would have liked to see changed on the Overseas 2.
The first element was the opening of the dial. In the previous models we had a sort of stepped case where the bezel was placed atop the case and this gave us a smaller opening even though the case was large. In the Overseas 3 we have enlarged the opening within the Maltese cross bezel and actually spread it out to the very flank of the case. And by doing so we have obtained a more round case shape.
Then we decided to insert a disk between the top of the case and the bezel which will later allow us to play with different materials and colors.
CS: I would like to add that we really wanted to rework the case shape, not only making it rounder but if you look at the flanks the Overseas has a slight “bassine” curve case whereas on the Overseas 2 the case flanks were straight.
VK: Yes, this is a reflection of the work we have undertaken in the past few years by playing on the case flanks, giving them more fluidity and working on the way the light reflects on them.
CS: The hands on the previous Overseas were shorter and thicker so we elongated and slimmed them down. We also aesthetically softened the bracelet.
VK: The bracelet of the previous Overseas was made of a single link in the form of a half Maltese cross. We have maintained that design here but by working on the surface finish we have obtained a bracelet which looks as if it is a 3 row bracelet where as in fact it is not. This is much more complex to achieve.
Obviously a lot of thought has gone into the bezel, why go from an 8 sided bezel to a 6 sided one?
VK: On the previous Overseas there were 3 “inserts” on the top part of the case overlapping with the bezel: at noon, 3’oclock and 6 o’clock. We removed these “inserts” yet we wanted to have an element to counterbalance the crown and by having a bezel with less sides but with wider notches we would obtain better aesthetics.
Did you have the Ref 222 in mind when redesigning the Overseas?
CS: I will have to say no, yet immediately contradict myself as the Ref 222 is part of our collective conscience. It is the watch that inspired the Overseas 1 therefore obviously you can find its genetic code in the new Overseas design.
VK: I think that by simplifying the design of the new Overseas we have in a way reconnected with the Ref 222.
The Ultra Slim models are housed in white gold, with white gold bracelets making them rather heavy for the wrist…not to mention the wallet. Does it make sense to create a sporty or casual/chic watch in all gold?
CS: For us the idea of having the ultra slim models in an all gold case was to go for real understated luxury. With the Overseas ultra slim we wanted to create something completely out of phase with what we see today in the casual/chic category. Our vision wasn’t one of creating a sports watch but rather an elegant dress watch on a gold bracelet.
And this is true for the whole collection. If you look at the dials we gave them a shiny lacquered finish more in line with the classic dress watches than sports pieces which have matte dials as seen today on the market.
Will we see and an ultra-slim in a steel case?
CS: Who knows?!
Why then decide in launching the ultra-slims which you see as dress watches with metal bracelets and the other Overseas which are more casual?
CS: The Overseas is a complete collection and that’s what we wanted to show.
Regarding the movements, the Overseas models use 3 completely new inhouse movements: calibres 5100, 5200 and 5300. What was the defining brief in their creation?
CS: We needed specific movements for the Overseas models and they needed to be automatic, have long power reserves, be robust, and have larger sizes as to be more in line with today’s larger sized cases and obviously have the Geneva seal.
Vacheron Constantin now has 2 automatic movements with date and central seconds: Calibre 2450 and 5100 why not just uses the 2450 in the automatic Overseas?
CS: we wanted a larger movement, a different expression of our watchmaking technique and know-how.
So how do you decide which movement to use in which model?
CS: The 2450 will be reserved for our more classical timepieces whereas the 5100 will be used in the larger cased casual watches such as the Overseas or the steel Quai de l’Ile.
Why not use the Amerigo Vespucci sailboat, which was engraved on the Overseas casebacks since 1996, on the rotors?
VK: We wanted to break away from the naval thematic of the collection whilst maintaining a link to the world of travel and exploration thus the choice of a wind rose.
There has been quite a lot of heated debate on the abandon of the big date on the Chronograph. Can you explain why you decided to forego this?
CS: Once again let’s go back to the Overseas 1 and see why we decided to use a big date. In 1998 when we launched the Overseas chronograph we were asking ourselves what extra function we could bring to an automatic chronograph. Until now the Overseas chronographs (both generations 1 and 2) were using Piguet based movements. In our discussions with Piguet we had asked them to develop a large date and give us exclusivity on the movement as to have something different from other brands using the same movement.
When we started working on the Overseas 3 chronograph we decided to abandon the big date because we were coming with an inhouse chronograph caliber and as such the movement was already a differentiating element but also because the big date is not part of the Vacheron Constantin history or genetics. It is not recognizable as VC.
The fact that the movement is also larger (30.6mm vs 26.6mm) enables the date to be large enough for easy reading.
I also am convinced that when you make designs evolve you need to abandon certain elements and features and replace them with others. If not you’re just redoing the same thing.
VK: From a design perspective we wanted to focus on the chronograph functions and decided to place the date at 4 o’clock to keep it discreet.
I always had a feeling that Vacheron Constantin was surprised with the success of the Overseas collection and up until now didn’t quite know how to treat this collection and what to do with it. By deciding on launching the Overseas 3 were you aware that you were walking on thin sands?
CS: Yes definitely. However, I remember when we launched Overseas 2 the reactions were rather “cold”, probably due to the break in design from a rather classical Overseas 1 to a more aggressive Overseas 2. People needed time to digest this and get used to the new models and I think that today it is the same thing.
I have been in product development for the past 15 years and the Overseas 3 project was amongst the most exciting yet stressful I have worked on! When you decide to modify such a collection, you better be sure of where you’re heading!
I was so stressed during SIHH this year that for the 1st time in close to 20 years I did not go online to see what the reactions to the new launches were and deleted all my emails with feedback!
VK: The new Overseas has been thought and developed as a full collection, we know where we’re going and it is no longer a collection slightly apart from the general Vacheron Constantin collection but rooted firmly within our genetic code and designs.
Was the integration of a fast bracelet/strap interchangeable system part of the original brief?
CS: No. We knew that by using inhouse calibers with the Geneva seal the prices of the new models would be higher than the existing ones and we needed elements that would give more to the users and having this rapid bracelet/strap switch system was one of them.
How hard was it to design a case knowing this system would be used?
VK: We didn’t design the case with this in mind. In fact there are no differences between the current design and that where the bracelet was integrated and not removable
On a design point of view what were the elements which were the most difficult to achieve a satisfactory result?
VK: The most difficult was obtaining the perfect volumes for the case flanks. As we have the back, case, disc and bezel we needed to find the greatest equilibrium with the overlaying of these sections.
CS: the disc beneath the bezel. It was not easy to incorporate a disc whose diameter exceeds – at 3 'clock and 9 o'clock – the dimension of the case just behind or beneath it...We did many mock-ups until we got a satisfactory size… we were so concerned by this disc that we gave it internally a very technical nickname: the BPI (Bezel Positioning Interface). It sounded very serious and technological!
VK: Obtaining the shape that we wanted and the integration of the case and bracelet was an extremely taunting task. In my entire career we I had not seen so many case dummies either in wax or even steel for just one model.
CS: I would like to talk about the dials, the raised peripheral ring inside the dial diffuses the light in an amazing way. This tiny ring is diamond-polished and this is a little extremely subtle detail . It demonstrates our care for all details.
VK: And the proportions of the models, there are an incredible number of details that add up.
What were the greatest challenges/difficulties you faced?
CS: I think the Loungers can’t imagine the immense number of prototypes that were made to finally reach this final design. The bracelet was a huge challenge as well. Using a single link and finishing it in a way to reflect light as to give the visual impression of a 3 row bracelet was very complicated. Our bracelet maker wasn’t sure to be able to make a series production.
VK: We were constantly working on the volumes, on the curves the angles, the surfaces. The number of tests just to reach the blue of the dial is mind boggling.
We also though of the Overseas as a whole collection. For example we didn’t create a case for the automatic then make spin offs for the chronograph and the ladies but each model was thought and designed as an individual watch among a collection, you don’t have one model overpowering the others. I’m quite proud of that.
Are there elements which you started working on but ended up abandoning?
VK: We wanted to make a 3 row bracelet like with Overseas 1 and keep at the same time the Maltese cross design of the Overseas 2. The prototypes didn’t look good so we abandoned the idea and worked on the surface finish instead.
We also had done some tests with crown and pusher guards but it was taking us down paths we didn’t want to go.
CS: We had even worked on a project where the bezel could rotate and block or release the crown/pushers.
What can we expect to see next in the Overseas collection?
CS: There will be two pieces which will please the travelers to answer your question specifically. However generally I do not see why we won’t be able to use the Overseas collection to showcase our technical and aesthetic expertise such as using skeleton movements or grande complications
VK: I love the automatic with a special dial color which I cannot disclose but which you shall soon see.
CS: I never wore an Overseas 2 but used to wear the Overseas 1 chronograph and I find that the new chronograph with silver dial is a great heir to the original model, it is luxurious, discreet yet with a strong personality. So it is my choice and the one I’m wearing.
watch creation and development and understand the reasons why certain deaigns are the way they are.
Love the picture of CS and VK together top left. Wih their pose, they seem like two magicians / illusionists who enthrall the WIS audience with some of the most amazing timepieces ever. Only guy missing is Dominique Bernaz, but I guess he did not have a role here in the new OS.
I am looling forward to thw new OS for travellers and the automatic in special dial colour.
VC, why muct you insist on patience and make us wait???
Christian and Vincent to explain their choices and views on these creations.
Long life to this new OS3 collections and all additional novelties: World timers in June, then .....
Alex this interview is very appropriate to better understand the VC move.
The third person should be Mr JC Torres ;-))
buzzing around the watch community. Great photographs and the wit and wisdom of real watch designers--really something special.
Thanks to all involved and Viva Overseas!
Interesting interview. Design choices are always hard and I realize that things will change over time and you can't please everyone. But to me the big date was definitely part of the Overseas identity. And if they wanted the date to be less conspicuous, it should have been blue with white numerals. Other design choices are more subtle (although the thicker hands to me seem more sporty) and probably are acceptable to most. The strap system and new movement are of course awesome. This will be interesting to see how this sells. Personally I'm hoping for this with the big date whenever the Overseas 4 comes out. For now, I enjoy my 49140 too much to make the change.
I love hearing and learning about the thought process and details that were considered in making all the design decisions. It definitely lets one feel closer to the final piece of work and helps to develop that emotional attachment.
Sharing this type of information reminds one of some of the Independents, where there is an opportunity to talk to the designers/artists that make these timepieces.
All your articles are excellent, Alex, but the ones focusing on the creative process are the ones that I enjoy the most.
So to Alex, Christian and Vincent, a big thank you for your time, it is greatly appreciated!
I'll always cherish the Hour Lounge London dinner from 2008, when Christian and Vincent went into great details about the QdI creative process.
That was already 8 years go...
I strongly believe that much of VC's success can be attributed to the Christian and Vincent tag team (the "C&V", or "V&C" team...). Not only are they creative geniuses, but the fact that they have worked for so long at VC means that they have a deep understanding of the brand... Keep up the good work!!
Thank you very much Alex for a great interview and some interesting background information. I was very impressed with the new OS line when you and Dan kindly showed me the new models at SIHH. Like you I would love to see the Ultra Thin in steel !
Since I have a 1996 Overseas, I can appreciate all of the improvements of the Overseas that led the 2016 version of the marque. However, I very much like my original Overseas with its GS-based caliber. Nevertheless, I'm saving for the Ref 4500 with the cal. 5100 movement. This article shows the incredible care and planning that went into the new 4500 and other Overseas models. With everything I need in a watch--day-of-month and second hand--it's also as complicated as I want. I'll just have to save faster.
Thanks for the interview and write-up.
Thanks to Christian Selmoni and Vincent Kauffmann of course too.
Thank you Alex also for having kept in mind the questions we wanted to bring to these Gentlemen's attention, you once told us to put down; I recognized myself in a couple of those.
This interview is already a classic, I'm going to store it in my personal archive and come back to it every time I'll have to refresh my mind on some info only this forum can share.
Well done Alex!
Thank you Alex for a really fascinating article.
It highlights the creative process and demonstrates all the hard work involved in coming up with this watch. (Genius is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration!)
While I may disagree with Christian about the date window at 12 o'clock, the final result is a very pleasing one and should draw many newpeople into the VC fold.
The amazing thing is that this is but one watch. When one thinks of all the others VC produces, the work load is quite staggering.
It really is a labour of love and a love of the labour.
Congratulations to Vincent, Christian and the entire VC team!
realising the amount of work that goes into designing an object
Very nice article! Thank you Alex!
I thought that the old Overseas were using JLC movements? So they were AP? is that correct?
I also hope to have the Perpetual Calendar in Steel
Nice work VC!
For the 3-hand OS watches:
Gen. 1 movements were based on GP ebauches
Gen. 2 movements were based on JLC abauches
Gen 3 movements are all in-house designed and produced
For OS chronographs:
Gen. 1 & Gen.2 movements were based on F-P ebauaches
Gen. 3 movements are all in-house designed and produced
For OS Dual-Time:
Gen. 1 & Gen. 2 movements were based on JLC ebauches
There is no Gen. 3 Dual Time
Thanks for the clarification Dan
Thanks Bill. Nice pictures
As the owner of the 2nd gen Overseas, I couldn't agree more about its agressive design.
I personally feel that the new design of the 3rd gen looks more "mature" and might be more appealing to VC's target of audience.
Needless to say, I am so excited with the new line and just can't wait to see them in "flesh".
I am much obliged to you for great article.
I have noticed that "elegance" is an important essence to new OS line
as to all VC watches through the interview.
Please give my best regard to Christian and Vincent.
Very nice interview with Christian and Vincent. It is nice to know the background, philosophy, and inspiration behind the new generation Overseas.
I was wondering if you had managed to ask whether the new clasp/buckle system can be retro-fitted onto the Generation 2 Overseas strap? My Dual Time is in need of a new clasp, and was hoping the new design would be able to fit? If so, what is the part number?
Look forward to hearing from you!
The clasp system is made specially for the removable bracelet and the regular OS straps do not come with the system allowing buckle to be detached
Finally a clear sexy caseback.
Finally a clear sexy caseback.