In Part I here we had a good view on the calendar watches from Vacheron Constantin and the way they evolved from pocket to wrist form. In Part II here we saw the evolution of these watches with the mechanical watch revival of the late 80s which were basically more modern versions of the vintages of the past. The early 2000s saw Vacheron Constantin engage towards more modern and contemporary designs which as we will see in Part III exploded into an firework of complications and diverse designs.
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Royal Eagle Day/Date
In 2001 Vacheron Constantin launched the Royal Eagle model range, targeting a younger audience. It renewed with the flared lugs of the 40s which had become immediate Vacheron Constantin signatures, but in a very masculine tonneau case. Even though the Royal Eagle models were an extreme success Vacheron Constantin merged the line in the Malte collection (as the Malte also featured tonneau watches) around 2007-2008. The present Royal Eagle day/date was made in yellow and white gold cases and housed the automatic calibre 1206.
Malte Retrograde Perpetual Calendar
In 2002 Vacheron Constantin launched the Malte Perpetual Calendar with retrograde date, a stunning piece which also had the particularity of indicating the year. Originally launched in rose gold and white gold cases a version in platinum with open dial was also launched in 2006, followed by an achingly beautiful limited edition in 2007 in rose gold and black guilloche dial made in 5 pieces for the Moscow boutique. These models housed caliber 1126QPR.
Malte Retrograde Date (openwork)
Also known as the 247 (as it was launched in 2002 at the brand’s 247th anniversary) it is an open dialled version of the 245 allowing the wearer to admire the impeccable finish of the underdial mechanics. Made in 247 pieces in a platinum case.
Les Historiques Toledo 1952
In 2003 Vacheron Constantin revived one of its most iconic watches, the triple date Cioccolatone. Very faithful to the original design the only modern touch being the guilloche dial. Made in yellow, white and rose gold cases and a limited 100 piece edition in platinum. In 2006 a sublime rose gold model with ruthenium dial was made in 10 pieces for the VC Ukraine boutique. The Toledo 1952 housed calibre 1125.
Part of the 250th anniversary pieces launched in 2005, the Jubilee 1755 even though the least complicated with its day/date and power reserve indication – had all the design features of all the other pieces: curvaceous case, the gorgeous Maltese Cross inspired lugs which could only be hand made and a beautiful guilloche dial. Made in 1755 pieces (date of VC’s creation): 500 each in white, rose and yellow gold and 250 in platinum (with platinum dial – a first at Vacheron Constantin and which was the idea behind the future Collection Excellence Platine moldels), it housed Vacheron Constantin’s very first modern automatic calibre: 2475
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Metiers d'Art The Four Seasons
Also part of the 250th anniversary pieces The Four Seasons featured a very original time display with wandering hours and minutes on the top part of the dial as well as day and date indication on the bottom part. The dial represented and engraved Apollo on his chariot on an enameled backgroud representing each of the 4 seasons. These pieces came in 25 sets of 4 (yellow, rose white gold and platinum cases) watches, and housed cal 2460G4.
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The Four Seasons' concept was used in 2007 for a limited edition (20 pieces) piece made for the Greek market representing Alexandre the Great.
Launched in 2005 as part of the special 250th anniversary pieces, the Saint Gervais is in my opinion one of the coolest watches Vacheron Constantin has ever made. It merges technical know how with bold design elements. Made in only 55 platinum pieces in a 44mm case (including a unique model with black dial sold at the Quarter Millennium auction held by Antiquorum in 2005) the Saint Gervais owes its name to the Cabinotiers established in the historical Saint-Gervais district, the cradle of grand traditional Geneva watchmaking, close to the brand’s historical headquarters located on the Quai de l’Ile.
Housing the fully developed inhouse calibre 2250 (450 parts), the Saint Gervais, other than a tourbillon and perpetual calendar, features an incredible 250 hour power reserve visible on the dial by double 125-hour segment indications, each winding down in turn. This may not seem impressive today but close to seven years ago, in 2005 very few brands were reaching such long power reserves and it was the only watch at the time with a perpetual calendar and tourbillon to have such a long power reserve. This extra long power reserve is obtained via 4 coupled barrels (2+2). In fact cal 2250 has a power reserve of over 270 hours but has a stop system at 250 (the brand’s age at the time) to avoid any loss in amplitude and accuracy.
The designers at one point had wanted to make the case in 100% platinum (platinum used in watch cases contains 95% platinum and 5% of either iridium or ruthenium) but as Christian Selmoni Vacheron Constantin’s Artistic Director says “the 100% platinum case was like butter, almost impossible to mill and too soft”.
The Saint Gervais, even if technically over shadowed by the Tour de l’Ile’s 16 complications remains for me an incredibly strong and enigmatic watch. Where the other 250th anniversary watches were a hommage to the brand’s traditional crafts and expertise the Saint Gervais was a taste of things to come with more daring and ambitious designs.
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Tour de l’Ile
THE Vacheron Constantin which best represents the 250th anniversary pieces and at the time the world’s most complicated timepiece with 16 complications.
Made in 7 pieces between 2005 and 2007, a special unique black dial version was sold by Antiquorum at the VC 250th anniversary auction on April 3 2005 for CHF 1,876,250 making it the most expensive modern wrist watch to be auctioned!
This piece of superlative horology features: a tourbillon, minute repeater, power reserve indicator, perpetual calendar, calendar, moonphase,2nd time zone, sonnerie level indication, equation of time, sunrise, sunset, celestial chart and sidereal time
Creating a timepiece with indications on both sides of the case was no easy feat, especially since the team wanted to maintain legibility and wearability.It took 4 years (2000-2004) for the constructors at VC to develop calibre 2750 (834 parts) requesting over 10,000 hours of R&D.
How do you create a super complicated watch that can remain elegant, refined and which can be worn comfortably on the wrist? This was the first obstacle the case designers confronted.
The fact that the movement was 36mm in diameter was not an issue. However the 11.25mm thickness and the fact that the watch was to have indications on both sides almost made Vincent Kaufmann, VC’s Director of Design, to pull out his last remaining hairs in frustration.
The first satisfying volume of the case in terms of equilibrium would have been largely over 50mm, and this is without counting the lugs! But this was impossible as the objective was to have a wearable watch. The team created different models using stereo lithography to finally reach a compromise considered as optimal: 47mm diameter and 17.8mm thickness.
This type of size can be found in modern watches which are either targeting the sports watch segment or those wanting to make a spectacular impression. For the Tour de l’Ile, Vacheron Constantin was to create a classical watch which – as much as possible – was to remain discreet!!!!
To reduce the impression of thickness, the designers came up with a curved case as to prevent the “tuna can” effect. The case is also divided in three distinctive parts: the knurled bezel and case back plus the main centrepiece.
The second difficulty was the implementation and form of the lugs. To have equilibrium they needed to occupy the major part of the case side without having straight lines which would have given an impression of weight. Soldered to the case and representing 1/4th of a Maltese cross and being both concave with ingoing angles they were particularly difficult to make and could only be hand finished.
Thanks to its construction which integrates all elements –movement and case – the watch does not look like a cake with different stacked layers. It is comfortable to wear and its proportions are harmonious. The Tour de l’Ile was the first watch from the anniversary pieces to be designed and all the others were directly inspired from it and integrated its aesthetic codes.
Other than the case construction another challenge had to be met: placing 7 corrector pushers, a crown as well as the repeater slide! The classical position on the case side was impossible due to the correctors. That’s why it was decided on placing the repeater slide on the bezel which needs to be turned to activate the repeater.
The WIS is often fascinated by the technological prowess of grand complication; the dial is a natural prolongation of this as well as being the “face” of the watch.
In the Tour de l’Ile 12 hands indicate the majority of the functions. The aesthetics needed to make these indications legible and uncluttered.
The top dial features the hours and minutes, the tourbillon cage, the power reserve indicator, the 2nd time zone, and the sonnerie indicator as well as the moonphase. The back dial features the calendar functions, the sun rise / sun set indications as well as the equation of time. 6 hands are necessary for these indications. The celestial chart representing the Northern Hemisphere is placed on the bottom part of the dial.
One of the first objectives of the team in charge of the dial was to create a sober aesthetics especially with regards to the tints and varnish used. Only 2 colors are present on the dial: silver of the dial and blue underlining the different complications. The hands are also blued steal. The time telling hands are in pink gold like the case.
The sky chart representing the sky as seen from the Northern Hemisphere featured on the back dial was added far down the movement development and was included...6 months before the unveiling of the watch!!
Initially, the tourbillon was to be visible from the back, however considering the thickness of the movement and the additional mechanisms the aesthetics were not satisfying. The engineers and constructors submitted the idea of filling the “hole” with a sky chart and they managed in a few weeks – in collaboration with the Geneva Observatory – to create this new complication.
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Even though not part of Vacheron Constantin’s collection pieces, the unique piece Vladimir is a 17 complication bespoke piece featuring the same complications as the Tour de l’Ile plus a 52 week indicator.
Esprit des Cabinotiers
When rumors started going around on what Vacheron would be presenting for its quarter millennium anniversary surprisingly they related less to a wrist watch but to a one of a kind clock that would be breathtaking. However it was impossible to learn more as this seemed to be the best kept secret after the formula for turning steel to gold!
The question was how might Vacheron Constantin unite its quintessential values within a unique and supreme object that would represent the ultimate expression of its 250 years of know-how?
The team at Vacheron Constantin wanted to create something unique, creative and completely out of the box.
The answer given to this question by Vacheron Constantin is called L’Esprit des Cabinotiers. Its name, referring to the Geneva watchmaker-craftsmen who used to work under the rooftops. eloquently embodies an approach focused on the quest for technical and aesthetic perfection.
This awe striking masterpiece consists of a golden sphere engraved by hand according to the sky chart drawn by Didier Robert de Vaugondy (1723-1786), geographer to King Louis XV of France and author of two large globes, one celestial and the other terrestrial. The sphere is composed of eight petals symbolising the lotus flower and which opens progressively means of an extremely sophisticated spring mechanism.
The idea of a globe opening to reveal the mechanical insides came to the team after visiting a fantastic exhibition which had taken in place at the Kugel gallery in Paris in 2002 on the Art of Celestial Mechanics (scientific instruments and clocks).
The engraver of the sphere was found in France and is one of the last artisans capable of doing such work. He isolated himself in his workshops for over 4 months refusing to take calls from the brand and accepting any visits, finally delivering his work (to Vacheron’s great relief) a few days prior to the presentation of the clock to the press! He even lined the floor of his workshops with cushions just in case the pieces he was working on would fall on the floor (the sphere itself weighing 3.5kgs of gold)!!
The creation of the “engine” of the globe was entrusted to François Junod who is certainly the world’s most talented android and automaton maker. To set the globe in motion one needs to press a hidden button at the base of the clock, the pink gold sphere slowly opens up like a flower, and unfolds its eight petals, while a central telescopic cylinder raises up the timepiece nestling at its heart via sixteen small connecting rods, tiny sapphire balls and articulations.
One of the difficulties was to find the correct power and torque as for the petals to neither open too slowly or too rapidly. However, this open/closing motion does use a lot of energy and after every 2 utilisations the spring needs to be rewound.
The overall effect is ethereal, mysterious and poetic. The transparency of the glare proofed sapphire crystal provides ideal visual access, from the front as well as from the sides. The gold and steel structure discreetly houses the function correctors, while two tiny holes drilled through the sapphire crystal on the back of the clock serve to wind the mechanism by means of a key concealed within the base
The making of such a big circular sapphire crystal was in itself quite a feat and special tools needed to be created and research and development was undertaken.
For the anecdote, the movement ebauche of this masterpiece dates from 1934.
Once the petals have unfolded, the eye is attracted to the harmony of the beautifully guilloche dial which has a 10 cm diameter with the same motif as the other 250th anniversary creations. It took the guillocheur over 4 days to finish the hand engine turning of the dial. To give you a feeling of how important the surface is, once the centre of the dial was finished the engine turning tool needed to be replaced and as the guillocheur states it’s the first time he had encountered this in 50 years of practice.
The Esprit des Cabinotiers other than the traditional hours and minutes features a central dead seconds hand and displays a second time-zone on a small central subdial, topped by four horizontal apertures in a harmonious in-line perpetual calendar, hour and quarter repeater function on request and the power reserve appears in a counter at noon
But that’s not it!
All these indications are framed by the hand-engraved minute circle, itself surrounded by a circular zone that is perhaps the most poetic feature of all: an astronomical calendar depicting the position of the sun in each zodiac according to the Gregorian calendar. The twelve signs of the zodiac are superbly enamelled using the exquisitely grand feu enamel painting method
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Malte Perpetual Calendar Minute Repeater
In 2006 Cal 1755QP (as for Quantième Perpetuel – perpetual calendar in French) was used in the now defunct round shaped Malte (41mm case) in rose gold giving it a more modern and masculine look. In 2010 the last 8 Cal 1755QPs were cased in a round Malte case but this time in platinum.
Malte Perpetual Calendar Chronograph Collection Excellence Platine
Normally, the Excellence Platine collection consists of platinum case and dial versions of existing models however this version launched in 2007 is a one shot as it did not exist as a regular production model making it even more rare and desirable! Made in only 50 pieces it houses the manual wind cal 1141QP.
Patrimony Traditionnelle Calibre 2755
Presented in 2007 the Patrimony Traditionnelle Caliber 2755 (how’s that as a dry name for such an amazing watch?) is currently Vacheron Constantins most complicated timepiece (610 components). However, it’s just not “just” a perpetual calendar, tourbillon minute repeater but the greatest sounding repeater I have ever heard thanks to a centripetal speed-regulator in the striking-mechanism, an original device which eliminates the noise interference normally experienced with pallet systems (the bzzz often heard when the repeating mechanism is activated).
As with the ref 30020 and 30040 the case has been carefully designed and manufactured to give the minute repeater a remarkable resonance, which is optimised by the ingenious use of a stud linking the case to the striking mechanism. And, thanks to its high copper content, which gives it its colour, the pink gold case adds to the quality of resonance.
In 2010 the Cal 2755 was also launched in platinum with an opaline and a slate grey dial, the later having an even more contemporary look. Normally platinum is a metal which “absorbs” the chimes but the watchmakers at Vacheron Constantin have done a fantastic job and the chimes are almost as loud and pure as in the rose gold version.
I have to admit that the Cal 2755 has the most amazing chime I have ever come across (a close second being the Patek Sky Moon tourbillon), the first time I heard it, it was in a room with people talking and music in the background and still the chimes could be perfectly heard.
The Cal 2755 for me is a condensed representation of what Vacheron Constantin is: a beautiful design which is classical yet with a twist, perfect proportions, technical mastery and drop dead amazing movement finish. Techniques have not been sacrificed for design and there is no compromise in the design for the sake of techniques
The cal 2755 is assembled from A to Z by the same watchmaker who also tunes the gongs (by filing away on the base of the gongs) to achieve the perfect chime. As Chrystian Lefrançois, master watchmaker at Vacheron Constantin says “achieving the perfect chime is extremely difficult as you need to adjust the gong by filing the metal and at one point you know that you have reached the best possible sound and one file too much and you go from the best chime to the dull sound of a spoon hitting a pot!”
About less than one Patrimony Traditionnelle Cal 2755 come out of the ateliers of Vacheron Constantin per month, considering that it can take 3-4 months to fine tune and assemble. It exists in rose gold and platinum (with opaline or slate grey dials), a limited edition with a gorgeous chocolate dial was made for Parisian retailer Dubail as well as a pièce unique for the New York Boutique.
|Dubail||New York Boutique|
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Metiers d'Art: Les Masques
Rarely have the words art and masterpiece been used so correctly. My first reaction to this collection was the same as being thunderstruck: breathless, speechless, heart beating fast and wobbly knees! It’s hard to define the divine but you can recognize it when you see it and for me the hands of the gods guided the designers at Vacheron Constantin to create such original, bold and daring pieces.
At an epoch where originality resides in the use of carbon fibber and black PVD or the most improbable partnership with cars, motor cycles and boats Vacheron Constantin opened a whole new un treaded path where art and horology met.
The concept was to use an art form still little known to the general public: the so called primitive arts. Geneva has the chance of housing one of the most prestigious collections of primitive arts: the Barbie-Muller Museum and collaboration between the museum and Vacheron seemed therefore unavoidable. The museum lent a certain number of pieces to Vacheron for replication but the great difficulty resided maintaining the proportions in a miniature version. Different techniques were tried but the final results were unsatisfactory. Vacheron Constantin finally turned to the Geneva Engineering School for help in making a three-dimensional image of each mask. By putting the plans together on a computer, they were able to modify the volumes point by point and find the best angle for fitting the whole mask into the case while safeguarding the harmony of its forms. It was thanks to the magic of laser technology that the miniaturisation of the masks became possible.
The time is read by means of four discs indicating the hours, minutes, days and date in windows. A clever technique using transparency and specially-treated glass creates the impression that the masks are floating. Each sapphire crystal has a different tint, obtained by a unique metallisation process, so that it sets off the colour of the mask.
Michel Butor’s (a contemporary French poet) short poems dedicated to each mask circle the sapphire dial in letters of gold and can only be read when the light strikes it from a certain angle. This effect is achieved by vacuum metallisation, a sophisticated technological process in which the gold letters are sprayed onto a sapphire crystal.
The effect is amazing and depending on the inclination of the wrist the sapphire crystals hues vary as well as the coloring of the letters. There is such subtility and depth in the dial that you can almost drown in it and spend hours just staring at it mesmerised by its sheer beauty.
This series launched in 2007 consisted of 25 sets of 4 watches each. A new set was also launched in 2008 and 2009.
|Set 1: 2007|
|Set 3: 2009|
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Patrimony Contemporaine Bi Retrograde
Surprisingly when this watch was launched in 2007 I didn’t think much of it but slowly it started growing on me to make it today an all time favourite. The watch houses calibre 2460R31R7with retrograde indications for the day and the date. Made in rose and white gold two limited editions were also made in a platinum case: 100 in the Excellence Platine collection with sand blasted platinum dial and 35 made for Singapore based retailer Cortina with an superb ruthenium dial.
|Cortina||Collection Excellence Platine|
Patrimony Traditionnelle Skeleton Perpetual Calendar
Launched in 2007, the Patrimony Traditionnelle continues Vacheron Constantin’s long tradition in skeletonized movements. Here the engraver designed a specific engraving inspired by the arches of the Eifel Tower. What I particularly like about this model is that in fact it is more an openwork model with engraved movement than a skeletonised watch per se enabling you to see directly through the movement.
Often the major problem with engraved/skeletonised timepieces is the sacrifice of legibility. Here, Vacheron Constantin has opted for a transparent sapphire dial enhanced by a silvered ring integrating the hour markers and minute-track. The perpetual calendar indications, transferred on the dial, consequently gain in legibility. Transparency was also used with the moon phase indicator, whose two discs can be made out through the frosted glass for a brilliant effect.
I also like the contrast of the masculine case with large bezel and tense lugs and the poetry and finesse of the impeccable engraving and calendar functions. A true winner !
Quai de l’Ile Day/Date with Power Reserve
Launched in 2008 the day/date with power reserve model features the inhouse calibre 2475 first used in the Jubilee 1755 models. The QdI is Vacheron Constantin’s vision of 21st century watchmaking, no F1 space age materials or DLC cum carbon fibre cum dental hygiene case metal or materials but good old traditional high grade watchmaking with a contemporary vision. I love this watch; it’s everything I like and even more.
The case is cushion shaped Lego style made of 7 parts which are all fitted together and not soldered which is a true feat when you look it up close. This “modular” case construction enables the wearer to personalise his watch by choosing the metal he wants his watch to be composed of: palladium, rose gold or titanium and a mix thereof.
The personalization is not only applied to the case metals but the client also has the choice between two sapphire dials (grey or light) and two different finishes on the movements (rhodium or ruthenium) as well as two full dials (silver or grey) All this leads to what the brand claims as almost 500 different combinations possible…chances that you see someone with the same exact watch is remote and this is quite a feat for a “regular production” piece!!
The sapphire crystal dial uses the same principals of security printing as found in passports and bank notes, it is an amalgam of cutting-edge techniques and refined processes, in particular those of : laser engraving (with or without inking), galvanic growth of metal and metallization.
The interesting thing here is that as futuristic as it may look the movement is finished to the highest standards and is now visible via dial side. There have been many discussions on the Lounge regarding the finish of the non visible parts and the underdial and here you have a straight view into the perfect finish of the underdial.
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Patrimony Traditionnelle Perpetual Calendar Chronograph
Launched in 2009 in rose gold and shortly followed in platinum with a silver opaline dial as well as a gorgeous slate grey dial, the opaline dial has an aura of sophistication whereas the slate grey dial is severely cool. The two tone dial, the Patrimony Traditionnelle case and the rectangular pushers give the watch a somewhat vintage look but the amazing engraved moonphase (a VC signature) gives a wonderfully contemporary effect and almost singlehandedly justifies the purchase of the watch! Inside ticks the wonderful cal 1141QP with an additional calendar plate.
Patrimony Traditionnelle Calibre 2253
Launched in 2010 the Calibre 2253 is a direct descendant of the Cal 2250 used in the Saint Gervais. Originally launched in a 10 piece limited edition in the Excellence Platine collection (case, buckle, gorgeous sand blasted dial all in platinum not to mention the stitching of the strap!) followed by a rose gold case, the calibre 2253 (457 components) pushes the boundaries of power reserve with a 2 week power reserve (the indicator is on the back plate) via 4 barrels coupled 2+2.
The Cal 2253 is to the best of my knowledge the only wrist watch with these functions. The equation of time (difference between the civil time - 24 hours - and true solar time with a variation of +16min to -16 min per day due to the earth’s elliptical orbit) indicator is discretely placed between 10 and 11 with the times of sunrise and sunset indicated via retrograde hands placed respectively on the bottom left and bottom right side of the dial. The equation of time indication and times of sunrise and sunset can be individualised for each owner to the time of his desired location.
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Patrimony Traditionnelle Retrograde Perpetual Calendar Boutique Special
Launched with any fanfare end of 2010, and available only in Vacheron Constantin boutiques, this 25 piece limited edition in rose gold housing caliber 1126QPR featured day and month indications via apertures on the dial and a retrograde date hand.The leap year cycle is indicated via a dot at 3 o'clock which changes color:
1st year: white
2nd year: white/black
3rd year: black
4th year: rose gold
Quai de l’Ile Annual Calendar
Launched in 2011 this new Quai de l’Ile houses the automatic in-house Calibre 2460 QAR, for which the watchmakers and engineers at VC have developed a brand new Annual Calendar complication featuring a moonphase, months and date which is via a retrograde hand which takes up a large part of the right hand side of the dial thus explaining the ex-centered moonphase and month indications. Habitually, annual calendars are a stripped down version of an existing perpetual calendar movement but this is not the case with cal 2460 QAR which was created from scratch as an annual calendar!
The dials have a multi-layered construction consisting of a raised outer ring and satin-brushed inner circle with satin (but non-brushed) raised subdials and date arch, giving the impression of an industrial post-modern look. The dial also features 12 applied Arabic numerals and 6 baton markers with beautifully brushed surfaces and polished sides which provide a fascinating contrast.
Offered in a rose gold or white gold case or a mix of both.
Patrimony Contemporaine Perpetual Calendar
Launched in 2011, a watch that will please those who love Vacheron Constantin’s classical designs and one that fills a gap in the VC collection as it has been close to 10 years that the brand had not offered a simple perpetual calendar with a full dial.
Reviving one of Vacheron Constantin’s iconic complications from the early 90s, this perpetual calendar shows both month and leap years on a 48-month cycle. This watch, while classic in style, boasts a 41mm rose gold Patrimony Contemporaine case adding modern flair with its sleek profile and taught lines. The designers have found a great way to not make the functions seem too close to the center by keeping the long indexes of the Patrimony Contemporaine models so that the periphery does not look overly empty. Another nod to the origins of this watch is the use of the superb Calibre 1120 (as was used in the 90s) with a newly redesigned rotor complete with a Gyromax balance and the Geneva seal.
I like the thickness of the 8.9mm case and I love the moon phase which looks like a drop of golden mercury on a blue lapis lazuli background. The moon phase gives a 3D effect that I personally find really appealing. I like the elongated hands, the minute hand is right above the gold cabochons indicating the minutes and the hour hands right on the hour indexes.
Overseas Perpetual Calendar Chronograph
Vacheron Constantin’s first and only “sports” complication. The Overseas Perpetual Calendar Chronograph was launched in a limited edition of 100 pieces (80 in steel with titanium bezel with grey dial and 20 in steel with blue dial made specially for the New York boutique)
One of the coolest Overseas I have comme across (especially in the steel/titanium combination), fiercely masculine and visually arresting with the different contrasts of the steel case, titanium bezzel, grey dial and mustard hands
The case is 42mm in diameter and houses the automatic caliber 1136QP
feel of vintage to them