SIHH 2016: Vacheron Constantin announces five New Overseas
Today at SIHH 2016, Vacheron Constantin announced five new models to the Overseas collection that feature two new in-house calibers and one very special movement from the brand's history.
Everything has happened before and will happen again. The more time you invest in looking at what watch companies are releasing you will start to notice that everything takes inspiration and guidance from what came before it. It might be a direct re-release of a classic design similar to Longines' heritage range or an amalgamation of previous designs like the Tudor North Flag. Some of the greatest watches to come out in the last ten years have borrowed hugely from heritage and for Vacheron Constantin one of those watches is the Overseas.
2016 marks the twentieth anniversary of the Vacheron Constantin Overseas yet tracing the lineage of this watch brings you much further back in time, back to 1977. The quartz crisis was gripping the Swiss watch industry and companies that thrived on providing traditional conservative watch design with mechanical movements were starting to feel the pressure coming from the Far East. Five years prior Audemars Piguet had gambled everything on the Royal Oak and the Patek Philippe Nautilus was not even a year old. Vacheron Constantin followed suit and released their own luxury steel sports watch, the Ref. 222.
There is a common falsehood that this watch as designed by Gerald Genta. It's a believable myth as the Ref. 222 has many similarities with Mr. Genta's two other famous steel sports watches. All have integrated bracelets, all started off in steel only, all have angular bezels and all used the same movement, the Jaeger-LeCoultre 920. In interviews Mr. Genta tended to keep schtum about which brands he worked for if it hadn't been disclosed (He had signed a nondisclosure with Patek and it was only due to a Japanese newspaper finding out his name and printing it that he was credited with the design of the Nautilus) and even Vacheron Constantin said time and again that the watch was designed by Genta. It has now transpired that it was infact designed by Mr. Jorg Hysek, a prolific designer in his own right.
One of the reasons why the Ref. 222 was never as well known as the Royal Oak or Nautilus was during it's seven year run only 500 pieces were made in the original reference. Comparatively the Royal Oak had an initial run of 1000 which sold out within twelve months and totalled 17% of their total watch production at the time. There were subsequent references of the Ref. 222 in different metals but in 1984 production ceased and it was replaced by the imaginatively titled Ref. 333. Not wanting to insult someone's hard work on designing that watch but let's say I don't think it was an improvement. In the early nineties the Ref. 333 was replaced by the Phidias which replaced the harsh corners with a soft curving bezel and bracelet. That didn't last long either as in 1996 the first Vacheron Constantin Overseas was released.
Twenty years later and Vacheron Constantin are releasing five new models of Overseas with two new in-house movements and one classic movement from the past. Now called the Caliber 1120, it is the very same movement that was used in the Ref. 222 nearly forty years ago, the Jaeger-LeCoultre 920. Only available in the Ultra-Thin Overseas, a watch that can only be purchased at Vacheron Constantin boutiques (My nearest is over 500 miles away!), the Caliber 1120 is still a marvel of design and engineering nearly half a decade later and measuring at only 2.45mm thick, it's one of the thinnest movements in production. The Ultra-thin is slightly larger than the Ref. 222 measuring 40mm wide but seeing as how thin the watch is, I doubt anyone will worry about that extra 3mm.
The Calibre 5200 Chronograph movement took over five years to develop and like the majority of fine chronographs is a column wheel and has vertical clutch coupling. What does this mean? It means when you're timing an egg in the kitchen, you'll get an exceptionally smooth action on the pushers and no jitter or wobble of the hands when activating the chronograph. Measuring in at 42.5mm, I imagine that it might seem slightly too big for some but as a sports watch I think a little bit of heft is needed. The 5200 Chronograph is available in 18kt pink gold or stainless steel. The Calibre 5100 is time and date only and comes in slightly smaller at 41mm. I'm slightly disappointed that it couldn't have been brought down to under 40mm but it's not the end of the world. Both the 5200 and 5100 come with a steel bracelet and leather and rubber that appear to be easily interchangeable. It's not in the same league but the Apple Watch did best most of the Swiss industry by having a strap that could be changed in an instant so it's very welcome to see one of the best watchmakers in the world adapting with the times.
All five new models have a 22kt yellow gold rotor that can be viewed through the sapphire crystal caseback. In the centre of the rotor is a rose wind engraving, a diagram used for centuries by meteorologists and mapmakers to show the typical distribution of wind speed and direction at a certain location. All of the new models are also engraved with the Hallmark of Geneva, the most prestigious mark of quality that a Swiss watch can gain. Only available for watches developed and assembled in Geneva that pass stringent criteria for the movement components and performance. Vacheron Constantin has had their watches graded on this system since 1901. Maybe in twenty years there will be a new Vacheron watch coming out that takes design inspiration from these new watches, if they are as good looking I don't mind one bit. For more information on the new Overseas models, click here.