As part of the triumvirate of luxury sports watches born in the 1970s, the Vacheron Constantin Overseas fulfils all the prerequisites of the genre. Thanks to its deceptively simple interchangeable strap system the Overseas introduces an element of versatility lacking in the Royal Oak and the Nautilus. Now in its third iteration, the Overseas is a fully fledged family and the model we are looking at today is the simplest, entry-level, time-only watch in a 41mm steel case with a dashing black dial and Vacheron Constantin’s in-house calibre developed specifically for this watch. The subtle design tweaks and the superlative finishes on the case and bracelet captivate the casual elegance of the first Overseas watches combined with the robust attributes of a sports watch.
The Genesis of an Icon
Flashback to 1970. The Beatles have disbanded, the Concorde makes its first supersonic flight, demonstrations against the Vietnam War are held in Washington D.C. and many men embrace the latest fashion of bell bottom jeans. It’s also a period of extreme tension for Switzerland’s watchmakers as cheap quartz movements are putting them out of business. Something has to be done to rekindle the market. Not all men in the 1970s want a fussy gold dress watch like their father’s or, for that matter, a rugged tool watch. Something sporty but stylish, something in tune with the laid-back mood of the day…
Luckily, Audemars Piguet was listening and tapped into the zeitgeist with the revolutionary Royal Oak. Designed by Gérald Genta, the 1972 Royal Oak marked the birth of the luxury sports watch. Characterised by its steel hull, a commanding octagonal bezel, exposed screws, an integrated bracelet and an ultra-thin movement, the Royal Oak raised a few eyebrows before settling down to enjoy the status of a watchmaking icon. Four years later, Patek Philippe came out with the Nautilus, and in 1977 Vacheron Constantin introduced the 222. Designed to coincide with the 222nd anniversary of the brand, the 222 was Vacheron’s take on the luxury sports watch and would become the spiritual grandfather of the Overseas collection. With its screwed-down notched bezel and caseback, the 222 guaranteed water-resistance to 120 metres and was positioned as a watch for men with an active lifestyle but who appreciated refined touches, like the ultra-thin movement.
The first Overseas collection saw the light in 1996 and since then has undergone two major overhauls in 2004 and 2016. For a detailed history of the evolution of this watch, don’t miss our two videos (covering the origin of the collection and the current collection) with Christian Selmoni, Vacheron’s heritage and style director. The third and latest Overseas collection, launched in 2016, is the closest in spirit to the first generation with deliberate vintage touches and a marked emphasis on elegance.
Luxury Finishes on the Case and Bracelet
With its juxtaposition of different geometric shapes and textures, the 41mm stainless steel case has a dynamic personality but has been tempered to capture the more elegant, streamlined silhouette of the Overseas I.
Rounder, thinner and less angular than its predecessors – in short, much nicer – the distinctive bezel features six notches as opposed to the eight notches of the first and second generation models and is meant to remind us of the Maltese cross that forms part of Vacheron Constantin’s identity. What is extraordinary though is the impressive level of finishing on the case with alternating satin-brushed and polished finishes.
In the video, Selmoni explains how the team spent almost three years “to find the best finishes possible on the case and bracelet” studying how the light reflects on the surface. Subtle but extremely effective design tweaks were undertaken on the bracelet respecting the half Maltese cross pattern but softening it for a more elegant look. The silky smooth bracelet also has an ingenious in-built extension system (dead easy to use) letting you adapt it to your wrist size that can expand in the heat and contract in cold weather. True to its original vocation as a luxury sports watch, the case is water-resistant to 150 metres and can withstand magnetic fields of up to 25,000 A/m thanks to the soft iron casing ring.
Sleek Black Dial
Handsome, stylish and easy to combine, a black dial was introduced into the collection earlier this year. It’s hard to go wrong with a black dial and the inky black lacquered dial of this watch is drop-dead gorgeous. It’s also very refreshing to see a black dial after so many years of blue dials. Currently available with a blue dial, a brown dial and a silver dial, the most stylish and easy-to-combine option has to be the black dial.
According to Selmoni, a lot of time was invested in the dial. “We liked the slightly vintage touch of the Overseas and got inspired by dials of the 1950s and 1960s with the two-tone finishes and depth… we worked really hard to develop the dial of the Overseas 3 and made more than 100 samples to get the colour and finishes we wanted.” The flange is satin-finished and the hour markers and hands are crafted from 18k white gold and faceted for extra volume.
Another winning attribute of the Overseas is the DIY interchangeable bracelet mechanism. One of the easiest and fastest mechanisms on the market that even a child could master, the system lets you change the personality of your watch in seconds with no tools required. Presented on the stunning metal bracelet, the watch comes with a smart black alligator strap and a sporty black rubber strap.
The metal bracelets are domed and feature a satin-brushed finish as well as polished interior angles evoking the half Maltese Cross motif; the rubber strap also bears a motif inspired by the same famous Vacheron Constantin emblem; while the alligator leather strap has a flat tip and a velvety nubuck lining accentuated by a micro-perforated effect. Even the folding clasp for the straps is a cinch to attach.
High-Performance in-house Calibre 5100
Below deck, the Overseas boasts an in-house automatic movement made-to-measure for this family of watches. Calibre 5100 has 172 components and is fitted with Vacheron’s very own in-house balance spring running at 4Hz with a power reserve of 60 hours.
The sapphire caseback reveals a view of the 22k gold oscillating weight engraved with a wind rose to evoke the travel theme and displays sandblasted, polished and grained finishes. As you might expect, the watch boasts the Hallmark of Geneva certification.
No stone has been left unturned in getting this watch just right and it is packed with refined details. The sensual finishes of the case and bracelet, the sleek black lacquered dial, the subtle allusions to the brand’s insignia Maltese cross, the robust in-house movement, and above all the versatility afforded by the strap changing system elevate this watch to its rightful place in the holy trinity of luxury sports watches.
The Vacheron Constantin Overseas Black Dial 4500V retails for EUR 20,000 and is presented on a stainless steel bracelet with two additional straps, one in alligator leather and another in black rubber. Please consult the official website for more information and prices in your region www.vacheron-constantin.com.