Some categories in the watch world are more competitive than others. The “Luxury Sports-Watch” sector certainly is amongst the toughest of all. Narrow, precisely defined, and requiring the highest standards of quality, luxury, and mechanics, it is driven by a few, very strong icons… Entering it is complex. Breaking back into its ranks is close to impossible, but this is what Vacheron Constantin have achieved with the new Overseas collection, first introduced in 2016, and today we look at the “standard” offer, the Overseas Automatic 4500V.
The “Luxury Sports-Watch” Category
In the strictest definition, the “luxury sports-watch” category is extremely narrow. It comprises probably under 10 members, most of them born in the 1970s, under the genius pen of a certain Gerald Genta. What is a “luxury sports-watch”? Of course, there’s no official definition, so here what we, at Monochrome, would say: a “luxury sports-watch” is a stainless steel watch with integrated bracelet, shaped case, thin profile, with high-end construction of the case and bracelet, luxurious details, a haute-Horlogerie thin movement, all combined with the ability to be worn during leisure activities. So to say, a watch that combines the best of a dress watch with the best of a sports watch.
Most of the current members of the “luxury sports-watch” category were born in the mid-1970s and most of them were designed by a single man: Genta. He can be credited with the creation of a concept, unique at that time: a steel watch that was more expensive than most classical 3-hand gold dress watches. To fully understand what this “luxury sports-watch”, take a few examples: AP Royal Oak, PP Nautilus, IWC Ingenieur Jumbo SL, GP Laureato, and of course, the Vacheron Constantin Overseas – or at least the ancestor of this collection, the Reference 222.
Short History of the Vacheron Constantin Overseas
Launched in 1977, as a reaction to the offers made by the 2 other members of the Holy Trinity (PP and AP), was the 222, which was introduced to mark the brand’s 222nd anniversary. Even if some similarities can be spotted between the design of the Royal Oak, the Nautilus and the 222, and contrary to popular belief, it is not designed by Gerald Genta. The person who designed the 222 was a young man named Jorg Hysek (who’s now also the namesake of another brand.)
Several features of the 222 were kind of special: the shape of the case (an angular tonneau with a round bezel), the shape of the bracelet’s links and the design of the notched bezel, or the Malte Cross integrated into the case, just below the dial. The Vacheron Constantin 222 was powered by the ultra-thin calibre 1121 (which is basically the same movement that the AP and PP competitors used; all are based on the JLC calibre 920). The 222 was produced in 3 variations, steel, gold/steel and all gold and in 2 case sizes (38mm for the automatic and 34mm with a quartz movement). This now a highly sought after piece that was quickly discontinued (in 1984) and they only produced 500 pieces. Although not really part of the Overseas collection, the 222 can be seen as the ancestor of the collection.
The Vacheron Constantin Overseas, as a proper collection, was introduced in 1996. “It was decided to create a sports/chic watch directly taking 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, an independent designer in charge of many Vacheron Constantin designs of the time and Vincent Kaufmann a young in-house designer, who today heads the VC design team. First to be launched was the time only model housing cal 1310 based on GP calibre 3100 in a 37mm case.” It was then followed in 1999 by the chronograph, housing the Piguet-based automatic calibre 1137, which was based on the Piguet calibre 1185 that was modified to add a big date mechanism.
The latest execution of the Vacheron Constantin Overseas was unveiled in 2004, with a more masculine and sporty design. The main evolution concerns the bracelet, which integrated the brand’s symbolic Maltese cross with brushed and polished angles. The original Overseas models have also muscled up too: a time-only and a chronograph, both in 42mm cases. Later a Dual Time was added as well as one featuring a Perpetual Calendar. These models were no longer certified as chronometers but came with antimagnetic protection. Finally, Vacheron Constantin switched to the calibre 1126 for the time-only model.
The Vacheron Constantin Overseas Automatic 4500V
Back in 2016, Vacheron Constantin introduced a brand new, fully redesigned collection for the emblematic Overseas. A new shape, although not entirely unfamiliar, featured new styling, new standards of luxury, new movements and new complications… Overall, a very profound update. The collection was first launched around four models: the present Overseas Automatic 4500V, the Ultra-Thin 2000V, the Chronograph 5500V and the Perpetual Calendar Ultra-thin – joined later by a world-time version. If all the editions are desirable and full of interest (special mention for the ultra-thin automatic, however only available in white gold, and priced around 60,000 Euro), the cornerstone of the collection remains the entry-level offer, the present Overseas Automatic 4500V.
As we already explained, the design of the new Overseas is a combination of some elements of past models, with an overall new shape. While all the previous versions, from the 222 to the 1990s versions or the just discontinued ones, were based on a sharp barrel case, the new edition has more curves – the case is still a tonneau-shaped one, although the sides are more rounded. This changes the perception of the watch, slightly more elegant and maybe a bit less masculine overall. Yet, the classic touches remain, such as the serrated bezel shaped like a broken Maltese cross – again, it is a slight design evolution, as the recessed parts seem inverted compared to the previous version, and the whole bezel is properly round.
In terms of proportions and design, we’re fully in the “luxury sports-watch” territory. A quite large diameter, at 41mm (even if it is 1mm less than the previous edition), a combination of brushed surfaces with polished accents and bevels, relatively thin profile, at 11mm (one or two millimeters less would have been welcome though), an integrated bracelet (with something very cool… more later) and overall a superb construction and finishing. Indeed, one thing that immediately comes to mind when playing with this Vacheron Constantin Overseas Automatic 4500V is the overall feeling of quality and attention to details. Whatever the angle, wherever you look, the execution is simply stunning. Perfect adjustments, sharp transitions between the different surfaces, high-gloss polishing, beautiful brushing… It feels like you are not in the sports watch category anymore, but very well into high-end watchmaking.
A special mention should be made for the steel bracelet. A close look reveals an incredible amount of details: polished and satin-brushed finished links, a polished chamfer on the edges, and polished interior angles on the centre of the links… This is something that is usually found on movements, not bracelets. Overall, the iconic design of the bracelet, mimicking a Maltese cross is still present, and gives the Overseas Automatic 4500V a very distinctive look – masculine, yet elegant and refined.
Vacheron Constantin also had the clever idea to create an interchangeable bracelet. We’ve all faced that: taking a watch with steel bracelet, fighting for half an hour with low-quality tools to remove it, and that operation mainly ended in scratching the back side of the lugs… Yet, changing the straps/bracelets has become a recurrent game. What VC has done with the Overseas Automatic 4500V (and on the rest of the collection) is to create a quick-release device, where you simply push a button between the lugs to release the bracelet. And the other good point is that the box comprises two extra straps – rubber and leather – as well as a dedicated folding clasp (that can be used on both straps). A clever way to make your watch versatile, and to protect its beautifully finished case.
For the dial, Vacheron Constantin decided to go visually simple for this new Overseas collection. A good point considering that the case has quite some complex shapes. Compared to the older model, we have a more refined and clean design. The not-so-appropriate Arabic numerals are now gone and are replaced by 18k white gold applied baton indexes. It’s the same recipe for the hands: slimmer, longer and more classy. Finally, the dial of the Overseas Automatic 4500V offers great legibility, thanks to two independent tracks: one for the minutes on the periphery of the dial, and one for the seconds on the inner flange.
Also, the date goes back to a natural position, at 3. Some will argue about the presence or not of such a window on a watch, but knowing this edition is meant to be a daily-beater, the date makes sense. Furthermore, on the silver edition we reviewed here, the date seems almost invisible. The dial, even if apparently simple, is actually beautifully made: a plate with a sun-ray pattern in the centre, on top of which is applied a translucent lacquer, which leaves visible the surface finishings underneath. This brings an interesting depth to the dial. The Overseas Automatic 4500V is available in 3 steel edition: silver dial (seen here), blue dial and brown dial (note that a pink gold version with silver dial and a two-tone silver/gold version with silver dial are also available).
Turn the watch over and you’ll discover quite an engine – maybe not in terms of look, as this movement is quite shy and hides a lot of its technical components, but in terms of specifications. This automatic calibre 5100, developed and manufactured by Vacheron Constantin and adorned with the hallmark of Geneva, is composed of 172 parts. It beats at the rate of 28,800 vibrations per hour and is endowed with a comfortable 60-hour power reserve, guaranteed by its twin barrels (ensuring the constancy of the torque delivered to the regulating organ).
The transparent screwed-down caseback reveals the precious 22K gold oscillating weight adorned with a compass rose; itself decorated in various ways: with frosted surfaces, brushed parts and polished parts. The decoration of the movement itself is very pleasant (hallmark of Geneva obliges) and shows no flows – nice chamfers, bevelled wheel, polished screws… One side note: the decoration is quite cold and a bit clinical, even if done with state-of-the-art techniques. A bit more extravagance or more opened bridges would have added some more pleasure.
All in all, the Vacheron Constantin is a very serious package: nice movement, superb execution of the case, dial and bracelet, historically-relevant details and a strong DNA. The Overseas new-gen is clearly worthy of its name. So now, the big one: is it enough compared to the Royal Oak or the Nautilus? In terms of quality, no doubt to have, the Overseas Automatic is really on par. In terms of style, even if it is personal, it typifies what one would expect for a “luxury sports-watch”. In terms of “prestige” of the brand, well Vacheron is part of the Holy Trinity, meaning there’s no debate here. Objectively, at 21,500 Euro, it is isn’t cheap but its competitors aren’t either.
So remains the question of the aura of the model itself… The two others are true icons and the biggest flaw of the Overseas is not inherent to the watch itself but to its market. Only time, and continuity in the design and quality, can reinforce the emblematic-side of the Overseas – but it’s on the way. More details on vacheron-constantin.com.
Technical Specifications – Vacheron Constantin Overseas Automatic 4500V
- Case: 41mm diameter x 11m thick – stainless steel, polished and brushed – sapphire crystal on both sides – 150m water resistant
- Movement: Calibre 5100, in-house – Hallmark of Geneva certification – automatic – 4Hz frequency – 60h power reserve – hours, minutes, seconds, date
- Bracelet/strap: interchangeable steel bracelet – box includes rubber strap and leather strap, with steel folding buckle
- Price: 21,500 Euro