In 1977, Vacheron Constantin, the oldest watch manufacturer in continuous operation, celebrated its 222nd anniversary. For this reason, the brand decided to create a special watch, right in the middle of what was known as the “quartz crisis”. Swiss brands needed to reinvent themselves, making necessary and often, disruptive changes. This is when the Vacheron Constantin 222, a true luxury sports watch, was born – a watch that would later become an icon under the name Overseas. In our latest series of videos, we talk with Christian Selmoni, the brand’s heritage and style director, about the Vacheron Constantin Overseas. Today, in this first part, we focus on the origins, which includes the 222 and the first generations of Overseas.
The Vacheron Constantin Overseas is a topic we’ve explored several times here, at MONOCHROME, especially in this article, which looks at the whole history of the collection. The story of the Overseas starts with a watch named the 222, launched in the 1970s. At that time, the market for mechanical watches was increasingly difficult and high-end brands such as Vacheron Constantin – like most of the Swiss watch industry – were knee-deep in the quartz crisis. However, a new trend emerged: the luxury sports watch. Playing on this newly developed category, Vacheron Constantin created its own vision of what could be a mechanical, steel, ultra-thin sports watch worthy of the name printed on the dial, as an answer to its two main competitors (the two other members of the Holy Trinity; Patek Philippe and Audemars Piguet).
Celebrating the 222nd anniversary of the brand, the 1977 Vacheron Constantin 222 boasted all the attributes of the 1970s luxury sports watch: full steel tonneau-shaped case, integrated steel bracelet, originally shaped bezel, simple display, ultra-thin automatic movement – resulting from a design created by young Jorg Hysek (and not Genta, as many would think). Later available in various materials (including steel-and-gold and full gold) and several shapes (including some squared versions), the 222 was discontinued in the mid-1980s. However, the design and style of the original model resurfaced in 1996, with the creation of the Overseas Phase 1.
The success of Vacheron Constantin sports watches really came in 1996 with the launch of the Overseas, a direct descendant of the 222. A strong evolution of the original 1977 design, the first Overseas was still built around a tonneau-shaped case with a fluted bezel reminiscent of the Maltese cross. Its dynamic lines were extended by an integrated bracelet with geometric links. At 37mm in diameter, it was still reasonably sized and the ultra-thin case was still present. Evolutions would later come to the market, including some chronograph versions. The development of the Overseas had been initiated a few months before the Vendôme Luxury group (later Richemont) acquired VC, by a design team including Dino Modolo, an external watch designer, and Vacheron Constantin’s Vincent Kaufmann.
Following the success of the first version and capitalizing on this growing icon, a second version of the Overseas was launched in 2004, with a more modern design, notably with its metal bracelet featuring a half Maltese cross motif and optimized for greater comfort. Its integration to the case was reworked and its centre link was extended up to the bezel. Muscled up at 42mm, the Overseas 2 was sportier, bolder and more masculine. This second generation of Overseas also became a proper, complete collection, with multiple iterations: chronograph, dual time, perpetual calendar, all in different materials. Luxurious, yet slightly less elegant than the original concept.
This leads us to 2016, with the creation of the third generation of Overseas… But that’s for tomorrow and the second part of this movie. For now, enjoy the first video at the beginning of this article with Christian Selmoni explaining all about the 222 and the two previous generation of a modern icon.