The category of 'intergrated steel sports watches' has historically been dominated by two watches, from two of the three brands that form the 'Holy Trinity' of watchmaking. These are of course the Nautilus from Patek Phillipe and the Royal Oak from Audemars Piguet. Both designed by the infamous Gerald Genta, these watches are to this day some of the most desirable and hard to come by watches out there. The third member of the Holy Trinity is none other than Vacheron Constantin. For those of you who are not familiar with VC, they are almost the dictionary definition of a horological heavyweight. They were founded in 1755 by Jean-Marc Vacheron, making them the third oldest watch maker of all time, pipped at the post by Favre Leuba and Blancpain. In the 264 years since their inception, they have remained at the upper echelon of haute horologie rubbing shoulders with their Holy Trinity counterparts, alongside the A Lange & Sohne's of the world on the traditional side of watchmaking, and the likes of Richard Mille and MB&F on the high-end independent end of the spectrum.
Whilst this article is going to be focused solely on their Overseas collection, I would be remiss not to briefly give you the low down on some of their other incredibly famous, and down right stunning models. Whilst the Overseas is probably the most recognisable model to the layman or the novice watch geeks, if you peel back the curtain and have a peak in, you come across some truly amazing pieces of watchmaking. One of my favourite watches of all time is none other than the Corne De Vache 1955 4N. This is the rose gold variation, and considering this watch is not the focus of this article, I urge you to go and dive deeper into this watch. I mean just look at it, those lugs along give me a tingly feeling in the pants region before even turning the watch over.
Photo Credit: Hodinkee
The story of the Overseas is one that is remarkably similar to that of the Royal Oak and Nautilus, and there is a simple reason for this. Whilst the Overseas was not introduced until 1996, its predecessor, the Vacheron Constantin 222, was released in the midst of the quartz crisis. This was a time where re-invention and remaining relevant was the absolute priority for all watch brands who were not Japanese and making quartz movements. Whilst Gerald Genta was being pulled in all directions designing watches for the likes of Audemars Piguet, Patek Phillipe and IWC to name a few, Jorg Hysek was quietly working away on what I will say is my favourite watch of this category, only beaten by maybe a Nautilus Ref. 3710. I fear that the reason that the 222 spent a large portion of its production life, and the years after, being so overlooked is due in part to the common misconception as to who designed it. Whilst it has similarities when compared to other steel sports watches of its time, it held onto originality. And its modern incarnation, the Vacheron Constantin, continues to uphold that originality to this day.
Photo Credit: Monochrome
As I previously mentioned, the Overseas was released in 1996 (my birth year as it happens!). Since its inception we have seen three waves of Overseas (Sea pun unintended). Along with these iterations, we have seen subtle upgrades in both movement and design, which have resulted in what is my favorite luxury steel sports watch from the Holy Trinity.
The First Phase (1996 - 2004)
The first reference of the Overseas came in at a perfect 37mm case. It packed 150m of water resistance and was powered by a in-house modified COSC certified movement from Girard Perregaux, which VC coined the VC1310. There were also a 35mm and 24mm version released alongside. As you can see, the original Overseas and today's iteration have similar style queues, but are very different watches. The design was intended to evoke the maltese cross at the centre of Vacheron Constantin. This design feature can be seen on not only the bezel, but also the centre links of the intergrated bracelet. This is, whilst subtle, something that gives the watch a bit of edge over similar watches.
A year after the release of the time only version, Vacheron branched out into introducing complications into the Overseas, with the introduction of a chronograph in 1999. The chronograph maintained the same styling, whilst integrating a simple chronograph layout into the dial. The movement inside was not an in-house caliber. Instead Vacheron used a modified Frederique Piguet caliber 1137, so as movements go, not bad at all.
Photo Credit: Xupes
The Second Phase (2004 - 2016)
The second phase of the Overseas was where the design was certainly modernised, and took the form of the Overseas that we are familiar with today, The case was up-sized to 42mm, and the maltese inspired bezel design was enhanced as a more obvious characteristic. This increase in size was a fairly controversial change at the time. We have to remember that the first iteration of the overseas came in at 37mm. A 5mm increase in this day and age would cause rioting and looting in the streets, but it was certainly a sensible evolution considering the trend at the time for larger watches from a commercial standpoint.
In this phase of the Overseas life, possibly my favourite version of the Overseas was introduced, the dual time. Considering previously to this the chronograph was the only complication in the line up, this was a big step up. This watch featured a second time zone, power reserve, day and night indicators and the date. One thing that I find particularly remarkable about brands from the upper echelon of watchmaking is their ability to present complicated wristwatches whilst still managing to not clutter the dial too much. For me the Dual Time is a perfect example of this.
Photo Credit: Watch Pro
The introduction of the dual time also saw the rise of the Overseas being marketed to a different audience compared to the previous version. It meant that there was now the potential for being an Overseas to suit a variety of uses and tastes, with the Dual Time being marketed at the jet-setting global traveller. In as similar, but much simpler vein to this, the following year, Vacheron Constantin re-released the Overseas, this time, however, with the option of a rubber bracelet or an alligator strap. Whilst some may argue that this is just natural progression given the market that the watch sits within, I think that this was more than just a marketing decision. For me the introduction of bracelet options, in particular the alligator,showed that the Overseas meant business. It put it on a level with the Nautlius and Royal Oak offerings on leather straps, and allowed the watch the bridge the gap between 'dressy' and casual perfectly, this for me was certainly at turning point for this famous model line.
The Third Phase (2016 - present)
2016 saw the itntroduction of a totally re-vamped Overseas collection. Vincent Kauffman had taken the already popular design of the Overseas, which was a proven formula, and had used it as a based for a sleeker, sexier design. This third iteration of the Oveseas features curved lines to the case, a less pronounced bezel, and a reduction by 2 of the Maltese cross logo on the bezel itself, giving a more spread out and relaxed feel. Another subtly but important design change was the introduction of a circular disk sandwiched between the bezel and the case. This serves to both maintain the focus of the round dial, as well as highlighting the more spread out of the bezel. The other significant and long over due design change was the removal of the stamped solid case back and the introduction of a sapphire display back, showing off a stunning in-house caliber. At this price range, from a holy trinity brand, this for me is a real must. When you are buying a watch from a Vacheron or a Patek, you are not only buying an immaculately designed and beautifully assembled watch, you are also buying a stunning and finely decorated in-house movement. This is certainly something that Vacheron have achieved in the Overseas, as you can see below.
Photo Credit: A Blog To Watch
The Overseas Collection Today
So, after nearly 40 years of life, what are we left with in the current Oversea's family? The current lineup comprises the watches that you can see in the gallery below.
Photo Credit: Monochrome
As expected, it is very hard to talk about the Oversea's without drawing comparison with the Royal Oak and the Nautilus. As all of them are all verging on their 50th birthdays, it is interesting to compare how each of them have stood the test of time. Whilst it is undeniable that the Royal Oak and Nautilus have reached an unfathomable level of success, it does make me wonder. Why has the Overseas not had quite the same level of success? Is it because it was not Genta designed, is it because of the fact that you can actually go and buy one at retail? Or is it simply because Patek and AP have a 'cool' factor that Vacheron maybe does not have as much? Whatever the reason being, it is impossible to argue with the appeal and quality of the Overseas. Whilst I am sure that it is my favourite of the 3 (at the moment at least) that does not mean that I have fallen out of love with the other two. For me, the chase of getting a watch is fun up to a point, but if I was having to wait 5 to 10 years on the wait list for a Nautilus, whilst having the option of walking into Watches of Switzerland for example and buying an Overseas for less money, I know where my money is going, put it that way.
Editor & Co-Founder
The Young Horologist