The Vacheron Constantin Overseas was late to the luxury steel sports watch party. Even as the Patek Philippe Nautilus and Audemars Piguet Royal Oak made their mark, the oldest surviving Swiss watch manufacturer saw its strengths elsewhere. In a way, the Vacheron Constantin 222 of the 1970’s was a reaction to its competition. Unlike its peers, Gerald Genta’s pen had nothing to do with it . . .
The collection floundered until it was discontinued. It was brought back – in spirit – in the mid-1990s under a new name: the Overseas. Through the years, it has evolved into the current collection of complicated and uncomplicated sports models from the storied Swiss brand. Despite being one of the worst-kept secrets within enthusiast circles, the Vacheron Constantin Overseas has never managed to achieve the success of its contemporaries.
The reason is related to its design rather than the quality of its construction. Possessing neither the sharp, angular purposefulness of Audemars Piguet’s Royal Oak nor the relaxed, organic sensuality of Patek Philippe’s Nautilus, the Overseas settles for overdoing it. The case is an odd-looking oblong turtle-shell with a compounding radius employed for its flanks that doesn’t correspond to the proportions of its bezel – or anything else for that matter.
The bezel is touted as being influenced by the Maltese Cross, Vacheron Constantin’s long-standing logo. I’ve lived in Malta. Nowhere on the beautiful island nation do I recall seeing a six-sided turbine-shape. Instead, it’s best to describe the bezel as a generous circular mass relieved with a motif implying it’s machine-screwed in.
But it isn’t a mechanical component. The design is completely superfluous. At best, it is a vague reminder of what the collection aspires to be: a harkening back to the 222’s machine-edged bezel that was screwed into the case to make it watertight.
The bracelet is more evocative of a Maltese Cross, but only barely. The single-piece links awkwardly jut upwards and into each other. The bracelet is integrated into the case, but the lugs (so to speak) are not angled generously enough to follow a wrist’s curvature. At least the crown is generously shaped and sized. But its straight cylindrical form seems incongruent to the rest of the watch’s design.
What of the dial? Apart from the variety of finishes available, it also tries too hard and doesn’t make sense.
The seconds hand’s arrowhead tip doesn’t reach the seconds track on the flange, the minutes hand is wider than the hour indices – obscuring them when passing over – and the hour hand is simply a bit too long and thin to be easily differentiated from the minutes hand. The dial is also very small compared to the full-sized watch, giving the impression that legibility is of secondary importance.
The in-house automatic Caliber 5100 is housed under a see-through caseback that adds unnecessary girth to the case height, making for an uncomfortable wearing experience. Although it is only 11mm thick, the Overseas struggles to find balance on the wrist – its dimensions detract from being able to enjoy it as a comfortable fit.
The 41 mm case diameter actually wears much larger due to the extremely wide lug flanks and large lug-to-lug span, and the shape of the caseback ensures it is always precariously perched.
The bracelet can at least be easily adjusted or swapped out for either a leather or rubber strap supplied with the watch in pursuit of both a better fit and changing the look to match a variety of occasions.
The quality of its finish is the Vacheron Constantin Overseas’ saving grace. It’s executed in full Vacheron Constantin style, earning it the Geneva Seal. If all of this appeals to you, as always, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. For the design-conscious, it’s Gerald Genta or bust.