Casual sports watches that bore a prestigious watch brand on the dial didn’t really exist until about 40+ years ago. However, during the 70s, there were plenty of brands that were all vying to claim they had a timepiece that would not only look good in the office, but also handle the ski slopes and a yachting trip or two during the weekends.
Sports watches with an integrated bracelet were all the rage back in the 1970s. It was essential to have a steel sports watch that not only looked the part, but was also a tool watch; a watch that could accompany you through pretty much everything and be your faithful wristwatch companion. The Royal Oak, designed by Gerald Genta, was AP’s answer to this conundrum. Patek Philippe had theirs in the form of the Nautilus (also designed by Mr. Genta), and Vacheron Constantin had the lesser-known ‘222,’ which was intended to mark the brand’s 222th anniversary. However, it’s extremely important to remember that the 222 was not designed by Mr. Genta, but instead by one young maverick designer by the name of Jorg Hysek.
Before the Overseas
It is difficult to talk about sports watches coming from Vacheron Constantin during the mid-20th century. However, VC did produce steel watches that looked unconventional when compared to the standard of that era and could perhaps be considered sporty. The first was a rare timepiece from around 1933 which featured a screw-down case back and bezel for water resistance. Was this piece the inspiration for the 222? It’s hard to say.
In 1975 Vacheron had taken a step in the right direction when they released the sports model reference 2215 or 42001 (the numbers changed down the road) in the prestigious Chronometre Royal range of models, which have very limited runs. Available in either steel or gold, it featured a rectangular case with a matching integrated metal bracelet. Of course, 1977 heralded the introduction of the downright cool 222 — a precursor to the Overseas via several other models that we’ll get to in a moment.
The 222 was produced in three variants: stainless steel, solid yellow gold, and perhaps the more favorable in that era, a steel/gold combination. The case measured 37 mm, which was rather large for the time, and came with a beautiful integrated bracelet. The case was tonneau-shaped with a clever one-piece construction opened by a screwed in, porthole-style fluted bezel, giving it 120 m of water resistance and protecting the ultra-thin automatic calibre 1121.
After seven years of production, the 222 was unfortunately discontinued; only around 500 pieces were made. By 1984, it had been replaced by a somewhat unfavorable piece with the reference 333, which is a bit of an odd name considering the 222’s importance. The 333 had an octagonal case shape and integrated bracelet (quite like that of the 222) in either steel, gold, or steel/gold. From there, the unflattering 333 quickly evolved into the Phidias around 1989. However, by 1996, the short-lived 333 and Phidias gave way to a proper Vacheron Constantin sports timepiece: the Overseas, which has become an icon in its own right over the years. If you look closely enough, you can see that this watch has taken design cues from the 222 and the Phidias.
A Full Collection of Vacheron Sports Watches
It is said that towards the end of 1994, Vacheron decided to create a new sports watch, which took its design from the aforementioned “222, launched almost two decades beforehand.” It featured a new case design with an integrated bracelet and also had a serrated bezel, reminiscent on the Vacheron Constantin Maltese cross.
By 2004, Vacheron had further developed the Overseas, giving it a bolder, sportier look and incorporating a Maltese cross on the bracelet, as well as a guilloche dial. The case was also upsized from 37 mm to 42 mm and came in an array of variations, including options with rubber and leather straps. They also started expanding on the complications available within the range, adding dual time pieces and even perpetual calendar chronographs.
In 2016, Vacheron redeveloped the Overseas, simplifying the case design a little bit, but keeping the overall aesthetics the same. The new Overseas also includes a very, very simple and ingenious interchangeability device for the bracelets/straps and the folding clasp, which serves to secure them in place without any need for tools. And for the first time, Vacheron introduced a world timer to the sporty Overseas model range, further enhancing its versatility.
The evolution that has produced the Vacheron Constantin Overseas was well worth the shift from being a purely dress watch manufacturer. This watch has become a truly iconic timepiece today.