Of all the great Swiss watch manufacturers, Vacheron Constantin may be the one most bound by tradition. When it comes to the way they make watches, they tend to do things the old-fashioned way, finishing and certifying the vast majority of them in accordance with the Geneva Seal. They even operate a department for bespoke work, Les Cabinotiers, dedicated to the kind of high-end and commissioned watches most often associated with the golden age of record-breaking, complicated pocket watches, when collectors pushed watchmakers to do their best work.
But Vacheron is also a modern company that is actively seeking to sell watches to a younger demographic. Just look at the recent launch of the approachably priced FiftySix line, as well as the company’s emphasis on the Overseas, a sport luxury line launched in ’96 with design cues taken from its iconic 222 of ’77.
The Overseas range has increased in references in the last few years as Vacheron has sought to add more complications to its lineup. Today, one will find world-time, chronograph, dual-time, and even ultra-thin perpetual calendar examples in this case shape that is so evocative of the 1970s. But of all of these, probably the one that surprised me the most, and that attracted my attention the most, was a stainless steel Vacheron Constantin Overseas Tourbillon. It debuted last year at SIHH in stainless steel with a striking blue dial, and it remains available only in steel. At first sight in an SIHH booth, I remember thinking that the Overseas Tourbillon was about as compelling as a tourbillon could be as an everyday watch. I spent a few days with one recently, getting a better sense for what this watch is all about.
The Vacheron Constantin Overseas Tourbillon is the latest high-complication to join Vacheron’s Overseas range, and the first tourbillon. Until recently, the Overseas has focused primarily on travel and sport-inspired complications – the dual time, the chronograph, and the more recent world-timer come to mind. In the case of the new Overseas Tourbillon, the movement is still a fairly new one in the Vacheron repertoire. The cal. 2160, which debuted in 2018’s Traditionelle Tourbillon, is the first self-winding tourbillon movement from Vacheron Constantin. (There have, of course, been other tourbillons from this august manufacture, including the excellent 14-day tourbillon, but they have been wound by hand.) With the Overseas Tourbillon, we get this movement in its first steel case, and it’s interesting to note that the other high-complication currently available in the Overseas range – the Perpetual Calendar Ultra Thin – comes only in gold. With its steel case and blue dial, this Overseas Tourbillon is nodding to the original Overseas of 1996.
As a 2019 introduction, the Vacheron Constantin Overseas Tourbillon Replica fits squarely within the third-generation of the Overseas, the first models of which debuted at the SIHH 2016 (you can see them here, here, and here). This range of Overseas has been notable for a few things. First, it uses cases with sapphire case backs in order to enable views of the movement inside them. This is different from the first generation (1996-2004), which used closed backs for the sake of water resistance; and the second generation (2004-2016), which did so for the sake of anti-magnetism and water resistance. The third generation Overseas also witnessed an increase in the number of complications added to Overseas, particularly high complications, such as this tourbillon. And most notably, the third-generation Overseas debuted a clever quick-change strap/bracelet system, allowing the watch to transition from day to night and casual to formal settings with ease. This go-anywhere capability is underlined by the discreet use of lume on the handset.
The Vacheron Constantin Overseas Tourbillon Replica has a case diameter of 42.5mm and a thickness of 10.39mm – not a modest size on paper by any means, but one that I was perhaps a bit surprised to find myself enjoy wearing quite so much. It is available in just one material – steel – and comes with a matching steel bracelet, a blue rubber strap, and a blue alligator strap, all of which can be quickly and easily changed without tools.
The Overseas is one of modern-day Vacheron’s longest running watch lines, going all the way back to the time when Johann Rupert and Vendôme, the precursor to modern-day Richemont, purchased the watchmaker in 1996. But of course, the lineage goes even further back than that. This is the inheritor of the design legacy that started with Jorg Hysek’s 222, from 1977, the first steel sport watch made by Vacheron Constantin. Back then, Vacheron was known first and foremost as a maker of precious metal watches, and the 222 opened up a new avenue for the company to pursue watches for more casual situations. We’re witnessing the Overseas collection coming full circle to include high-complications like the perpetual calendar and the tourbillon.
From the moment I saw this watch in the Vacheron booth at SIHH earlier this year, I’ve wanted to get my hands on it for a more in depth examination than a trade-show booth would allow. I was already familiar with the ins and outs of the cal. 2160 from my review of the Traditionelle Tourbillon last year, but this watch and that one are fundamentally different, their shared automatic tourbillon movement and the name Vacheron Constantin really being the only thing that connects them.
The Vacheron Constantin Overseas Tourbillon Replica is a paradoxical watch. It is an Overseas, which effectively makes it a watch to be worn daily. This has always, at least to my mind, been a strength of the Overseas and other sport-luxury watches – at their best they are elegant (often steel) timepieces that are right for casual environments while being capable of working in formal ones as well. With the third-generation Overseas, the easy strap/bracelet system brings this dimension of the Overseas to the fore. And yet this watch is also a tourbillon, a complication that, it always bears remembering, comes from the pocket watch era and long ago surrendered any real claim to its original chronometric raison d’être, at least when it is used in a wristwatch. It is mechanical art, a delicate art at that, and the very antithesis of an “everyday” complication like the GMT or the chronograph.
In my time wearing the Overseas, I went back and forth mainly between its supplied alligator and rubber straps, with only occasional in-office wear of the bracelet. I love the look and the comfort of the third-generation Overseas bracelet, which adds the quick-change function to the half-Maltese-cross links first seen in the second generation Overseas bracelets. As a system, the quick-change tech from Vacheron is fantastic. With a little practice, you could probably remove a bracelet or strap from the watch head by touch alone; clicking it back on is nearly as simple, but I wouldn’t do it blind – you might scratch your watch. The first time I saw this system, I recall thinking that it didn’t look like the sturdiest of arrangements. The system for switching the single set of clasp hardware between the two supplied straps at first looked fragile to my eyes. But my time with it proved that assumption wrong. It is easily one of the best quick-change systems currently on the market.
The Replica Vacheron Constantin Overseas Tourbillon is one of those watches that, on paper, looks a bit larger than it wears. When it arrived and I put it on, I checked a post I had written introducing it to remind myself that it is 42.5mm in diameter. I found that it wears much smaller while the watch’s surface area gives it good stability on the wrist. It’s relatively thin 10.39mm of thickness contributes to this effect while making the Overseas Tourbillon the versatile watch that I think Vacheron was aiming for. It slides under a shirtsleeve and is totally at home with a suit, and yet I found in my time with it that it’s arguably even better worn casually on the rubber strap or bracelet. And I think it would sing on that bracelet in the summer.
With its daily wearability and versatility, the Overseas may have seemed an unexpected place for the new cal. 2160 automatic tourbillon movement to land, but when you consider that, for example, Audemars Piguet has long made a tourbillon-equipped Royal Oak, it makes much more sense. The Cal. 2160 is a very nice new modern tourbillon caliber, and stiff competition for the manually wound movement found in the Royal Oak Tourbillon Extra-Thin. Cal 2160 features a peripheral winding system to provide 80 hours of power reserve on a single wind while beating a slower-than-usual 18,000 vph. The aforementioned AP is this watch’s clearest competition, though AP has offered its Royal Oak tourbillon in a wide range of materials. The Vacheron is not inexpensive at $98,500, but it is less costly than the current AP Royal Oak Extra-Thin offerings, assuming you are able to find and purchase one from AP.
The Overseas Tourbillon from Vacheron Constantin is a watch with its feet in two different worlds: Its a highly complex timepiece from a conservative Geneva watchmaker, sure, but it’s also a hot steel sport watch. At its heart is a tourbillon mechanism today prized less for its historical role of enhancing chronometric precision than for sheer appreciation of its beauty and engineering. The Vacheron Constantin Overseas Tourbillon is a high-complication that makes a compelling argument for being an everyday watch.
The Replica Vacheron Constantin Overseas Tourbillon, ref. 6000V/110A-B544. 42.5mm x 10.39mm stainless steel case, water resistant to 50 meters. Cal. 2160: automatic tourbillon movement featuring 80 hours of power reserve, peripheral winding system, measuring 31mm x 5.65mm, running at 18,000 vph in 30 jewels, 188 parts, indications for the hours, minutes, and small seconds via the tourbillon cage. Watch comes with easily interchangeable steel bracelet, blue rubber strap and blue alligator strap. Certified with the Hallmark of Geneva. For more information, visit Vacheron Constantin.