The New Vacheron Constantin Overseas Reflects Travel, Companionship, And Extremely Easy Strap Interchangeability
Following the introduction of 2015’s Harmony collection (see Vacheron Constantin’s Harmony Collection: Poetry In Chronographic Motion), a line of elegant timers in precious-metal cushion-shaped cases, the Geneva icon turns to refreshing the Overseas, its only “everyday” timepiece, a more rugged sporty watch exuding its own special brand of elegance.
On discovering the reinvigorated Overseas collection at SIHH 2016, one thing I could not stop marveling over is how intelligent it is. Yes, I describe this new line as intelligent. The refresh, which includes five new models (making a total of 12 references), couldn’t have turned out better.
Let’s examine why.
The strap change system
When I asked Vacheron Constantin CEO Juan-Carlos Torres about his personal relationship to the Overseas, the answer was not what I had expected to hear. “I think it’s not [about] emotion,” he answered in his typically excited way. “It’s perspective . . . Overseas is the emotion of what you do. It’s more a companion.”
And therefore, while I would dearly love to begin my examination of the collection with the new chronograph movement, I am not going to. I will start with the element that is certainly the first thing that a prospective new buyer will notice and that perhaps creates the most feeling of the Overseas being a companion: the strap change system.
Strap change systems have been around for a few years. I first noticed them when Jaeger-LeCoultre and Frédérique Constant brought them in about ten years ago. The system usually involves a little lever on the underside of the strap that moves the spring bar to the side, allowing the wearer to change his or her own straps without resorting to the same kind of strap-change tool that watchmakers use.
If you have ever tried to change your own strap, you will know that it is all too easy to slip with the tool and scratch the you-know-what out of your case (I speak from experience here). So when that new lever system came in, I was all for it. I actually own a watch that has one built in (and I have a set of four changeable straps to go with it), and I can say that it is miles better than trying to use a tool.
Nonetheless, it is still finicky and requires quite a bit of dexterity and slim fingers or strong fingernails. I do find that the older I get (and the worse my eyes become), the harder it becomes to use. And I will also confess having broken a nail over it before (okay, guys, not cool to roll your eyes at that one – it’s actually a problem).
To put it bluntly: Vacheron Constantin’s new system eliminates that entirely, something that Torres also noticed. “It’s young, it’s aggressive, and it works – I’m really surprised myself,” he chuckled during our talk.
The straps and bracelets – a metal bracelet and both leather and rubber straps come with each of the each new Overseas models – all just click in and click out easily. It’s a twist-and-turn kind of thing, easy to master and simple to use.
And there are no fingernails involved. Not one.
This new strap change system is patent pending, so I’m not going to reveal too much more about it here aside from my hope that the brand brings it in on all of its watch lines once the patent goes through. It’s that good.
“The Overseas is a miracle,” Torres went on to remark. “Sometimes, for example, when I’m working with my cars in my garage, I have to avoid the Overseas bracelet because I can hurt the car with it. Now I can put my rubber bracelet on the watch instead. And when I am with friends in the evening for dinner, I change to my leather strap. I can match the events to my watch.”
Additionally, the new deployant clasp also allows the wearer to change the length up to four millimeters . . . while the watch is still on the wrist.
The metal components are beautifully polished and include a half-Maltese cross motif (Vacheron Constantin’s emblem) on the buckle that works like a lock and key. Very cool.
And when it comes to the movements, I will start off by saying that the entire Vacheron Constantin collection of mechanical watches is now 100 percent certified by the Geneva Seal, a difficult-to-attain certification that is not only extensive in its testing, but also reserved for watchmakers headquartered in the canton of Geneva.
Vacheron Constantin’s products have been certified by the exclusive hallmark since 1901, but this is the first time that the brand has reached certification of 100 percent of the mechanical production.
The Overseas collection is now powered by three new in-house calibers: chronograph Caliber 5200, Caliber 5100 including time and date, and “small model” Caliber 5300. Calibers 1120 and 1120 QP, which are not new, are used in the ultra-flat Overseas models.
This is not revolution, but it is an essential and beautiful evolution. Torres concurs: “I don’t care if it’s not the latest technical innovation; it has to be reliable quality. That’s the first thing.”
The 5000 caliber series is notable for a couple of reasons, the first being protection against magnetic fields, which is possible thanks to a soft iron ring around the movement. Because it’s not an iron “core” enveloping the movement like those found in the old days, but rather a ring, these movements can be outfitted with a transparent sapphire crystal case back.
That would not have been possible in the previous versions due to the iron hugging the movement on all sides. Had that been the case here, the wearer would definitely have been sad not to be able to look at the beautifully finished manufacture caliber whenever he or she would like.
“It’s good that you bring that up,” said Torres when I asked about the shape of the iron core; I was concerned that something wasn’t right because I could see the movement. “That’s exactly that I said. Then I was told, ‘Charly, you are living old school. Now the technology allows us to have a small ring doing the same job’.”
The other notable element aside from the very fine finishing is the column wheel shaped like a Maltese cross found in the chronograph Caliber 5200. That is just a super-cool detail that I had to look at again and again.
“A lot of connoisseurs and a lot of collectors were waiting for this chronograph movement as well,” Torres continued when I expressed my pleasure after finally putting down the loupe. “I think this was the one that everyone was kind of waiting to see.”
Like the Harmony models’ Calibers 3500, 3300, and 3200, the new Caliber 5200 boasts both a traditional column wheel for controlling the chronograph and a vertical clutch containing a brand-new “friction component” designed to do away with the little “jump” that some chronograph hands exhibit when activated.
Both this friction component and the chronograph wheel have been manufactured using LIGA-grown nickel-phosphorus, a completely smooth “new” material that is “grown” in galvanic manner and needs little or no lubrication when used in a watch movement. LIGA nickel-phosphorus is also very advantageous due to the extreme precision of production – that’s of real advantage when it comes to reducing play between gears.
Unlike the Harmony models, which beat at 18,000 vph/2.5 Hz, the Overseas watches all beat at the modern frequency of 28,800 vph/4 Hz.
The ultra-thin models are obviously more focused on elegance than robustness and therefore make use of a movement that has been in use in this form at Vacheron Constantin since 1982: Caliber 1120.
But they, too, are outfitted with the new strap-changing system – as they should be.
For more information, please visit www.vacheron-constantin.com/overseas.
Quick Facts Overseas Chronograph
Case: 42.5 x 13.7 mm, stainless steel or 5N red gold, including a soft iron ring around the movement for extra anti-magnetic protection
Movement: automatic Caliber 5200 with 52 hours of power reserve, Seal of Geneva
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; date, chronograph
Price: $28,000 in stainless steel and $49,000 in red gold, comes with three bands (metal, alligator skin, rubber)
Quick Facts Overseas
Case: 41 x 11 mm, stainless steel or 5N red gold, including a soft iron ring around the movement for extra protection against magnetism
Movement: automatic Caliber 5100 with 60 hours of power reserve, Seal of Geneva
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; date
Price: $19,900 in stainless steel and $35,600 in red gold, comes with three bands (metal, alligator skin, rubber)
Quick Facts Overseas Small Model
Case: 37 x 10.8 mm, stainless steel or 5N red gold with 84 round-cut diamonds on bezel (approx. 1 ct), including a soft iron ring around the movement for extra protection against magnetism
Movement: automatic Caliber 5300 with 60 hours of power reserve, Seal of Geneva
Functions: hours, minutes, subsidiary seconds
Price: $24,900 in stainless steel and $39,500 in red gold ($51,400 with red gold bracelet), comes with three bands (metal, alligator skin, rubber)
Quick Facts Overseas Ultra-Thin Perpetual Calendar
Case: 41.5 x 8.1 mm, white gold, including a soft iron ring around the movement for extra protection against magnetism
Movement: automatic Caliber 1120 QP, beating at 19,800 vph / 2.75 Hz with 40 hours of power reserve, Seal of Geneva
Functions: hours, minutes; perpetual calendar with date, weekday, month, leap year and moon phases
Remark: comes in a watch winder box and delivered with a corrector stylus
Price: $91,400, comes with three bands (metal, alligator skin, rubber)
Quick Facts Overseas Ultra-Thin
Case: 40 x 7.5 mm, white gold, including a soft iron ring around the movement for extra protection against magnetism
Movement: automatic Caliber 1120, beating at 19,800 vph / 2.75 Hz with 40 hours of power reserve, Seal of Geneva
Functions: hours, minutes
Remark: comes in a watch winder box and delivered with a corrector stylus
Price: $55,700, comes with three bands (metal, alligator skin, rubber)