Things have changed at the top. Just a few years ago, virtually all high-end Swiss watch brands were enjoying double-digit growth. Already at the start of this year Richemont cut watchmaking jobs in Switzerland, affecting principally Cartier, Vacheron Constantin and Piaget, and, according to trade union reports, there are plans to axe another 200 jobs, following a 43% drop in operating profit for the first half of 2016. No-one could have forecast the terrorist attacks in France, Spain and Istanbul that seem to have changed patterns in travel on the part of high-net-worth individuals. Watchmaking is an industry with a lengthy development time, and Vacheron Constantin began planning the redevelopment of its Overseas collection in 2011. The three new calibres designed for the collection represent an investment of several million Swiss francs, and so today, the steel version of the Overseas Chronograph – to take the subject of this article as an example – costs €31,600, $28,900. That’s just over double the price of another new high-end chronograph, the Piaget Polo S Chronograph.
The Vacheron Constantin Overseas Chronograph doesn’t look particularly original, and the diagonal date window at 4.30 looks (to my eye) positively unattractive. But there is a lot of good stuff here, such as the three quickly interchangeable straps – bracelet, leather, rubber – supplied with the steel version of the watch. This is a brilliant user-friendly touch and a feature that will, I am sure, become an important selling point for watches in the future. The metal bracelet has a lovely satin-brushed finish, with links that cleverly suggest the brand’s Maltese cross logo. The alligator leather strap has a velvety nubuck lining with a sporty pierced surface. Leather and rubber straps have an interchangeable folding clasp that incorporates comfort adjustment.
The case, 42.5 mm in diameter and 13.7 mm thick, is the defining feature of Overseas, with its six-sided bezel, and an inner bezel flange bearing a complete scale marked in fifth-of-second divisions. The caseback has a sapphire crystal revealing the gold oscillating weight with the rose of the winds motif. Water resistance is excellent at 150 metres, guaranteed by the screw-down caseback and the pushers with a quarter-turn locking device. This is a nice piece of engineering, ensuring water-tightness while requiring only a quick rotation to be able to use the pushers.
The self-winding 5200 movement was designed specifically for this watch by Vacheron Constantin. It provides a 52-hour power reserve by virtue of two mainspring barrels, and it has a soft-iron ring for protection from magnetic fields. The chronograph functions are controlled by a column wheel, and actuated by a vertical clutch, a feature that enables the chronograph to be left running continously without any adverse effect on precision or movement durability. The balance runs at 28,800 vibrations per hour (4 Hertz), and the calibre has 54 jewels.
Prices and references
The Vacheron Constantin Overseas Chronograph in steel with silver-toned dial is reference 5500V/110A-B075; with blue dial, reference 5500V/110A-B148, price €31,600, $28,900.
The watch is available in pink gold, reference 5500V/000R-B074, price €53,600, $49,000. All the models are certified with the Geneva Seal (Poinçon de Genève), a quality mark that guarantees traditional watchmaking crafts excellence as well as timekeeping precision.