I count myself an extremely fortunate man. In the course of my rather short journey in the world of watches, I have owned and worn highly desirable sports watches from Audemars Piguet and Patek Philippe. My latest claim to fame is completing the trinity with a Vacheron Constantin Overseas.
Since the troubles of 2020 resulted in the cancellation of all my vacations, I convinced myself that wonderful memories can also be had through the acquisition of a timepiece. I may not be able to travel overseas, but I could certainly get an Overseas.
It was an easy sell. I love the dazzling blue dial and the versatility of the interchangeable straps. The problem was trying to decide which model. While I am very much into chronographs, I found the 5500V a little too large at 42.5mm. The Dual Time 7900V, while practical, seemed a little bulky at 12.8mm and its asymmetry takes some attention away from the dial finish. Sure, there were other models like the ultra-thin perpetual and the tourbillon that are absolutely stunning, but I wasn’t ready to put down that kind of money. After much deliberation, not that there were many options left, I decided on the base model 4500V, and boy am I glad I did
The Boutique Experience
My wife had previously purchased a restored vintage piece from the boutique, so we got familiar with the folks there. Given that my other purchases had been either through authorised or pre-owned dealers, buying from a boutique turned out to be quite an experience. I lost count of the number of watches I had tried on over numerous months at both boutiques, but I never felt pressured to make a purchase. The boutique staff were always patient and accommodating.
As it would have to be, by the time I finally decided that I would get the watch, there was already an increased demand for it. Where you could readily walk into a dealer or boutique and buy it immediately, now there seemed to a global shortage in supply, and I had to be placed on a waiting list. I am not a patient man by nature and having to wait for my watch to arrive was, I suppose, character-building. I was consoled by the fact that as opposed to others trying to obtain a Nautilus 5711, I will actually be able to get my watch
And it really wasn’t too bad. My watch finally arrived after a little over 2 months, thanks to the efforts of Zhao Nan, the long-suffering assistant boutique manager who had to endure my frequent hounding. With much anticipation and excitement, my wife and I made a date out of the morning of the collection, heading down to Marina Bay Sands for breakfast before punctually arriving at the boutique the very minute it opened. She was, of course, wearing her pink 37mm Overseas to match my latest acquisition.
And there it was, right in front of me: my watch, laid out in all its glory. Zhao Nan congratulated me on my purchase, showed me everything that came within the beautifully inlaid and lacquered box, then proceeded to make the necessary adjustments to the bracelet and straps. In the meantime, I was admiring the timepiece sans strap, moving the case from side to side to watch the light perform magic on the case and dial.
The leather strap was customised with my choice of stitching, and I opted for a lighter shade of blue to contrast the navy alligator, with a hint of bright red at the very tip as an added quirky detail. I chose to wear the watch on the bracelet, in part to match my wife’s choice of strap that day, but mostly because I was keen to experience the shine of it on my wrist once we got outside. Special care was taken to avoid painfully scratching any part of it within the first hour of ownership. My wife repeatedly says that I am obsessed with keeping my watches in pristine condition. I freely admit to the abovementioned charge. I would like to put on record, however, that she is not so different, and that is why we make the perfect couple.
Living with the Overseas
Let’s start with the pièce de resistance: the dial. While it lacks the historically significant texture of the tapisserie on the Royal Oak or the status-defining horizontal embossed stripes of the Nautilus, the Overseas more than makes up for it with their interpretation of a blue dial that is simply dazzling. Pictures do no justice to it; you must see it in the metal. Not unlike the F.P. Journe Chronomètre Bleu, the dial looks like it has a layer of translucent blue lacquer over a black polished plate. It takes on different shades under different lighting conditions, appearing almost black in darker environments and an electric blue under intense sunlight. I find myself glancing at it more frequently than expected when outdoors.
As with most steel sports watches with an integrated bracelet, the case does sit large on the wrist, although the tapered edges and sloped bezel give it a rather slim appearance and wraps comfortably around my small wrist. The bracelet cleverly carries on the Maltese cross motif and offers the level of refinement you would expect from this member of the trinity. I freely admit that the bracelet design cannot quite match the original Genta masterpiece in pageantry, but I have found it more comfortable to wear and can withstand the rigours of daily usage better. Both design and practicality trump the Nautilus, in this humble writer’s opinion.
As well-crafted as the bracelet is, I am likely to wear it most frequently on the included rubber strap. This is meant to be a sports watch after all, and a more muted, casual look is preferred on days that you want to bask in the hot tropical sun. To remind me of the luxury status of the watch, a polished Maltese cross serves as the deployant clasp. Ending the day with a slightly fancy dinner? No problem. I simply rinse off my 150 metre water-resistant Overseas, pop off the rubber strap, replace it with my customised alligator option and I am good to go.
On occasion, I found much pleasure in admiring the in-house 5100 movement through the exhibition back. Polished and bevelled screws hold down the Côtes de Genève decorated movement, the view partially obscured by the 22k gold rotor engraved with a compass rose. Zhao Nan was proud to inform me that the movement and the case both bear the Hallmark of Geneva certification. While that does not have any practical bearing, it does instil a sense of pride in owning a timepiece that has been finished to the highest standards
When looking for a luxury steel sports watch, the average consumer gravitates towards the usual suspects. Vacheron Constantin has largely been ignored in this segment, in part due to the lack of historical success for the Overseas line-up. Even though the Jorg Hysek designed Ref. 222 is popular amongst vintage collectors, it has never found much fame compared to the timeless Gerald Genta designs. As such, the brand had to fight an uphill battle to establish itself in this arena. I, for one, have not been a fan of the previous iterations of the Overseas.
The third generation models have, I think, finally hit the nail on the head. The winning combination of handsome looks and versatility finally makes the Overseas a serious contender in this decades-long rivalry. Perhaps the lack of initial success prompted Vacheron Constantin to put in extra effort in improving its design to set itself apart, while its competitors continue to enjoy the fruits of Genta’s works for the last 40 odd years. Reverence and admiration for legendary icons is great, but what I would like to experience is the birth of a future classic. And I would like to believe that I am wearing one right now.