Vacheron Constantin Overseas Chronometer


by Eric Edelman
June 21, 2002

(click on all images to view a larger version)

Introduction

If a watch was merely a tool to tell time, this review would never have been written, and I would not have an Overseas on my left wrist as I write this. Any modern digital watch will keep good time and last for years with nothing more than the occasional battery change. The Japanese perfected inexpensive, reliable, mechanical movements some years ago. But the Swiss, and more recently the Germans, have given us the fine world of horology, where simply telling the time has been elevated to an art form. Whether you are attracted to the craftsmanship, technical ingenuity, or the soul of a mechanical watch beating on your wrist, there is something special about a fine timepiece.

In addition to being a review of a watch, this is a short story of a love lost and found again.

Read on and enjoy!

(Comments and additions appear in italics throughout the review.)

Vacheron Constantin maintains a website here.

Original Review - March 25, 2001

Vacheron Constantin currently has two claims to fame: First, they are the oldest, continuously operating Swiss watch manufacture, operating since 1755. Second, they have the honor of having produced the most expensive watch ever manufactured, a solid gold Kallista, which was covered with 130 carats of diamonds, and sold on the condition of the anonymity of the buyer. Vacheron Constantin is generally considered to be one of the "great houses" or one of the "big 3," putting them alongside Patek Phillipe and Audemars Piguet. What made Vacheron Constantin one of the "great houses" was their hiring of Georges-Auguste Leschot in 1839; Leschot designed and built machinery allowing serial production of watch parts (similar to automobile assembly line product, but with smaller parts). This gave Vacheron an incredible advantage in that they could produce a high quality movement in a shorter period of time. It's the same key to success as Henry Ford's Model T.

Over the years, Vacheron Constantin enjoyed a continued success. In 1996, they were acquired by The Vendome Luxury Group, which was subsequently acquired by Richemont. Richemont is a large holding company which controls several luxury watch brands such as Jaeger LeCoultre, IWC, Lange, Cartier, Baume and Mercier, Piaget, and Panerai. Vacheron Constantin's current product line includes women's jewelry watches like the Kalla, complications such as the Mercator, Medicus, and Minute Repeaters, ultra-thin mechanical dress watches, and a line of sports watches, the Overseas. Current yearly production is estimated at 12,000 watches per year.

The Overseas is not VC's first attempt at a sports watch. They've tried twice before, with the "Phidias" and "222" series of watches, but neither watch really took hold. The Overseas does owe some of it's heritage to these two pieces, and if you were to examine all three, you might come to the conclusion that the Overseas is a cousin of the two, perhaps a more distant cousin of the 222, but a relative nonetheless.

For a company that produces 12,000 watches per year, the Overseas is available in quite a few different varieties. There are four different sizes, at least 5 different dials, and each can be had in 18k yellow gold or stainless steel. There is a woman's size at 30mm, a boy's size at 34mm, a full-size at 37mm, and a chronograph at 40mm. Quartz movements are available on everything except the chronograph. Dials are available in a slate blue, white, salmon, and black. There are choices of stick markers or large arabic numerals. There are diamond bezels available for the women's watches. With all these choices, you can come up with 100+ versions of the Overseas, so even if you run into someone else wearing one, odds on it looking like yours are pretty slim. My watch, the subject of this review, is a full sized automatic chronometer model with the blue dial and stick markers. My warranty card is stamped with a Model Number of 42042/423A, Case Number 69550, Movement Number 875079, Dial Number 8724, and Bracelet Number 423. My second Overseas has the same model and bracelet numbers, with case # 741377, movement # 911425, and dial # 8890. I only mention this, because I think it's bizarre that they've assigned so many numbers to a watch they're only making a handful of. On the other hand, if something goes wrong, I guess they can trace the flaw back to the fellow who built the thing.



Movement

The movement in the watch is a Vacheron Constantin 1310, which is elaborated from a Girard Perregaux 3100, which has been made since 1994. You can actually find this movement in quite a few different watches. Girard Perregaux is using it in several different models, including their very attractive Vintage 1945 series of watches.  Ebel and Bvlgari use it, and of course Vacheron Constantin. This particular movement is known for being thin, yet robust. It uses 27 jewels, beats at 28800 Vph, and has a power reserve of 45 or 50 hours, depending on who you ask.  The movement is C.O.S.C. certified, the certificate is included with the watch.

This is a photo of the GP-3100 movement (from a catalog), the base movement of the Overseas chronometer. Here's what it looks like after Vacheron gets done with it, and turns it into caliber #1311. Looks like they spent some time working on this one, eh? (VC photo credit to Bill Lind, who was brave enough to open the caseback on his watch.)



Accuracy

I have timed the watch for around 10 days, and it seems to be gaining around 2 seconds per day. To compensate, I've been leaving it "dial down" at night, which evens it out to just about zero error. Having the actual C.O.S.C. certificate was a big help here, since it shows which  positions gain or lose time.

Good job guys! Passed with flying colors!



Case, Crown, Back, Bezel, and Dial

One of the nice things about the Overseas is it's size. At the time of this writing, the hottest things on the market are the big oversized watches. Panerai, Glycine, Breitling, and many other fine names are all building bigger and bigger watches. Panerai has 44mm diameter Luminor Marinas, Glycine makes a 48mm KMU-48, and Breitling just announced a 48mm Hercules chronograph. Obviously sleeves are out of fashion, because none of those things will go under a shirt cuff. The classic sports watch, the Rolex Submariner is 40mm in diameter and 13mm thick. Even Patek Phillipe is building bigger Calatrava's this year going from a 33-34mm case to 36mm cases. If Freud were alive, he'd be having a field day with this. Keep in mind, that if you go back 10 years, unless you're looking at a pilots watch or a chronograph, most watches fall into a size category of 33-35mm diameter and 6-10mm thick.

The Overseas is 37mm in diameter, and 8mm thick. How'd they do that and still get it water-resistant to 15 atm? First, they used a thin movement, and second, they used screws to hold the back onto the case, rather than having a screwdown caseback. An 8mm thick watch is really a nice size. It fits under your shirts, it doesn't catch the cuff on your jacket, and it doesn't shout, "Look at my giant watch.". Girard Perregaux used to make a watch called the Laureato using the same movement, and with almost identical dimensions. It wasn't as water resistant as the Overseas, but it's still a nice watch. It's also a watch that you can buy for a ridiculously low price, because it has awful resale value. The crown is a screw-down. First watch I've owned where the manufacturer's logo on the crown lined up when you screwed it down. This is either great attention to detail, or a complete stroke of luck. I like the watch, so obviously it's attention to detail. The crown on my second sample also lines up perfectly. Coincidence? I think not. The crown guards are designed around the Maltese Cross theme, which is VC's logo.

 I think if they'd written one more thing on the dial, I'd have bought a different watch. As it is, you've got "VACHERON CONSTANTIN, GENEVE" up at the top, and, "CHRONOMETER, AUTOMATIC" on the bottom. I think they could have left out "AUTOMATIC" and things would have been just fine. Do I really need to be reminded that the watch is going to wind itself up when I wear it? Other than the dial being a bit wordy, it's execution is flawless, both on my first and second versions of this watch. The printing is even and aligned precisely, the hour markers are polished and applied expertly. A small detail that took me some time to notice is that the hour and minute hands are finished with a matte finish, while the seconds hand is polished. This is a very minor detail whose effect is that at a quick glance, the seconds hand appears to be nearly invisible, as it blends in with the dial.

The bezel on the watch is fixed. In my instruction manual, they explain that there are 16 screws holding the case, back, and bezel together. Since I can only see the 8 screws on the back of the watch, I can only assume that there are another 8 screws holding the bezel to the case, like a Royal Oak, but without the visible nuts. More Maltese Crosses on the bezel. The crystal is synthetic sapphire, set flush with the top of the bezel. The back of the watch has a lovely engraving of a Schooner. There's an "Acier" marking, "Vacheron Constantin Overseas Geneve 15atm", "Chronometer Officially Certified", and a serial number on the caseback.  Although not my watch, here's a shot of an Overseas with an opened case back. The movement looks terrific, but perhaps even more impressive is the precision in which they machined the case to accommodate the case back.

 



Bracelet

I'm a sucker for a good bracelet, and Vacheron has done an exceptional job on this one. The bracelet is integrated into the case, and held by screws on each end. Rather than repeating a picture, just scroll back up to one of the side views, and you'll be able to see the screws. The links are all solid steel, machined pieces, with hand finished brushed and polished surfaces. The removable links are held in place by screws, and 5 rivets are used in the clasp assembly. Here are the removable links.



Clasp

Vacheron probably deserves an engineering award for the clasp, and it's one of the things that sold me on the watch. There's no way to open this accidentally, and it's so well machined, I can't see it ever malfunctioning on it's own. I'll explain how it works along with a series of pictures.

Here's the clasp fully opened. The small piece on the top (with the Maltese Cross)  moves the two angled pieces on the bottom of the clasp. Note the "OPEN" and "CLOSED" arrows.

Fold over one side of the bracelet, and press it into place.

 

Fold over the other side.

Slide the small square piece of the safety catch down into the closed position. This moves the angled pieces, locking both ends of the bracelet into place.

Fold down the clasp plate. The square indentation on the clasp plate prevents the square piece of the safety catch from opening.

Aside from the clasp, the rest of the bracelet is just as nice. Every surface is well finished, the screw holes are all evenly spaced, and they even polished the inside of the bracelet.

The inside of the clasp is marked with the VC logo, the bracelet number (423), "Steelinox", and the letters "TFGL". The TFGL part is a mystery.



Summary

MSRP on a full size Overseas is $7900. That's an asking price of almost eight thousand dollars for a stainless steel watch without any complications.  If you shop carefully, you can find one for a significant discount.

If you're interested in one of these, there's a few other watches to look at before you choose. My "short list" had the Overseas, an Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, a Blancpain Aqualung, and a JLC Reverso Gran' Sport Automatic on it. The Royal Oak isn't particularly water-resistant until you get into an offshore model, and those don't come cheap, plus they're big and heavy. The Aqualung got thrown off the list because I couldn't get Blancpain USA to return my phone calls, to find out about bracelet availablity. The Reverso is still a watch I might like to own.

Blancpain is still bad at returning phone calls. Another good watch too look at before buying an Overseas is the Chopard LUC Sport 2000 with it's very sexy double barrelled micro-rotor movement.

Due diligence on one of these watches should now include making sure it's authentic, there are Overseas replicas running around out there. I also called Vacheron Constantin USA to inquire as to the cost for extra bracelet links ($130 a piece), as well as cost and frequency of service. The service is interesting, it's $600 and recommended every five years. The $600 figure threw me at first, but then the fellow explained that it was "price fixed". For $600, you get the normal disassemble, clean, assemble, lube, and time. Plus, they do a complete refinish on the watch case and bracelet. There is no additional charge for parts, provided you have complied with the recommended service interval. So the $600 isn't too awful, since the parts are all free. I asked about replacing the tritium painted parts (dial and hands) with parts painted with Luminova, and was told that it wasn't a problem, but I should just hold off until it's first service.

A few other things are worth mentioning about Vacheron Constantin. First, the company is essentially in the dark ages. No web site, no email. Vacheron Constantin has since joined the modern world with their very own website. No email, but they did a very nice job on their site. No computerized inventory. 1940's style sales and service policies. Need a part? Send us your watch, we don't ship them. When I needed extra bracelet links, the office in New York was happy to sell them to me at $130 a piece, but he didn't have them. The main office in Switzerland had the links, but refused to sell them to me. I don't see this changing any time soon, since Richemont runs Cartier and JLC the same way, and won't provide parts to independent watchmakers. Your unauthorized dealer has zero access to parts. I can only imagine the problems someone could face by purchasing a grey-market watch and having a problem six months down the road. Best deal on one of these is a used one in good shape from someone else who bought it from an authorized dealer.

So, all in all, I like the watch. I think it's got a lot going for it with it's fine construction, and it's not a watch you'll see very often, if at all, on another guy's wrist. The size is right, and you can really wear the watch anywhere.

This was the end of the original review.

UPDATE May 7, 2001

I've now had the watch for almost 4 months. Timekeeping is very good and the finish is holding up very well to daily use. I've worn the watch with everything from jeans to a suit, boating, swimming, in the shower, etc... No problems to speak of. The bracelet is too robust to ever stretch out, so that's not a concern. I reduced my watch collection down to this one watch, so it's been worn daily.

Since my COSC certificate is dated from 1998, the watch is going to need to be serviced soon. I gave Vacheron Constantin's New York office a call, and was re-quoted a price of $750, plus parts. This is in contrast to the $600 "price-fixed" service I was quoted when I was interested in buying one. Obviously, it's a little disappointing, so I'm looking into getting an independent watchmaker to service it. I'll sell it or trade it before I spend that kind of money to get it serviced.

UPDATE: June, 2001

The watch is running slowly, time to get it serviced. I'm looking into an independent watchmaker right now.

UPDATE: Summer, 2001

Well, the watch went off to be serviced at an independent watchmaker. Remember how Mom always said, "If you don't have something nice to say.....".

The Overseas is back, but it's just not the same as before, and it's up for sale. It's really a shame, as much as I enjoyed owning this watch, it's been an almost traumatic experience to have it serviced. Painful and expensive, like having dental work done. Not how I'd envisioned my watch collecting hobby.

UPDATE June 10, 2002

I miss my Overseas. I didn't realize this until two things happened. First, a fellow TimeZoner tried to work a trade deal with me to raise a little cash so he could buy an Overseas. Second, another TimeZoner posted a question: "The Ecstasy.....Then the Agony - Have any of you ever lusted after a particular watch and when you got it, found that it was not what you had hoped for?". After I got done spilling my guts about my own particular sob story, I realized that I missed my Vacheron.

The hunt is on! My wife says the black dial with the Arabics looks the best.

 

UPDATE June 14, 2002



Mission accomplished!

Here she is, reference number 42042/423A-8890, which in Vacheronese is an Overseas Chronometer, steel, black dial with Superluminova arabic numerals. Equipped with the revised caliber #1311, running at a frequency of 28,800 vph, with 27 jewels, a power reserve of 49 hours, and a oscillating gold rotor.

Those of you who have read the whole review will notice that my previous Overseas used a caliber #1310. The new iteration is still based on the Girard-Perregaux 3100 caliber, but Vacheron has made additional changes. These include a revised rotor and calendar system and a slightly reduced size so that the newer military style dials will fit properly. If my memory serves me correctly, my previous Overseas changed it's date gradually, from around 11:30 to 12:30. In setting this new watch, I've noticed that the date change is now immediate, and it occurs right around midnight, which must be the new calendar system at work.

I like the dial a lot, even though it's a a little more noticeable than the last one. The pyramid markers at each hour really stand out nicely against the black background, and the date wheel seems a little more suited to the dial color. The white datewheel was a minor pet peeve on the blue dialed watch.

 

UPDATE June 17, 2002

I'm happy to report two things: First, the new Overseas is running with zero deviation from the atomic clock over the past 3 days. Second, I figured out this neat trick where you can go outside on a sunny day, and by using an umbrella, get a much better photograph, with less glare off of the crystal.

 

See? I'm improving!

Not bad for an amateur?

 

UPDATE August 25, 2002

I had to go four weeks without my watch, due to a stuck bracelet link. Vacheron Constantin's service department isn't so bad, they had the watch repaired within a week. I opted to drop the watch off at a Tourneau store where it was supposed to be sent by courier service to VC, which turned into a minor disaster on Tourneau's part. Again, "If you don't have something nice to say.....".

The watch is keeping excellent time, varying by only a second or two each week, and I am very happy to have it. Sometimes things are even better the second time around.

 

Eric Edelman

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