The Overseas Chronograph gets a lively makeover that gives it real identity. But we need to talk about that date window
By Chris Hall
This is the Vacheron Constantin Overseas Chronograph, but not as you know it. Previously available in blue, brown or white, it now comes with a reverse panda dial (using a lustrous black lacquer). Ringing the changes on dial colours isn’t always huge news, but this is worth talking about for two reasons.
Firstly, it really changes the overall feel of the Overseas chrono from something that puts a lot of emphasis on the “luxe” end of sports-luxe to the complete reverse: this is racier, more exciting, more immediate and dynamic. High contrast chronographs are more typically associated with Rolex, TAG Heuer, Omega et al. – you don’t get many brands from Vacheron Constantin’s haut de gamme level going down this path.
For me, it really stirs the Overseas Chronograph into life. The Overseas collection as a whole is a mix of dial designs I think work perfectly – the Ultra-thin Perpetual Calendar; the Worldtimer, and of course the standard time-only model – and designs I’m not so sure about. The Dual Time, for example: I think it works well in some iterations, like the blue, but in rose gold with the white dial already feels a little bit dated. The chronograph – and maybe this is a result of the reverse panda dial throwing other references into the shade – is a little bit underwhelming in its monotone versions.
Here, now, I can see it giving the model real identity and a clear niche in the market: it’s better-executed and boasts a higher degree of finesse than the Piaget Polo S or Girard-Perregaux Laureato chronographs, and in fact I could easily see it appealing to Rolex Daytona customers in a way the Overseas may not have done before. I’m even going to go right out there and say that I think the Overseas case and bezel take chronograph pushers more naturally than that of the Royal Oak: especially given that the Royal Oak pushers are committed to that octagonal shape that just adds a little bit too much bulk. The Royal Oak is available with both panda and reverse panda dials, as well as blue-white, blue-gold, brown-gold, blue-black “panda” style configurations.
By now you’re thinking the elephant in the room is Patek Philippe, but like-for-like comparison is tricky. Alongside Audemars Piguet, Patek is of course the other manufacture to offer an in-house automatic chronograph on a sports-luxe integrated bracelet design. But: Patek Philippe does not offer a Nautilus chronograph in stainless steel – it discontinued the 5980/1A when it released the Nautilus Travel Time 5990 in 2014. Now, you can only buy the 5980 in steel-and-gold or all-gold designs, which skews the comparison out in terms of price. It’s also a fundamental principle of Patek Philippe’s Nautilus and Aquanaut chronographs that they eschew the typical subdial layout, favouring concentric co-axial counters at six o’clock for minutes and hours. So the idea of a panda dial has gone out of the window before you even begin.
On a movement level, the Overseas Chronograph is notable for being one of only a few automatic in-house chronographs from the true top tier of watchmaking. The aforementioned Patek and AP models are its closest rivals – Breguet, Blancpain, Jaeger-LeCoultre also have automatic chronograph movements; we wait in vain for A. Lange & Sohne to do anything so vulgar as pin a winding rotor to one of its movements. Vacheron Constantin is the newest on this particular block, with the calibre 5200 which launched in 2016 as the Overseas was revamped. It’s an automatic with 52 hours of power up its sleeve, beating at 4Hz. It’s finished to Poincon de Geneve levels and measures 6.6mm thick; the watch itself measures 42.5mm by 13.7mm.
The Overseas Chronograph also scores well for practicality – as much as a high-end chronograph ever can, anyway. It’s water resistant to 150m, gets a more outdoor-friendly lease of life from the interchangeable rubber strap, and has a partial soft-iron inner casing to improve resistance to magnetic fields (up to 25,000 A/m, or 313.5 Gauss). Perhaps most interestingly, you also get luminova-filled white gold hour markers and hands.
There is however one thing that has the power to stay my hand from buying an Overseas Chronograph (ok, two things if we include not having £27,100 to spare). And that is the date window. I said we were going to talk about it and, well, how can you not? I’m not normally a date-hater (if you are, read with an open mind Alex Doak’s defence of date windows here) but I feel moved to say that this one almost spoils the entire watch. The high-contrast of the reverse panda brings any white element on the dial to the fore, and that includes that little square at 4:30. It unbalances the dial and for me, is something that once seen cannot be unseen. Vacheron Constantin makes the same mistake on the brown and blue versions of the Overseas Chronograph.
It’s also too big, or rather, it’s bordered by such a heavy white gold guichet that it really draws attention to itself. Audemars Piguet colour-matches the date wheel and leaves the hole in the dial totally unbordered, which maintains the functionality while downplaying its presence on the dial. If you’re going to have a date window, that’s the way to do it. Patek Philippe at least keeps the date at 3 o’clock, but of course that’s easy to do when you don’t have a subdial in the same spot.
It’s a quibble, and not everyone will agree, but at this level – a gorgeous, Poincon-de-Geneve level watch with a fantastic movement, a great size and feel on the wrist with a rich, smooth black dial – I can’t help but see it as a fly in the ointment.
Vacheron Constantin has also rolled out a black lacquer dial version of the Overseas time-only. This uses the 4.7mm thick, 60-hour power reserve automatic calibre 5100, which is finished to Poincon de Geneve standards. The watch measures 41mm across and 11mm thick, which really feels like a sweet spot for this style of watch.
As with the rest of the Overseas collection it comes with interchangeable straps – rubber and alligator leather are included. It may not be as transformative as the Overseas Chronograph’s panda dial, but it has shot straight to the top of the pile for me in terms of pure desirability. It retails at £18,700 – £3,700 more than a Royal Oak 41mm but £500 less than a Royal Oak Jumbo – and for me, gives that watch a real run for its money, icon status and all.