The OG VC Overseas: Making the Case
When it comes to vintage and neo-vintage, ultra-luxury sports watches, the conversation seemingly starts and stops with the Patek Philippe Nautilus and Audemars Piguet Royal Oak. But what if I told you there was a third option that was not only better but available at only a fraction of the price?
Along with Patek Philippe and Audemars Piguet, Vacheron Constantin is one-third of the watch industry’s “Holy Trinity.” Yet when it comes to the three brands’ primary sports watch offerings – the Nautilus, Royal Oak, and Overseas, respectively – Vacheron Constantin’s Overseas doesn’t get close to one-third of the hype.
It is true that Vacheron’s current Overseas models have caught up just slightly to their Patek and AP counterparts with long waiting lists and inflated secondary market prices. However, in the vintage and neo-vintage auction markets, the brand still lags behind its Holy Trinity compatriots.
To illustrate, let’s look at comparable steel, automatic mid-size Nautilus, Royal Oak, and Overseas references from the 1990s and where they are currently trading in the market. In the above scenario, a Patek Philippe Nautilus Ref. 3800 currently auctions for around $80,000, an Audemars Royal Oak Ref. 4100 for approximately $40,000, and finally, a Vacheron Constantin Overseas Ref. 42050 goes for about $12,000.
Of course depending on factors like dial color, these figures can change, but I think you get the point.
I wouldn’t fault you for assuming that based on the lack of hype and vast pricing differences, vintage and neo-vintage Overseas watches just aren’t as “good” as their Patek and AP equivalents. But that assumption, in my humble opinion, couldn’t be more wrong.
Setting the Stage
The four steel automatic Overseas models I will be speaking to in this article were all produced between 1996 and 2004. These include the Ref. 42040 (first series with a 37mm case), the Ref. 42050 (first series with a 35mm case), the Ref. 42042 (second series with a 37mm case), and the Ref. 42052 (second series with a 35mm case). And aside from being the very first Overseas models sold by the brand, all of them were based on the legendary Jörg Hysek-designed Vacheron 222 introduced in 1977.
Except for case size, there are some small differences inside and out between each reference, but nothing overly significant. So, to make this easy, I will combine all four references into one blanket term – the “OG Overseas.”
The Dial and Hands
The OG Overseas came in five different dial colors – white, black, blue, gray, and salmon (Vacheron also produced a “military dial” featuring large Arabic numerals, but we’ll skip that one). And despite being the most commonly found nowadays, the white dial is my favorite because it is the only dial variant to feature a guilloché pattern that is, in my view, supremely executed. Plus, depending on the lighting and angle from which you look, the depth and complexity of the finishing is abundant; one glance at the dial is never the same as another.
Of course, the three other dial colors also have their own merits. They each feature a sunburst finish that radiates out from the center post. Again, depending on your viewpoint, these dials always seem to create the effect of being multicolored. However, unlike the white version, with the black, blue, and salmon dials, we often see semi or complete tropicalization or “brassing” – always a welcome characteristic for collectors (and usually a value booster).
The OG Overseas feature long triangular steel indices denoting each hour. Behind each of them in the chapter ring are triangular lume-filled markers. The consistent use of triangles, albeit differently shaped ones, creates a nice effect. Also, if you have an earlier model with tritium lume, you’ll most likely see the indices have patinated to a bright custard hue. Interestingly, this usually happens very evenly across all the indices, unlike with other watches.
Another feature of OG Overseas dials that I love is the large steel Maltese cross smackdab at 12 o’clock. Personally, I think Vacheron’s Maltese cross is probably the best logo in the entire watch industry. But that is neither here nor there.
Right under the cross in all capital letters, you’ll find “VACHERON CONSTANTIN – GENEVE” written in a unique, almost aggressively curved shape that is concentric to the natural circular shape of the dial. Additionally, two other noteworthy dial features you’ll enjoy are the deeply cut date window highlighting a serifed date wheel and the “CHRONOMETER – AUTOMATIC” text just above 6 o’clock, written in a different, almost business-like font.
Finally, the minute and hour hands of the OG Overseas are, according to my watchmaker, “better executed and of higher quality” than their competitors’. Plus, in keeping with the trend set by the indices, they are triangular at the tip but squared-off at the base.
The edges are nicely polished, while the center, non-luminous portion is a lightly sandblasted white shade. The strip of lume on each hand is the same width as the hour markers and, if tritium, usually patinates warmly. The running seconds hand is all steel and simple and features a fat, rectangular base.
The Case and Bracelet
The case and bracelet of the OG Overseas feature some of the best finishing I’ve ever seen on a watch. And with many different brushed and polished nooks and crannies, it’s truly a work of art.
To start: the polished bezel is raised flush with the sapphire crystal and features eight “cut-outs” paralleling the eight points of the Maltese cross. The top of the case is expertly brushed with razor-sharp (like, watch your fingers sharp) beveling that leads down into the integrated bracelet. Meanwhile, the sides of the case are polished, as are the long crown guards, and the oversized crown is easy to operate and prominently features a raised Maltese cross.
The caseback, however, is the OG Overseas’ best-kept secret. It features a detailed, three-masted ship – supposedly that of the famous explorer Amerigo Vespucci - sailing in rippled water. And underneath this, tying everything together, is the word “Overseas” written in a beautiful cursive font. The actual shape of the caseback mimics the bezel; however, here, the eight points of the Maltese cross are where the caseback screws reside.
Lastly, at least in regard to the case, the OG Overseas comes in at a total thickness (more like thinness) of approximately 8.5mm, which varies ever so slightly by reference.
Now, onto the bracelet…
A lot of folks say the Royal Oak has the most comfortable bracelet in the game, but I bet many of them haven’t tried on an Overseas Ref. 42040. However, before we discuss comfort, first we need to discuss how the OG Overseas’ bracelet is a masterclass in finishing and complexity. It is hard to describe, but it’s a three-link, integrated bracelet with larger outer links, which are brushed, leading down via a polished bevel to the similarly polished and brushed center link. Over time the bracelet will stretch a bit, but not, for example, as severely as a Royal Oak bracelet.
Lastly, back to comfort – the OG Overseas’ bracelet doesn’t pull arm hair and can be sized perfectly to any wrist (I should know, I have a baby wrist). Plus, the two clasp systems available on OG Overseas bracelets can be perfectly centered on the underside of the wrist (unlike, say, an AP Ref. 4100 bracelet, which always leaves the clasp skewed to one side on a small wrister unless you break a permanent link).
Finally, let’s touch on the movement for just a second, since that’s what gets everyone fired up when it comes to watches (kidding…kind of).
Depending on the reference, the OG Overseas will feature either automatic calibre 1310 or 1311. Both have a gold rotor weight, hacking seconds, quick-set date function, approximately 46 hours of power reserve, and 27 jewels. Moreover, both are ultra-thin and COSC-certified (something the AP Ref. 4100 and Ref. 14790 are not). Of course, as per the rest of the watch, the finishing on the movement is fantastic.
How and Where to Buy
If you’re interested in picking up an OG Overseas, dealers can be a good starting point. As always, the old “trust the dealer” adage applies.
Additionally, with auction season coming up, don’t be surprised if you see some great examples up for grabs. If you do acquire one, don’t forget that Vacheron has an excellent heritage department and is great at providing archive extracts!
If you want to learn more about the current Overseas collection, please visit the Vacheron Constantin website.
(Photography by Liam O'Donnell)