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Review: A Logical Progression – The Vacheron Constantin Overseas Tourbillon

by Frank Chuo on June 3, 2019

Vacheron Constantin Overseas Tourbillon

The Overseas is Vacheron Constantin’s household sports watch line. Having received an overhaul for its 20th anniversary in 2016, the current generation of Overseas watches is home to numerous complications, ranging from the simple date, to the more sophisticated chronograph and perpetual calendar. This year, the grande dame of haute horlogerie expands its sports watch collection with the introduction of a tourbillon piece. Enter, the new Overseas Tourbillon.

The Case, Dial, and Hands

The new Overseas Tourbillon makes its debut in a stainless steel case measuring 42.5 mm in diameter and 10.39 mm in height. At its size, the watch should fit most wrists while retaining the presence of a sports watch. Its centimetre thick case will slide under all but the tightest of cuffs. The most prominent design aspect of the Overseas has always been the Maltese cross-inspired bezel. Polished to a sheen, it stands out on the mostly satin-finished case. As is true for all other third-generation Overseas timepieces, the Overseas Tourbillon is built with a proprietary strap quick-change mechanism which allows for seamless swapping of straps/bracelet. The watch also comes with a stainless steel bracelet, a rubber strap, and a leather strap at purchase. Going from boardroom to bar to beach has never been easier.

The finissage of the case is nuanced, with a largely satin-finished case, a polished bezel and polished bevels on the edges.

The dial of the Overseas Tourbillon is immensely alluring. It is sunburst-grained, and yet possesses a lacquered quality. As one can imagine, this results in a dial that interacts playfully with light. Its hue morphs from electric blue to black depending on the angle of incident light. On it are applied hour markers, as well as pencil-style minute and hour hands, all of which are coated with luminescent material for low- or no-light visibility. At the 6 o’clock position, sits the star of the show: the tourbillon. Famed for its resemblance to the Maltese cross, the brand’s chosen logo, the tourbillon cage is arguably the most evocative and difficult to finish in the industry. It boasts numerous sharp exterior and interior angles that are extremely challenging to chamfer and polish. The top surface, including three of the four screw heads, is also black polished for an elegant look. The final screw is flame-blued and serves as a pointer for the seconds. The bridge that secures the tourbillon is not only rounded, but also black polished – again, a tough task for the brand’s master finniseurs and a testament to their skills.

The iconic Maltese cross tourbillon cage – impeccably polished.

The Movement

Driving the Overseas Tourbillon is none other than Vacheron Constantin’s Calibre 2160. The 188-part, 30-jewel calibre is the brand’s very first automatic tourbillon movement, having made its first appearance in the Traditionelle Tourbillon in 2018, and then in the FiftySix Tourbillon. It boasts a power reserve of 80 hours when fully wound – impressive, for a watch with a power hungry technical complication. The lazy 2.5 Hz beat rate of the balance is partially responsible for the above average power reserve. It is interesting to note that while the Overseas Tourbillon retains the Overseas’ superior anti-magnetic protection (up to 25,000 A/m thanks to a soft iron casing ring), it lacks the impressive water resistance rating of the rest of its family members (5 bar for the Overseas Tourbillon vs. 15 bar for the rest).

The Calibre 2160 as seen through the sapphire crystal case back.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the movement when viewed through the exhibition case back is the peripheral rotor. Thanks to it, neither the tourbillon nor the rest of the movement are ever blocked from view. While the movement and – by extension – case diameter would have to be increased slightly, the benefit of a peripheral rotor also includes reducing thickness, since it runs on the same plane as the bridges. From a finishing perspective, the Calibre 2160 is beyond faultless. With the Hallmark of Geneva stamped on one of the bridges, one can expect a high finishing standard. Clearly noticeable are the uniform Geneva stripes on the bridges, the chamfered and polished edges of the aforementioned bridges, the polished screw heads, and the tight perlage on the base plate. There are plenty of rounded and exterior angles to be found on the bridges, though disappointingly, there is no interior angling in spite of ample opportunity to incorporate them. This by no means diminishes the Calibre 2160, but rather, would have brought it to another level.

The Competitive Landscape

Tourbillon sports watches have recently been popping up like mushrooms after rain. Based on the premise that sports watches are more likely to be subjected to shock, the tourbillon – a sensitive precision device – makes no sense in a sports watch. But from a marketing perspective, it makes perfect sense. Tourbillon watches remain coveted in the community and its over-inflated pricing has, unfortunately, become normalised and accepted. For the Overseas collection which already features complications like the dual time, chronograph, world time, and perpetual calendar, the tourbillon was the logical next step. The watch in stainless steel retails for SGD159,000, a typical price for a tourbillon watch today.

For a sports watch, the Overseas Tourbillon cuts an elegant, classy figure on the wrist.

Laurent Ferrier have themselves introduced a sports watch this year as well – a first for the brand – and surprise, surprise, it has a tourbillon movement. To be fair, the watch has stunning aesthetics and an equally stunning movement. The finishing of the movement is what you’d expect from the brand: flawless. The brand opted for a slightly more modern style of finish, which we feel is highly appropriate in a sporty watch. Like in the Overseas Tourbillon, the tourbillon in the Laurent Ferrier Tourbillon Grand Sport features plenty of exterior and interior angling and is black polished. The bridge supporting the tourbillon is skeletonised, black polished, and also filled with sharp angles; it is a joy to behold, much like the Maltese cross tourbillon. Of course, the key difference between the two watches is that the tourbillon is hidden in the Tourbillon Grand Sport, a distinction that will please some and dismay others. The watch, limited to 12 pieces, is priced at a much steeper SGD280,000.

The case back of the Laurent Ferrier Tourbillon Grand Sport is a sight for sore eyes.

For the value hunters amongst us, there is hope still. The Ulysse Nardin Marine Tourbillon Grand Feu has always been a reminder of the good ol’ days when tourbillon watches were still reasonably priced. The watch features a flying tourbillon at 6 o’clock and a power reserve display at 12 o’clock. The dial is beautifully decorated with guilloched waves and blue enamel. Its movement finishing is neat and attractive but clearly not at the level of the Vacheron Constantin or the Laurent Ferrier. But that’s okay, because the Marine Tourbillon Grand Feu comes at a price of CHF28,000. Aside from the fact that it comes with a leather strap (and not a rubber one, or a steel bracelet), the watch is beyond reproach. It is genuinely well designed, boasts generous aesthetics, and offered at an extremely reasonable price.

Since its debut in 2017, the Marine Tourbillon Grand Feu has been the undisputed most-bang-for-buck tourbillon watch in Swiss high-end watchmaking.

Final Thoughts

As far as tourbillon sports watches go, few outclass the Overseas Tourbillon. The watch is built and finished in accordance to the highest standards, the Hallmark of Geneva in this case. It has the most mesmerising blue dial and an equally hypnotic tourbillon display. While it may not be nearly as well-known as its Gerald Genta-designed rivals, the Nautilus and the Royal Oak, it possesses the same level of quality, if not greater. The Overseas collection has never looked this good; a new tourbillon piece only serves to strengthen its legitimacy.

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