Vacheron Constantin has had a blast at Watches & Wonder 2022, releasing a whole gamut of watches that reminds us why the luxury Swiss watchmaking Maison is known as the “grand dame of watchmaking”. From complicated and artistically stunning Les Cabinotiers pieces, to the faithful reissue of the legendary Ref. 222 sports watch that’s been the talk of the town – there’s just about a watch for every taste.
Vacheron Constantin Overseas Tourbillon Skeleton
Enter the new Overseas Tourbillon Skeleton – somewhat overshadowed by the hype of the Historiques 222 but secretly the belle of the ball. It is making its debut in full pink gold and, importantly, titanium, something that’s rarely seen from an ultra-luxury watch brand (at least, until this year). Here, we bring you the details and our honest thoughts on what might be the most visually striking Vacheron Constantin novelty of Watches & Wonder 2022.
The Case, Dial, and Hands
The case of the Overseas Tourbillon Skeleton measures a modern 42.5 mm x 10.39 mm. The watch is available, at the time of writing, in either 18K 5N pink gold or Grade 5 titanium. That last bit there is actually a big deal, because this is the first time in Vacheron Constantin’s long history that a full-titanium watch (from case to bracelet) has been introduced. For traditional high-end watchmaking names like Vacheron Constantin, precious metal is – by default – the go-to material. Titanium tends to be a metal used sparingly to highlight special or unique pieces. While the Overseas Tourbillon Skeleton in titanium isn’t a limited edition timepiece, it still reserves some exclusivity as a boutique-only piece while the pink gold variant isn’t. The case and bracelet of both models are vertically satin-brushed with polished angles on the bracelet links, whose shape is inspired by Vacheron Constantin’s Maltese cross emblem. The base of the bezel – also Maltese cross-inspired – is circular brushed on the pink gold version and sandblasted on the titanium iteration. Both watches feature the Overseas collection-specific interchangeable strap system. They come with two straps in calfskin and rubber: black with two pink gold pin buckles for the gold model; and blue with an interchangeable titanium folding clasp for the titanium model.
While the Overseas case/bracelet is regarded as one of the most well-designed and well-finished in the industry, it will have to play the supporting role in the new Overseas Tourbillon Skeleton model. Because visible through the sapphire crystal dial is an evocatively skeletonised movement – a work of art, a labour of love. And if that’s not enough, there’s always the Maltese cross-inspired tourbillon to be mesmerised by. On the actual dial surface are hour markers secured to the crystal itself; they are either in rhodium-plated pink gold or white gold, depending on the version. The same metals are used for the hands which, like the hour markers, are coated with luminescent material, ensuring low- or no-light visibility. The dial ring is rendered either in black lacquered pink gold (in the pink gold variant) or blue PVD-treated white gold (in the titanium variant).
Driving the new Overseas Tourbillon Skeleton is the 186-part, 30-jewel Calibre 2160 SQ. Connoisseurs of the brand will quickly recognise that this movement is in fact a skeletonised version of the familiar Calibre 2160, used in models such as the Traditionelle Tourbillon and Overseas Tourbillon. It is worth noting, that for this new calibre, Vacheron Constantin’s watchmakers have also redone the regulating organ housed in the tourbillon carriage. A new in-house-designed balance spring equipped with a Breguet overcoil (terminal curve) now graces the Calibre 2160. The mvoement has an above-average power reserve of 80 hours, partially helped by the slow, pocket watch-esque beat of the balance at 2.5 Hz.
As we’ve seen from previous skeletonised Vacheron Constantin timepieces, the brand is extremely adept in the art of openworking. The Calibre 2160 SQ is skeletonised to such an extent that the movement’s weight is reduced by a fifth. Everything that’s superfluous is removed, leaving only what’s necessary for structural and functional integrity. At 5.65 mm in height, the movement is notably thin – a real technical feat considering that it comes with a tourbillon carriage. This is due – in part – to the use of a peripheral rotor instead of the more classical central rotor. Another benefit of using a peripheral rotor is the ability to leave the view of the movement through the sapphire crystal case back completely unobstructed, something that’s all the more valued in a watch with a skeletonised movement.
In terms of finissage and decoration, the Calibre 2160 SQ unsurprisingly scores top marks. The base plate and four bridges of the movement owe their anthracite grey tint to NAC (N-acetylcysteine) surface treatment, applied by electrolysis. The same NAC surface treatment can also be found on the barrel of which the drum and cover have been entirely openworked, creating a compass rose shape on the dial side – another discerning feature of Calibre 2160 SQ. Like any good skeletonised movement, there are plenty of beveled and polished edges to savour. Separating the good from the exceptional is the presence of acute inward angles, of which there is plenty in the Calibre 2160 SQ. Was there ever any doubt that the openworking of the Calibre 2160 is exceptional? It goes without saying that the tourbillon cage and bridge is finished to the usual high standards of the brand. The former features numerous acute angles, while the latter is expertly rounded off. They are both given a blinding sheen through mirror polishing.
The Competitive Landscape
The art of openworking has long been appreciated by watch collectors for its beautifying effects on dials and movements. A skilled craftsman can elevate an otherwise plain watch to an art piece, (not-so-)simply by removing excess material from components. While openworking has always been about aesthetics, it is not so much the case for the tourbillon. Once upon a time, the tourbillon would serve to improve the accuracy of pocket watches by combatting the effects of gravity on the escapement. In the modern era of wristwatches (which lie flat on the wrist), it has been repurposed as a historical curiosity and kinetic sculpture. When you combine the tourbillon and openworking what you get is the ultimate expression of mechanical art. But that’s only the case when it’s done expertly and tastefully – something that the Overseas Tourbillon Skeleton is. Available in either pink gold or titanium, the Overseas Tourbillon Skeleton is priced at SGD263,000 and SGD226,000, respectively.
For something in a dressier packaging, look no further than the Breguet Classique Tourbillon Squelette 5395. The watch is driven by the Calibre 581SQ, the openworked version of the base Calibre 581. As a result of the extensive removal of material, the movement has 50% less weight than it began with. Much like the Calibre 2160 SQ in the Overseas Tourbillon Skeleton, the Calibre 581SQ is remarkably well-finished with plenty of inward angles and polished bevels to enjoy. It is encased in Breguet’s iconic coin edge case and matched with a brown alligator leather strap. Priced at CHF220,000 back in 2019 when it was first introduced, the Breguet 5395 in rose gold is a fair bit pricier than the Overseas Tourbillon Skeleton in the same material.
Yet another beautifully nuanced example of a tourbillon skeleton wristwatch is the Audemars Piguet Code 11.59 Tourbillon Openworked. The Code 11.59 collection in general did not receive a very warm welcome when it was first introduced, but if there was one watch in the collection that was beyond reproach, it’d be the Tourbillon Openworked. Between its stunning openworked movement and sophisticated case design, there is hardly anything unspectacular with the watch, which is more than can be said of some of its drab siblings. Priced at CHF175,000 in 2019 when it debuted, the Code 11.59 Tourbillon Openworked represents good value for a watch of its kind and pedigree.
There have been many new entrants to the sports watch market in recent years. The Vacheron Constantin Overseas Tourbillon Skeleton (and other Overseas timepieces in general) represents the crème de la crème. From material choice to decoration and finissage, the watch ticks all the right boxes; you’d be hard-pressed to find a more sublime sports watch.