Steel sport watches are — rightfully so — a category unto themselves. Yes, we may fawn over watches done up in precious metals, perhaps even using it to help justify a price tag to a significant other. At the end of the day, steel is where it’s at for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, it’s durable and tough, at times looking better with some dings and scuffs that paint a history. Then again, if you don’t like it, steel is easy enough to polish out and refinish. To pair that most utilitarian of metals with a pinnacle of watch complications sounds like a pipe dream. It’s not, and it’s precisely what you have in the Vacheron Constantin Overseas Tourbillon 6000V/110A.
Now, we know that calling a tourbillon a complication is a hotly contested topic, but hear us out. Generally, a complication is viewed as something that is used to indicate time in some form or fashion, thus things like calendars and chronographs come to mind first. In this particular instance, the tourbillon does have an indice built into its cage that indicates running seconds, and so we’re willing to give it a pass in this instance.
The Vacheron Constantin Overseas collection has always been about practical utility, in terms of material choice. Prior to its introduction of its progenitor, the brand was focused on a conservative approach to their watches, both in their design and how they were built. On top of that, the focus was all about conforming to the Geneva Seal certifications and using precious metals.
So, what came before the Vacheron Constantin Overseas? That would be none other than Jorg Hysek’s 222, which was introduced to the world in 1977. That was the very first steel sport watch that Vacheron Constantin produced, opening the door — for the first time — to something other than precious metals.
The first generation of Vacheron Constantin Overseas ran from 1996 to 2004, which relied on a closed caseback to guarantee its water resistance. The second generation was produced from 2004 to 2016, which still had a closed caseback. This time, it was not just for water resistance, but also to ensure a measure of anti-magnetism. It was not until the third generation that we saw a sapphire caseback introduced. This latest generation also saw an innovative quick-change bracelet system introduced, as well as an increase to the number of complications that were available. These days, you can find world timers, chronographs, dual time, and even perpetual calendar models. Today, though, we will focus on the whirlwind of watchmaking, the tourbillon.
The design details are really where the Vacheron Constantin Overseas Tourbillon sets itself apart. On paper, if you read about a steel sport watch with simple baton hands, you would yawn before going on to the next thing. Fortunately for us, there are several yawn-negating elements at work here. First, let’s take the integrated bracelet. The deceptively simple links actually call to mind one half of a Maltese cross (the brand’s logo, which also appears on the tourbillon) and feature polished edges that bring some shine to the look.
Next, we need to highlight the bezel that is set on the 70’s-era case. While Vacheron Constantin could have settled for a simple round bezel, they again introduce different geometries, which then also allow for a combination of polished and brushed surfaces, adding to the visual interest.
Set inside of that bezel you have a rich blue dial that is itself a definition of utility. The chapter ring gives you the minute markings, while large applied indices mark out the hours. The indices and the handset are luminous, ensuring that the watch stays true to a sport watch sensibility. All of this clean utilitarianism sets the stage for the star of the show, the tourbillon cage. To see this in motion is to appreciate the craftsmanship and skill required to create such a thing. As an added benefit, it also acts as the running seconds for the watch, should you need to track such a thing.
A tourbillon in a wristwatch is a unique choice. This particular complication was first patented in 1801 by none other than Breguet. At that time, including a rotating cage in a pocket watch was intended to combat the effect of gravity on the accuracy of the movement. For a pocket watch, that made some measure of sense, as they were tucked away in a fixed position (generally in a vest) and had a constant gravitational pull. By rotating things, the hope was to offset it. In a wristwatch – on an arm constantly moving throughout the day – it is less about accuracy than it is a master class in watchmaking ability.
A tourbillon does not stand on its own, however. Here, it is part of the caliber 2160 movement. Along with the mechanical whirlwind, the movement brings an 80-hour power reserve to your wrist, as well as shock- and magnetic-resistance, the latter due to a soft iron cage. The tourbillon is not the only highlight of this movement.
Flip the Vacheron Constantin Overseas Tourbillon over, and you will see a rare sight – an automatic rotor that obscures nothing of the movement. Rather than being a counterweight that takes up a third of the view, the 22k gold weight rotates around the outer periphery, ensuring that you can see Cotes de Geneve decoration, parts of the gear train, and of course the reverse side of the tourbillon.
Versus The Competition
Vacheron Constantin is often considered part of a “holy trinity” that also includes Patek Philippe and Audemars Piguet. Of those two, if you want a high-end sports watch, Audemars Piguet is an excellent starting point to look for competition. With a watch like the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Tourbillon Chronograph Openworked, you have all of the knobs turned up to eleven. Not only do you have a tourbillon, you’ve also got a chronograph, titanium swapped in for steel, and a “dial” that manages to show you much of the manual movement without compromising legibility.
If you instead want something with a bit more of an avante garde approach to presentation, we would show you something like the Ulysse Nardin Freak X. The Freak line, as a whole, manages to take something with as long of a history as mechanical watches — and even tourbillon complications — and slingshot it into the future, coming up with a design that is unlike anything else you have in your watch box. For as simple as it may appear at first, the discerning collector can easily lose themselves in the engineering that comprises the handset and dial.
The personality of the Vacheron Constantin Overseas Tourbillon is very much the personality of its owner. By that, we mean that it is luxurious without shouting about its value, and it has a complexity of engineering and design that belies its utilitarian looks. Still, for all that, it does have a sense of purpose and utility, done in a steel that is both robust and workable for both dress and casual occasions. Above all, it functions as the machine it’s designed to be, telling time with a clarity of purpose, and more than willing to travel the world with you, whether your destination is the board room or poolside.
As we mentioned earlier, a tourbillon makes no practical sense in a wristwatch these days. As a work of artistic engineering, however, it makes all the sense in the world. That such a thing could have been conceived – and built – over two hundred years ago boggles the mind. If it doesn’t, then just sit and watch one of these in action, and try to envision in your mind what is going on, both mechanically and in terms of physics. That will no doubt put you in awe of what is going on here.
Rather than house this bit of mechanical prowess in a watch that may only see the light of day on special occasions, the Vacheron Constantin Overseas Tourbillon is, by its very nature, meant to be an everyday watch. The steel case and bracelet all but demand you make this watch part of your everyday carry, daring you to find a situation where it does not make sense as a timekeeping companion. Are there some? Perhaps, but we think with the inclusion of some of the other straps the brand offers (and makes a breeze to change out on this model), you would be hard-pressed to find a reason not to wear the Vacheron Constantin Overseas Tourbillon.