Why the Overseas Perpetual Calendar Ultra-Thin Skeleton is the Coolest Debut of 2020By Wei Koh
OK, what’s the coolest, newest release of 2020? Hands down it is the Vacheron Constantin Overseas Perpetual Calendar Ultra-Thin Skeleton. And, because I’ve been limited to 800 words for this introductory article, I shall henceforth replace that exceedingly long name with the simple sobriquet, “Baby.” Why is Baby so cool? Well, she’s cool on many different levels.
First, let’s talk about movement. Baby’s predecessor, the 222, was launched in 1977 to do battle in the integrated bracelet, sports chic arena, with Audemars Piguet’s 5402ST Royal Oak that kicked things off in 1972 and Patek Philippe’s Nautilus 3700/1A introduced in 1976 (understanding something about new-model lead time, it is clear the 222 was developed in parallel with the Nautilus).
Like the other two watches, the 222 exuded a strong and appealing dynamic tension between a muscular presence on the wrist, asserted by its distinct Jörg Hysek-designed, barrel-shaped case and notched bezel, and its lithe, svelte profile. Its thinness was thanks to the use of the 2.45mm-thick caliber 1121, which is the same base as the Jaeger-LeCoultre-designed caliber 920 that powered both the Patek and the AP, featuring a distinct recessed rotor that rode on a metal frame and ruby rollers.
In ’96, when the Dino Modolo-designed Overseas replaced the 222, a Girard-Perregaux-based 1310 movement replaced the 1121 resulting in a thicker watch. For watch lovers, however, the original caliber 1121 has a special place in our hearts as one of the most legendary movements of all time.
Thankfully, the caliber 1120 and the Overseas model were reunited in 2016 with the unveiling of a new update, which beautifully reintroduced the dynamic tension between bold, sculptural aesthetics counterpointed by a deliciously slim profile in the Overseas Ultra-Thin as well as the wonderful Overseas Perpetual Calendar Ultra-Thin, both using this amazing movement.
Why place a perpetual calendar in an integrated bracelet sports watch? Because when done well it is very cool, as evidenced by Audemars Piguet’s Royal Oak Perpetual Calendar, which since introduction in 1984 has been one of the brand’s biggest hits. Indeed, it took until 2018 for Patek to respond with the reference 5740 Nautilus Perpetual Calendar, which means the Vacheron preceded it by two years.
Now when comparing it to these two other iconic watches, what immediately becomes apparent is that the Vacheron definitely holds its own. It is that great-looking. Am I going to say it’s better than the other two? I can’t. But do I prefer it?
Well, actually, yes, particularly in the rose-gold and blue-dial version on rubber strap released in 2019. First, because I think it is more wearable on a daily basis than a full bracelet watch, and second, because at USD 73,000, it is the most accessibly priced of any of these watches. Also, if you’re a technical watchmaking geek like me, then geek out to the following.
The Audemars Piguet ref. 26597 is 9.5mm thick. The Patek 5740 is 8.42mm thick. But the Vacheron is a mere 8.1mm thick. In fact, until AP came up with the experimental RD#2, the Overseas Perpetual Calendar Ultra-Thin, the Vacheron was the thinnest perpetual calendar sports watch in history.
A Stunning Transfiguration
Based purely on its own merit, the white-gold, gray-dial Overseas Perpetual Calendar from 2016 was awesome-looking and amazing on the wrist. The design was pared back, restrained, essential and harmonious to the extreme. The bezel was still aggressive but somehow more elegant.
Indeed, the overall style of the watch was reminiscent of the 222’s playboy élan without overtly repeating any of the vintage watch’s design. I also liked how the leap-year and month indicator at 12 o’clock on the dial was totally unique.
The first watches with leap-year indicators depicted a full 48-month cycle. The first wristwatch with this feature, the AP 5516 from 1955, similarly did the same. However, the brilliance in VC’s design is that while you have a 48-month cycle, it is abbreviated, omitting every two months and replacing them with indexes that are read off a second hand (that also indicates leap year) co-axially mounted on this subdial. This is Vacheron at its best. Making a witty clin d’œil at the past but intelligently modernizing this detail for the present.
The Overseas Perpetual Calendar model became even more appealing when a rose-gold, silver-dial version was added in 2018 (on a leather strap) and then fully ravishing in 2019 when it appeared with the same rose-gold case on a full gold bracelet option or rubber strap, and that amazing, stunning blue dial. Suddenly for me, the watch came into its own. In the way Jennifer Grey’s character in Dirty Dancing transforms.
Which means it became genuinely, stunningly, irrefutably sexy. And for the first time, if given the choice, I would prefer to purchase the Overseas over its more entrenched competition. But then 2020 rolled around and Vacheron Constantin dropped “Baby” — the Overseas Perpetual Calendar Ultra-Thin Skeleton — and dude, minds were accordingly blown. I get that Vacheron didn’t invent the skeleton or openworked automatic perpetual calendar wristwatch; that happened in the mid ’80s with the AP ref. 25636.
But who cares? Look at it! It is simply and insanely gorgeous, revealing the near-mythical levels of hand-finish to Vacheron’s caliber 1120 QPSQ. Flip over it and revel in the hallucinatory perfection of the hand-skeletonized movement, especially the balance cock with its handmade sharp internal angles and its free-sprung Gyromax balance wheel, and feel the transcendence of this watch.
Lastly, it also has a quick-release system so you can interchange the full gold bracelet with a rubber or leather strap. Don’t believe that it could eclipse its competition in its total hotness? Go try it on and judge for yourself. Because, nobody puts Baby in a corner.
Self-winding caliber 1120 QPSQ; hours and minutes; perpetual calendar with 48-month leap-year indicator and moonphase display; 40-hour power reserve
41.5mm; 18K 5N pink gold; water-resistant to 50m
Blue Mississippiensis alligator leather, blue rubber and pink-gold bracelet