Up Close: Vacheron Constantin Historiques 222Paradoxically restrained and entirely in gold.
At Watches & Wonders 2022 Vacheron Constantin introduced watches in a diverse range, but sandwiched in between the artisanal decoration and complications was a new addition to the Historiques collection of vintage remakes. An unexpected launch given that Vacheron Constantin (VC) already has a luxury-sports watch in its lineup, and largely focuses on dress watches and complications in any case, the Historiques 222 was nevertheless a highlight amongst the new launches, especially given the current appetite for such watches.
But the 222 is more than just something that caters to today’s fads. It is a sympathetic remake that manages to incorporate substantial, hidden improvements while preserving the look of the original – but not the feel thanks to a significantly improved bracelet.
As the Overseas has long matured into an established collection amongst VC’s offerings, the return of its predecessor is surprising. My initial reaction was that it is confusing to offer two different luxury sports watch models simultaneously, but it makes sense given that the 222 is a Historiques model, a vintage remake in other words. Not only does VC have a track record of reviving vintage models in style, the 222 can cater to an audience that seeks something more elegant and compact than the Overseas.
It’s likely that the return of the 222 was a deliberate decision on VC’s part to create a luxury-sports watch that is different. Of the three luxury sports watches by the “Holy Trinity” of brands, the 222 is the most restrained due to its simple lines and largely matte finish. In comparison both the Royal Oak and Nautilus are bold, loud designs.
That said, the fact that it’s a remake is arguably a downside, since it reflects the fact that the 222 wasn’t in production long enough to become a defining watch of the brand. The most successful models in the luxury-sports watch segment are those that were in continuous production, giving them a strong, unbroken history. But that philosophical musing doesn’t take away from the qualities of the watch, which are sizeable and easy to appreciate.
While the Historiques 222 isn’t an original design, it is certainly a good one that manages to be distinct from other luxury-sports watches. And the deft, tasteful manner in which it was remade gives it considerable appeal. That is rarely the case for remakes since they inevitably get bigger and bolder, sacrificing a certain old-fashioned elegance along the way, losing the charm of the original. The Historiques 222 manages to be just as charming as the original but better executed.
In fact, the modern-day 222 is even more successful than most of its counterparts in the Historiques collection because of its artful execution. While majority of the watches in the Historiques are clearly contemporary creations – they would not be mistaken for a vintage watch even at a distance due to their size and form – the 222 is faithful enough that it could pass for a vintage original, but yet manages to be a tangibly better watch in terms of fit and finish, particularly on the bracelet.
Though carefully modelled on the original, the Historiques 222 is all new in terms of the construction and details of the case and bracelet. Both have been manufactured with enhanced precision – and superior ergonomics for the bracelet – while being finished to a higher level. At the same time, the dial is finished in a slightly shade of gold, while its furnitures has been made more prominent.
And of course it’s equipped with the in-house cal. 2455 that is visible through the sapphire case back. That, however, is perhaps the only technical shortcoming of the watch.
In contrast, the original 222 contained the cal. 1120, the vaunted ultra-thin movement made by Jaeger-LeCoultre and also used by Patek Philippe and Audemars Piguet. Today VC only uses the calibre in the Overseas perpetual calendar, presumably because of supply constraints as assembly and regulation of this decades-old construction is more laborious than for newer calibres. The cal. 1120 would have made the 222 even better than it is, but presumably a lot more expensive.
At US$69,000, the Historiques 222 is arguably priced modestly for an all-gold luxury-sports watch from a haute horlogerie watchmaking. Compared to the Overseas ref. 4500V in gold, it is only 15% pricier, a modest premium given that it features a thinner, higher-end movement while being made in smaller quantities.
A brief history
The original 222 was rolled out in 1977 to commemorate the 222th anniversary of VC’s founding in 1755, a year after Patek Philippe debuted the Nautilus. While its better-known rivals were both designed by Gerald Genta, the 222 was penned by a then up-and-coming German designer in his early twenties, Jorg Hysek, who would go on to create a variety of sports watches for brands like TAG Heuer and Breguet.
Discontinued in 1985, the 222 had a production run of just eight years, with slightly over 2,000 produced across all variants. The 222 was available in three sizes, 37 mm and 34 mm with automatic movements, and quartz in 25 mm, along with an odd-looking square model.
The rarest among the sizes is the largest, “jumbo” model, of which just over 700 pieces were made. Beyond rarity, the appeal of the “jumbo” is the simple fact that it’s most wearable by today’s standards.
The 37 mm model was produced in several guises, including steel, all gold, and two-tone, along with a few examples set with diamonds. It is the “jumbo” that is making a return this year, and in the luxe, all-gold format.
While steel is often the material of choice for a sports watch, the all-gold 222 perhaps has more appeal (and a Historiques 222 in steel will probably emerge in time to come anyway).
On the wrist
The Historiques 222 is a pleasant experience on the wrist; it wears comfortably. And it is also satisfyingly hefty despite its compact size.
At the same time, the 222 looks good. The design is simple and almost understated with its brushed finish, but it’s still yellow gold from end to end. Despite the restraint, it still has the appeal of a luxury sports watch; it exudes class without trying too hard.
The 222 is as discreet as an all-gold watch can be and I like that. Almost all its surfaces are brushed, giving it a fine matte finish on nearly every plane – an unusual choice of finish for a gold watch.
And the 222 is smaller than the modern norms for such a watch at just 37 mm wide and 7.95 mm tall. It’s probably the only luxury-sports watch on the market with such compact dimensions. The Overseas, on the other hand, is much larger at 41 mm in diameter.
Together, the size and finish gives the 222 an easy, casual feel, making it versatile enough for most occasions. But it is still entirely yellow gold, so it has the lustre and density only found on a gold watch with a gold bracelet. The gleam of the metal and its weight on the wrist are reassuring.
But beyond the aesthetics and details, the 222 is appealing for its fit on the wrist. While the vintage original was almost identical in terms of size, the remake is much more comfortable. That’s thanks to a redesigned bracelet that’s more supple, giving it a more fluid feel on the wrist.
The bracelet also has a superior construction, resulting in narrower tolerances, making it tangibly more solid. The improved construction is immediately apparent in the hand and on the wrist – the watch feels good on the wrist.
In contrast, the bracelet on the original was more rigid while also being a bit dinky thanks to the thin, stamped clasp in steel.
Same but better
It’s already clear the Historiques 222 has a singular purpose: to look like the original but do better in terms of tactile feel and construction. That required significant reworking of all parts, from case to bracelet to dial, while staying within the limits of the original design.
Consequently, the improvements are only apparent up close. The proportions of the bezel, for instance, are entirely different, as is the finish.
The topmost flat surface of the bezel has been slimmed down, emphasising the brushed “bottle cap” aspect, which also makes the dial seem wider. At the same time, the flat base of the bezel has been given a polished bevel on its outer edge that adds visual refinement.
The most obvious refinements are on the dial. At first glance it appears wider, thanks to the reshaped bezel described above. But that’s also a result of enlarged hour markers and hands, surprisingly look perfectly proportional despite the case staying the same size, no doubt a reflection of the careful redesign.
A giveaway that the movement inside is no longer the same is the date window. It is now slightly smaller and also sits further away from the edge of the dial, far enough that the minute track continues uninterrupted. On the vintage original the date sits over part of the track.
In vintage remakes, a repositioned date is often the major letdown in terms of design because it throws off the balance and proportions of the dial. But on the 222 it works. The date, in fact, looks surprisingly good, which is partly due to the uniform gold-on-gold colours. And it also reflects the fact that while the cal. 2455 inside is not the same as in the original, it certainly fits the 222 case well.
The gold-on-gold livery is worth mentioning for its unusual nature. A gold dial on a gold watch is not novel in itself, but the specific execution of the 222’s dial is uncommon.
Instead of the typical champagne or bright yellow gold, the dial colour includes a hint of cream, resulting in slightly muted tone that manages to evoke a vintage watch while looking contemporary. And it also accomplishes the difficult feat of creating contrast against the yellow gold of the case and bracelet.
A subtle but important element of the design is the Maltese cross on the case, which is ironically the only element in the entire setup that is not a shade of yellow gold.
Compared to the cross on the original, this has been given a more pronounced profile by reducing its diameter while increasing the height. Though minor, the applied cross is an unusual detail that brings with it a retro feel that’s perfect for the 222.
Thin and crisp
Visible via the sapphire back is the cal. 2455/2, an automatic, ultra-thin movement that’s part of a family of calibres that started with the cal. 2475 introduced in 2005 for the brand’s 250th anniversary.
Perhaps because the movement architecture is almost two decades sold, the cal. 2455/2 feels old school in a good way. That might be due to the various wheels and levers that are exposed or perhaps the individual bridges for the barrel and gear train. One of the details I particularly like is the hacking lever for the stop seconds – it takes the form of a slim steel blade with a step at its tip that halts the balance wheel when the crown is pulled to set the time.
Despite the retro looks, the cal. 2455/2 is still a more modern movement than the cal. 1120 found in the vintage 222. The cal. 2455/2 beats at the modern frequency of 28,000 vibrations per hour, or 4 Hz – making it high beat compared to the cal. 1120 – which gives the balance greater inertia thus leading to improved stability and shock resistance.
The power reserve, however, is just 40 hours, identical to that of the cal. 1120 and a telltale sign of the movement’s age. By comparison, the newer and larger cal. 4100 of the Overseas has a 60-hour power reserve.
While the cal. 2455/2 is a somewhat dated movement with a relatively short power reserve, it is more elaborate than the cal. 4100 in the Overseas. Other members of the same movement family are typically found in VC’s pricier timepieces, including the recent Metiers d’Art “Great Civilisations”.
And the cal. 2455/2 is superior to the cal. 1120, at least from a practical standpoint, simply because it has a quickset date. The cal. 1120 didn’t have that luxury, which means the hands have to be cycled back and forth past midnight to set the date on a vintage 222.
The finishing of the 222 is neat and careful with a mix of machine and hand-applied decoration that qualifies for the Poincon de Geneve. It is similar in quality to other watches in this segment from the likes of Audemars Piguet and Patek Philippe.
The Historiques 222 is smartly conceived and just right. It’s neither too big nor too thick, common pitfalls for a vintage remake, and also not too expensive, which happens easily with luxury-sports watches. Importantly, it feels good on the wrist. In fact, in some ways it wears better than the solid-gold Overseas with its smaller, more refined dimensions.
But the 222 is yet another luxury-sports watch with an integrated bracelet, which means it will be accompanied by a long waiting list (it is), despite not being a limited edition. Availability, in other words, is almost nil.
Still, the merits of the watch make it a compelling proposition. If the lengthy production runs of other Historiques models are anything to go by, the 222 will stay in the catalogue for a long time, hopefully long enough that it becomes accessible.
And as a parting thought, it will be logical from a commercial perspective for VC to debut a steel version once demand cools off. That won’t have the solid heft of the gold model, but it will certainly be more hard wearing, making it more of a sports watch.
Vacheron Constantin Historiques 222
Case diameter: 37 mm
Height: 7.95 mm
Material: 18k yellow gold
Water resistance: 50 m
Movement: Cal. 2455/2
Features: Hours, minutes, and date
Frequency: 28,800 beats per hour (4 Hz)
Power reserve: 40 hours
Strap: 18k yellow gold bracelet
Limited edition: No
Availability: At Vacheron Constantin boutiques only
Price: US$69,000; or 99,000 Singapore dollars
For more, visit vacheron-constantin.com.
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