The Vacheron Constantin Historiques Series revives milestone timepieces from various periods of the venerable maison’s 260+-year history, like last year’s Historiques American 1921, with its Art Deco-era cushion case and tilted “driver’s watch” dial, and the Historiques Cornes de Vache 1955, with its mid century-style “cow horn” lugs and hand-wound chronograph caliber. The Historiques piece unveiled this week at Watches & Wonders Geneva — one of the unexpected “buzz” watches at the event — can be traced to a more recent vintage. The Vacheron Constantin Historiques 222, is an almost pitch-perfect re-creation of the luxury sports watch from 1977 that would eventually provide the template for today’s mega-popular Overseas collection.
Issued in the wake of two other immensely influential sport-luxury watches, Audemars Piguet’s Royal Oak in 1972 and Patek Philiippe’s Nautilus in 1976, the original Vacheron Constantin 222 (Ref. 44018) was designed by Jörg Hysek — not, as many believed for a time, by Gérald Genta, the designer of the other aforementioned iconic models — and released in celebration of Vacheron Constantin’s 220th anniversary. The watch was noteworthy, and deemed a bit radical at the time, for its monobloc steel case with scalloped, screw-down bezel and its integrated steel bracelet, screwed to the case middle, with hexagonal center links. Its 37mm case was only 7.2mm thick and contained the now-famous self-winding Caliber 1211. The inlaid Maltese Cross emblem at 5 o’clock on the barrel-shaped case, along with several other elements of the so-called “Triple Two” model, helped lay the foundation for the Vacheron Constantin Overseas in 1996, the sport-luxury collection widely regarded as the successor to the 222.
For the Historiques 222 — it’s the first Historiques model with a numeral in its name that doesn’t refer to a year — Vacheron Constantin replicated the original timepiece, specifically the Ref. 44018 in 3NN yellow gold, in nearly every respect: the diameter of the case, the integrated bracelet, and the gold-toned dial with baton-shaped hands and applied hour markers. Even the green-glowing Super-LumiNova on the hands and markers has been chosen to match the hue of the tritium used on the historical model’s dial.
The handful of elements that distinguish the Historiques 222 differ from its ancestor are all in the service of modern-day utility and comfort. The articulation of the bracelet has been re-engineered for increased ergonomics by hiding the formerly visible pins, and now features a triple-blade rather than a double-blade clasp. The date window at 3 o’clock has been offset from the outer rim of the dial for enhanced legibility. The case is, in fact, a smidgen thicker than that of the earlier model, at 7.95mm. And as most might expect or even demand, the solid caseback of the 1977 model here gives way to a sapphire exhibition caseback to showcase the movement.
It is the movement, of course, that represents the most substantial difference between the Historiques 222 and its vintage inspiration. Vacheron Constantin’s self-winding manufacture Caliber 2455/2 delivers a 40-hour power reserve, a 28,800-vph beat rate (an upgrade from the 19,800 vph of the ultra-thin Caliber 1121) and a new 18k yellow gold rotor, developed specially for this watch, bearing an engraved replica of the original 222 logo surrounded by a fluted ring inspired by the bezel. As with all Vacheron Constantin calibers, its finishing is also top-notch, with bridges and gear trains chamfered and embellished with côtes de Genève and a mainplate enhanced with perlage. The different dimensions of the modern and vintage movements, in diameter and thickness, account for the moving inward of the date window and, likely, the slightly thicker contemporary case. Also characteristic of Vacheron Constantin movements, Caliber 2455/2 carries the prestigious Hallmark of Geneva, a recognized badge of honor for its haute horlogerie decoration.
The Vacheron Constantin 222, like the models regarded as its spiritual siblings, the Royal Oak and Nautilus, was not an overnight success and the brand only ended up making about 500 pieces (which are, of course, quite valuable today), making it sort of an unintended limited edition. The Historiques 222, on the other hand, is not a limited edition but Vacheron Constantin says that it will be exclusive to its branded boutiques.