At a time when pessimism has frozen certain R&D departments in their tracks, and other prestigious brands are offering not-really-new models by simply tweaking a model present in their collection for several decades with a fresh dial or a different gold color, Vacheron Constantin delivers a genuinely new launch powered by a specially developed in-house caliber, a worthwhile movement that equips the Overseas Chronograph to which this detailed analysis is devoted.
When watchmaking is exercised as it should, there is no need for swagger to stir interest and kindle emotions. The exterior of this Overseas Chronograph is one of the most impressive demonstrates of this principle in recent years. One does not have to be a specialist or even to make a detailed evaluation of the construction and finishing of this watch to appreciate the craftsmanship involved. Whereas others are jostling to increase the perceived value of their products, a quick glance is in this instance enough to inform the observer regarding the real quality of this exterior. The 42.5mm-diameter case of the model entrusted to us is in steel, while the bezel, crown and pushers are pink gold. There is nothing revolutionary about the architecture of this watch or the materials chosen, but the construction and finishing are absolutely perfect. The succession of satin-brushed, polished and beadblasted surfaces lends a delicate sense of harmony to the various volumes.
The dial and its flange are at once dazzling and understated, and if all that were not enough to win over the most skeptical connoisseurs, the detail of the hour-markers encapsulated in luminescent material should do the trick. The metal bracelet as well as the leather and rubber straps are interchangeable in no time and without any need for tools, by means of a clever pincer system clamping the fixed spring-bar.
Watch movement constructors are well aware that developing a caliber with a built-in chronograph function is one of the most complicated feats to achieve. Caliber 5200 is enriching the large family of “in-house” Vacheron Constantin movements and is currently available specifically in this model. This mechanical self-winding mechanism beats at a rate of 28,800 vibrations per hour. This ideal 4Hz frequency ensures both precision and reliability, while providing an eight-of-a-second reading of times. Although its construction and decoration are extremely traditional, this new caliber corresponds to 21st century in terms of both its size and its power reserve.
The chronograph functions are driven by a splendid column wheel held by a magnificent screw shaped like a Maltese cross, the emblem of the Geneva Maison. To ensure optimal responsiveness and avoid any discrepancy caused by meshing gears, the Vacheron Constantin technicians have wisely chosen a vertical coupling clutch that is perfectly mastered as we will see in the next chapter. In addition to central seconds, the chronographrelated indications are complemented by 30-minute and 12-hour counters. Finally, the Overseas chronograph indicates the date in an aperture located between the two counters. As a guarantee of its reliability, its precision timekeeping and aesthetic quality, as well as the origin of its production, this new and promising movement bears the famous Hallmark of Geneva, proudly borne by the oldest Geneva manufacture and which is doubtless more credible than the self-certifications currently in vogue.
The quality of execution required by the Hallmark of Geneva inevitably leads to superior chronometric performance. The results measured were thus exceptional in terms of both amplitude and rate, comfortable exceeding the COSC chronometer requirements. The power reserve also proved easily longer (from 2 to 4 hours) than the data provided by the manufacturer. The real unknown factors to be discovered with this new Caliber 5200 were the performance and functions of the chronograph, as well as the latter’s influence on amplitude and rate, especially since this is a mechanism with a vertical coupling clutch. The first good surprise occurs when unscrewing the pushers which contribute to guaranteeing water resistance to 15-bar pressure. The rotation is smooth and a quarter-turn is enough. When activating the two pushers, one first notes that the functions are well defined and the respective forces of the springs are perfectly balanced. These are the kind of physical sensations that naturally impress a watchmaker. On a more technical level, the start and stop functions are instantaneous and the seconds hand (filmed at high speed on this occasion) displays no inaccuracy or jerking due to meshing gears. Zero-resetting requires the same pressures as the two other functions, enabling perfect hierarchical ordering of the forces in play, and acts with equal perfection.
One well remembers the first vertical clutch chronographs that appeared during the 1990s and the amplitude-related disasters that ensued. This was therefore the measurement we were most eagerly expecting and the result is simply incredible, since the difference in amplitude when the chronograph is activated or not is virtually imperceptible and never exceeded 12° among all the measurements made.
There would be a great many more qualities worth pointing out in detail, but suffice it to say that the movement as a whole reflects this same quality of execution.
In the author’s humble opinion, with this Overseas Chronograph, Vacheron Constantin has created one of the finest watches ever examined in this column – even though the twotone version submitted and indeed the very design of the watch did not immediately appeal to my personal tastes. Despite this, the pleasure of wearing it on the wrist proved truly intense. This chronograph has the elegance and sheer class of absolute discretion, and yet it instantly captures anyone’s attention due to its extraordinary craftsmanship. This Overseas Chronograph has all the qualities required to make it a new benchmark in its field, and to guarantee it a long lifespan within the Vacheron Constantin collections, as well as decades of pleasure for collectors.