If luxury stainless steel sports watches are a hot commodity on the market today, Vacheron Constantin‘s Overseas Chronograph Panda has just raised the bar from hot to hotter. Just ahead of Watches & Wonders 2023, Vacheron Constantin pulls a splendid white rabbit out of its top hat with the release of the latest stainless steel Overseas Chronograph with a panda dial. The brand’s latest take on its Overseas Chronograph ref. 5500V is the paragon of a sporty chronograph flaunting an eye-catching and remarkably legible 1960s-style panda dial. Combined with the distinctive case of the Overseas family, impeccable Geneva Seal mechanics and maximum versatility thanks to the three interchangeable strap and bracelet options, Vacheron has produced a winner. It’s evident that VC has been listening to feedback and has produced this much-anticipated reference that will have many collectors and enthusiasts going weak at the knees.
Finger on the pulse
What is surprising about a watch brand that has been producing watches since 1755 is its openness to contemporary trends. Thanks to Christian Selmoni’s vital role as custodian of the brand’s heritage and style, Vacheron Constantin has demonstrated a remarkable ability to tap into contemporary trends and interpret them with the characteristic flair and high watchmaking spirit of the Maison. Sitting alongside heavyweight horological masterpieces emanating from the bespoke Les Cabinotiers workshop, Vacheron has, for example, tapped into the trend for skeletonised watches with impressive openworked renditions of its Overseas Tourbillon and the stunning Overseas Perpetual Calendar Ultra-Thin.
The spiritual ancestor of the Overseas collection is the 222, a luxury sports watch released by Vacheron Constantin in 1977 to coincide with its grand 222nd anniversary, a model that quickly ascended to assume a hallowed seat in the Holy Trinity of luxury sports watches. The first Overseas collection saw the light in 1996 and, since then, has undergone two major overhauls in 2004 and 2016. For a detailed history of the evolution of this watch, don’t miss our two videos (covering the origin of the collection and the current collection) with Christian Selmoni.
While respecting all the attributes associated with the luxury sports watch genre, the impressive finishings, integrated in-house Geneva Seal movement and versatile interchangeable strap/bracelet situated the Overseas Chronograph in the more elevated realm of high-end luxury sports watches, on par with models produced by Audemars Piguet and Patek Philippe. The Overseas Chronograph, reference 5500V, materialised with the third-generation makeover of the collection in 2016 (there had been prior Overseas Chronographs with modified Frederic Piguet calibres).
Since 2016, the Overseas Chronograph has appeared in different case materials and an assortment of dial colours, including a 2018 reverse panda dial with a black background and white sub-dials. And while the latest Overseas Chronograph represents a mere change in dial colour, the result is dramatically different. It’s worth clarifying that the release of this steel panda chronograph coincides with the discontinuation of the brown and silver dial models, whittling down the collection to three stainless steel references: blue dial in a pink gold case, reverse panda and this panda edition.
Giant pandas, those adorable furry bears from China with black and white markings, have lent their name to the watch industry to describe chronograph dials with white or silver faces and black counters. There is also a sub-species of the panda known as the reverse panda with black faces and white sub-dials. Naturally, there are panda dials with all sorts of contrasting colours, Zenith’s El Primero is a model that comes to mind, but the original mission of bold contrasting panda dials was to enhance legibility.
Soaring in popularity during the heyday of racing chronographs in the 1960s, vintage panda chronographs are highly sought-after by collectors today. Since only a handful of collectable brands produced panda-style dials in the 1960s, the prices of vintage panda chronographs at auction have skyrocketed. To give you an indication of the fever-pitch popularity of pandas, Paul Newman’s Rolex Daytona panda chronograph sold for over USD 17 million at auction in 2017, followed three years later by his reverse panda Rolex Daytona for a cool USD 5,475,000.
Given the popularity of panda dials, it’s odd that Vacheron’s first Overseas panda chronograph was a reverse panda with a black dial and white counters. Still very distinctive and eye-catching, the reverse panda Overseas was a welcome addition to the more static and sedate tone-on-tone versions of the chronograph. Luckily, it looks like Vacheron has been listening to collectors and, seven years after its debut, has produced a winning panda chronograph that will soon be harder to spot in the wild than a real giant panda.
What a difference a face makes
It’s incredible the difference a simple inversion of colours on a dial can make. Now featuring a silver-toned dial with black sub-dials, this Overseas Chronograph stands out a mile and exudes a much sportier, racing car vibe.
As you can see in our photographs, the silvery central area of the dial has an attractive sunburst-brushed decoration that plays elegantly with the ambient light. The subtle sheen produced by light hitting the dial is certainly not as ‘loud’ as a white dial, but it underscores the innate elegance and refinement of the Overseas collection.
Like a panda’s black eyes and nose, the contrasting black snailed sub-dials at 3, 6 and 9 o’clock pop out against the silver background and immediately draw the eye to their centres. The numerals inside the 30-minute and 12-hour chronograph counters are deliberately large and picked out in a silvery colour to enhance legibility. The chapter ring, with the applied white gold faceted and applied hour markers and minute track, is matte. Echoing the two-tone colour scheme of the dial, the sloping flange with chronograph seconds is picked out in black with a velvety finish and white markings. Like it or not, there is a fairly discreet date window in a bevelled silver frame at 4:30 with a white background and black numerals. In keeping with its sports watch persona, the hour and minute hands, along with the indices, are treated with Super-LumiNova.
Sharing identical specifications with previous Overseas Chronographs, the stainless steel case measures 42.5mm in diameter and has a height of 13.7mm. The vertically brushed tonneau-shaped base and circular plinth are surmounted by the mirror-polished six-sided bezel designed to look like the truncated arms of the brand’s Maltese Cross logo. The finishings extend to the bracelet with its flat brushed surfaces and hand-polished bevels. To ensure the 150m water-resistance of the case, the crown is screwed-down, and the push-pieces are screw-locked. Completing its defensive armour, a soft iron casing ring protects the movement from magnetism.
Designed especially for the third-generation Overseas collection, calibre 5200 is a fully integrated chronograph movement operated with a column wheel (decorated with a Maltese cross) and a vertical clutch. This vertical coupling clutch prevents any jerking of the hand when the chronograph is activated. Beating at 28,8000vph, the twin barrels deliver a power reserve of 52 hours, and parts of the movement can be admired through the sapphire crystal caseback. You can see the 22k gold rotor with its wind rose and some of the finishings – Geneva stripes, polished bevelled angles, circular graining – that embellish this Poinçon de Genève movement.
A strong selling point of the Overseas collection is undoubtedly its transformation potential. As one of the first brands to jump on the interchangeable strap/bracelet bandwagon with a foolproof, tool-free and exceptionally well-designed and patented DIY mechanism, Vacheron Constantin showed how the Overseas could be dressed up or down, adapting its personality to a formal suit or wetsuit in seconds. Although interchangeable straps are now practically the norm and something the market clamours for, I always associate Vacheron’s Overseas as the forerunner of this trend in high-end watches.
The Overseas Chronograph is delivered with three strap options: a practical and sporty stainless steel bracelet with half Maltese cross-shaped links and a triple-folding clasp with push-pieces and comfort-adjustment system; a dressier black calfskin leather strap with grey stitching; and a sporty hi-tech black rubber strap.
AVAILABILITY & PRICE
The Vacheron Constantin Overseas Chronograph Panda Dial is launched as part of the permanent collection and is now available from boutiques and retailers. The price, EUR 36,700, CHF 32,700 or USD 32,400, is the same as other steel editions, but you’d be better put your skates on if you have fallen in love with this beauty.
For more details, please visit www.vacheron-constantin.com.