It would be an overstatement to say that the two-tone watch is having a moment — steel-and-gold timepieces are not nearly as ubiquitous as, for example, blue-dial-blue-strap combos in today’s market— but certainly you can find more of them, from a greater variety of brands, than you could just a few years ago. Steel-and-gold occupies a special middle ground between understated luxury and ostentation, melding the elegance of the precious metal with the utilitarian robustness of its more industrial counterpart.
The two-tone look is especially suitable for the denizens of the timepiece realm we have come to refer to as “luxury sport” — an oft-employed but rarely specified term that generally means that the owner is wealthy enough to rock an expensive timepiece but still wants that timepiece to be something he can bang around a little bit. The Vacheron Constantin Overseas — based on the classic “222” model from the 1970s, widely regarded as the golden age of “sport luxury” watches; and revived and redesigned in a big way back in 2016 — is a prime example, and fittingly, among its many incarnations is a two-tone steel-and-gold, three-hand-date model, which I recently had the opportunity to spend a few days with, courtesy of the brand.
The first thing you’ll most likely notice is that distinctive bezel, which the brand’s press materials call “six-sided,” but which is actually round rather than hexagonal, albeit punctuated by six notches – more specifically, a round base overlaid by a six-spoked wheel that in all likelihood was intended to evoke the look of a steering wheel on a sailing ship. The upper part of the bezel has a polished finish while the lower has a brushed one, making for a great sense of depth; highlights and shadows interplay attractively off the faceted, sloping surfaces.
The other rose-gold element is the winding crown, which is fluted and emblazoned with the Vacheron Constantin Maltese cross emblem in relief. The crown screws down to secure this watch’s water-resistance to 150 meters, a bit shy of what professional-grade divers’ watches generally achieve. In any case, “Overseas” doesn’t necessarily mean “Under the sea,” and with its stationary bezel and lack of a diving scale, no one’s mistaking this timepiece as a watch to go diving with.
That gold bezel is stationed atop a tonneau-shaped stainless steel case that measures 41 mm in diameter and 11 mm in thickness. The brushed finished surfaces and polished-finished sides culminate in angled, curving lugs whose contours flow perfectly into the easily changeable straps and bracelets (more on which below). Inside the case, surrounding the in-house movement, is an inner ring made of soft iron — a traditional horological element that protects the movement from the deleterious effects of magnetic fields.
The dial (which is also available in sunburst blue) is exceptionally clean and legible, with a silvered sunburst hue and applied, gold-rimmed indices — larger and more wedge-shaped at 12, 6, and 9 o’clock, and interrupted by a date window, also gold-rimmed, at 3 o’clock. The indices and the hour and minute hands — the latter two a bit dainty for an otherwise masculine watch — are filled with luminous material.
The dial’s flange is printed with a minutes scale, with elegant Arabic numerals at each 5-minute mark and hash marks for the minutes, as well as for 1/5-minute subdivisions. The watch is not a chronograph (though the new Overseas family does offer one, as well as a world-timer), and the seconds hand can’t be stopped to measure 1/5-second times, so the reasoning for this seems unclear, other than to live up to the Overseas’ collection’s sporty pedigree. Also, on a similar note, the watch’s face could’ve been even more classically clean were it not for the inclusion of another set of minute marks on the dial between the appliques. While they do match up perfectly with the indices on the flange, and they do make it a bit easier to read the time with to-the-minute precision, they seem a bit superfluous, design-wise.
On the opposite side of the case is a sapphire exhibition caseback that offers a view of the movement, Vacheron’s manufacture Caliber 5100. The eye is instantly drawn to the large 22k gold rotor, which evokes the look of a navigational tool called a wind rose and features a gorgeous frosted pattern and an engraved-relief Vacheron Constantin logo, complete with the Maltese cross. This design not only says both “nautical” and “travel;” the large gold oscillating weight also makes for a nice visual balance with the golden bezel on the other side of this two-tone watch. The movement’s 172 parts include 37 jewels, a balance wheel that oscillates at 28,800 vph, plates and bridges finished with Geneva waves, and two mainspring barrels holding a very wearer-friendly 60-hour power reserve. The Hallmark of Geneva — the quality seal whose strict criteria all Vacheron Constantin movements must meet — is etched in gold on one of those aforementioned bridges.
I mentioned earlier that bicolor watches weren’t truly “having a moment.” However, one watch-world trend that is having one is the concept of interchangeable straps, which was a big selling point in the 2016 relaunch of the Overseas collection. Both the straps and the buckles feature a patent-pending system that allows the wearer to quickly and easily change between strap and bracelet and even to modify the fit of the folding clasp, all without the need for tools. My review watch came with both a black alligator leather strap and a more sporty black rubber strap. It was, as you’d imagine, quite fun to switch back and forth, according to the occasion and to the formality or informality of the outfit. The watch nestled comfortably under a shirt cuff in both modes, and while I was initially concerned that the modular design of the strap-to-lugs connection might mean the watch might be easily jostled or jarred loose from its moorings, the construction proved to be quite solid and dependable indeed.
All elements taken into account — and considering the absence of a chronograph, rotating bezel, or other traditional “tool watch” accoutrements, as well as its relatively steep price of $22,600 — this two-tone version of the Vacheron Constantin Overseas leans more toward luxury than sport — but the versatility of its strap system, the contemporary dimensions, and the essence of travel that its 1970s-inspired design embodies makes it just as appropriate for poolside lounging during the day as it is for the black-tie ballroom event in the evening.