The 1970s marked the introduction of stainless steel sport watches in the collections of renowned Swiss brands such as Audemars Piguet and Patek Philippe. This was quite a step, as both were primarily known for their fine gold-cased dress watches and complicated pieces. While the Nautilus and Royal Oak grew to become icons, Patek Philippe and Audemars Piguet weren’t the only Swiss manufactures that made the step to more sportive watches in less precious metal.
Enter the challenger: Vacheron Constantin. The watchmaker notably launched in 1975 its Chronometer Royal reference 2215; a rectangular watch with an integrated bracelet, it somewhat resembled the Nautilus. Vacheron Constantin corrected this in 1977, celebrating its 222nd anniversary with a sports watch that they conveniently also named after the occasion.
Unlike what is often thought, was the 222 not designed by Gérald Genta, but rather by Jörg Hysek. He penned down remarkable clean lines that combined strength and elegance. A playful element is a Maltese cross that is incorporated on the bottom right of the case. It is interesting to note that the 222 was powered by caliber 1120, Vacheron Constantin’s reference for the ultra-thin caliber 920 base movement that they used from sister-brand Jaeger-LeCoultre. The same base movement can be found in the Royal Oak and Nautilus of that era. After eight years of production, the 222 was phased out, but its design would live on in other Vacheron Constantin collections, like the Overseas.
At Watches & Wonders, Vacheron Constantin decided to reinstate the 222. Not a moment too soon, in my opinion, as its design has only seemed to become better over time. Currently, the collection is limited to a yellow gold version in the old ‘Jumbo’ size, which means that it has a diameter of 37mm. Powered by Vacheron Constantin’s caliber 2455/2, visible through the sapphire crystal insert in the caseback, it is a very tempting proposition and, not surprisingly, got a warm welcome at the fair. It would be interesting to see if Vacheron Constantin will expand the 222 collection further as the original was also available in stainless steel and quite the trailblazer in steel-gold. That being said, Vacheron Constantin never made the 222 with anything else but a date complication, but somehow I also think that it will look amazing as a chronograph. Will this ever happen? As always, time will tell.
More information on the re-issue of the 222 can be found on Vacheron Constantin’s website.