The Vacheron Constantin Overseas 4500V is a great watch. In fact, it might even be one of the best luxury steel sports watches in its category. And has been for quite some time. Yet, it seems only recently that collectors are starting to give it serious attention. Why is that? Do they think the Vacheron Constantin Overseas 4500V is not as good as the competition? As usual it’s a bit more nuanced than that. Let’s get into the detail and see if we can unpack the story of the Overseas 4500V.
Who Is The Competition?
Before we get into the backstory of the Overseas 4500V, let’s be clear on who I mean when I say “the competition”. Yes, there are lots of luxury steel sports watches out there. The ceramic Rolex Daytona has become almost a separate category on to itself. But that’s a chronograph. With a very different heritage. When I’m talking about competition for the Overseas 4500V, I’m referring to two models. The Patek Philippe Nautilus Ref 5711. And the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Ref 15500.
Ok, you might argue that the Lange Odysseus (affiliate link) should also make the cut. But I would disagree. Yes, it is a luxury steel sports watch. And yes – despite Lange saying otherwise – its mission is to compete with the above listed models. Including the Overseas 4500V. But this model does not have the connection to the same era as the other three. As we are about to discover.
A (Very) Brief History Of The Luxury Steel Sports Watch
Most enthusiasts already know the origin story of the modern luxury steel sports watch. Or at least the generally accepted version of events. If you’re not familiar, a brief recap should suffice. In the 1970s the Swiss watch industry needed a way to reinvent itself. The so-called ‘Quartz Crisis‘ had decimated sales. And worse still, swayed consumer tastes away from mechanical watches.
Many Swiss brands pivoted to making quartz watches as well. And most still do today. But at that time, they were always viewed as one (or many steps behind) the Japanese competition. Like Seiko. Audemars Piguet though, was one of the few brands that stayed true to its horological roots. But hoping and wishing could not change the reality of the situation they were facing. So instead, they took action.
AP’s managing director Georges Golay sought out famed watch designer Gérald Genta. His brief? Simple. Design a ground-breaking new mechanical watch. And Genta did it. In a single night no less. The next year Audemars Piguet Royal Oak 5402ST made its debut at the 1972 Baselworld fair. It cost more than many of AP’s 18k gold timepieces. Giving birth to a new category: the luxury steel sports watch.
To say the Royal Oak was an overnight success is something of an understatement. The model changed the fortunes of AP. It is one of – if not the – reasons why the brand is such a powerhouse today. Four years later, Genta repeated his magic for Patek Philippe. And another luxury steel sports watch with an integrated bracelet came to market. The legendary Patek Philippe Nautilus Ref 3700/1.
The 222 – Forerunner (Of Sorts) To The Overseas 4500V
In that same year – 1976 – Vacheron Constantin would mark its 222nd anniversary. An odd milestone to celebrate, I agree. But the centuries-old Maison wanted to remind customers of its ability to endure. Plus, it needed an excuse to launch a luxury steel sports watch of its own
For their “game-changer”, VC didn’t rely on the design services of Genta. Instead it turned to a young Jorg Hysek. A man who is today considered one of the most successful watch designers of the modern era. The brief was similar though. It needed to be a radical departure from the brand’s classic dress watches. Sporty yet still stylish. And immediately recognisable as a Vacheron Constantin on the wrist.
Its slim, tonneau-shaped case used a one-piece construction. Helping deliver water resistance of 120m. Unlike the other two, it had a clean dial, sans a pattern of any sort, with baton markers for the hours. And framed by a notched round bezel, of the non-rotating variety. A not so subtle touch was the golden Maltese cross, inset in the case at 5 o’clock.
One of the most interesting features of the 222 is its complex integrated bracelet. Complete with unusual hexagonal centre links. I’ve never had the pleasure of trying one on, but I’ve heard it’s quite comfortable. Not to mention eye-catching. VC also did a two-tone version, where the bezel and the centre links were in gold.
Three case sizes were available; 37mm, 34mm and 25mm. The latter used a quartz movement. Whereas the other two housed the VC1120 caliber. This movement used the Jaeger-LeCoultre caliber 920 as its base. An ultra-slim automatic movement developed by JLC in the 1960’s. It’s the same movement that AP and Patek used for their luxury steel sports watches too.
Riding the wave of the time, the 222 was a moderate success for VC. To be fair the Royal Oak and Nautilus also only picked up real steam in the last decade or so. Vacheron stopped producing it in the mid-1980s and now good examples are sought after. Its successor was the 333, and later the Phidias. Neither of which proved to be long-term commercial successes for VC.
The Vacheron Constantin Overseas 4500V
The current version of the Overseas 4500V is actually the third generation of this model. VC introduced the Overseas collection in 1996 and has been refining it ever since. It draws inspiration from the 222, but it’s not a direct descendant in the way the Ref 15202ST and Ref 5711/1A are. A fact its detractors are quick to point out. Most collectors still acknowledge the lineage of the Overseas 4500V as legitimate though.
In many ways this indirect blood line is beneficial. The Overseas 4500V is not so constrained by historic design codes. And as such, of the three models, looks and feels the most modern.
Presented in a 41mm tonneau-shaped case, it features satin-brushed and polished finishes. As with the original, the clean round dial offers a classic three-hand layout. Complete with lume-filled baton markers and the date shown via an aperture. A polished bezel with six notches frames the dial. It’s designed to evoke the Maltese cross that forms part of VC’s identity. The case is now water-resistant to 150 metres. And a soft iron casing ring provides the movement with protection against magnetic fields of up to 25,000 A/m.
At 11mm high, the slim case sits flat against the wrist. It’s comfortable but also practical for daily wear. And has real presence without being too in your face. I would say it’s more eye-catching than the other two, due to the high polish on the bezel. But not to the point of being crass or unpleasant. Helping keep it snug against your arm is VC’s top-quality integrated bracelet. There’s no hexagonal centre links though. Instead the design evokes a half-Maltese cross, extending out from the bezel. Another nice modern touch is the in-built extension system. This allows you to adjust the bracelet to your wrist size. A welcome feature that is lacking in VC’s key competitors.
Another – also absent in the other two – is the ability to do tool-free strap changes. Many brands offer this functionality now. Cartier nailed it with the Santos for example. And VC has done it with the Overseas 4500V. All it takes is a few seconds to switch out for a leather or rubber alternative (supplied with the watch). This serves to only further emphasise the model’s versatility. Wear it with a bracelet for work during the day. Switch it to a leather strap for the evening’s activities. And then comfy rubber for weekend play.
Nowadays, of course, the Overseas 4500V comes equipped with a legit manufacture movement. Vacheron’s in-house Calibre 5100. A self-winding movement that delivers a 60-hour power reserve. It’s not one of the brands most complex movements. And nor would you expect it to be. But it is still constructed and finished to the same high standard you would expect from VC. As with all in-house movements from the brand, it displays the Geneva Seal.
Price & Availability
The retail price of the Vacheron Constantin 4500V in steel is US$19,900. Getting your hands on one might prove to be a more difficult affair though. A few short years ago, VC was struggling to give these watches away. That was before prices on the Nautilus and Royal Oak became unpalatable. Now, the rising tide has lifted all boats. Meaning collectors are scrambling for an allocation on an Overseas. Pricing on the secondary market is reflecting this increased demand. An Overseas 4500V with the popular blue dial now changes hands for around US$28k – $30k. A bargain compared to the US$100k+ you would have to part ways with for a Nautilus Ref 5711/1A. Or a Royal Oak 15202ST.
But does that mean those two models are that much better than the Overseas 4500V? The market seems to think so. I’m not so convinced.
Should You Buy The Vacheron Constantin Overseas 4500V?
This is a question I seemed to be getting asked a lot lately. Hence the article. A lot people like this watch. And well they should, it’s a great piece. The confusion seems to be around why the Overseas 4500V hasn’t appreciated in value in the same way as its peers. My answer generally is because you’re not comparing apples with apples. Yes, the Overseas 4500V is Vacheron’s equivalent of the Royal Oak or the Nautilus in today’s terms. But it’s not from the same era. It wasn’t designed by Genta. And it did not have the same impact on the luxury watch market the other two did.
That doesn’t mean it’s not as good as the competition though.
In fact, in some ways I would argue it’s better. More attractive retail price. Higher water resistance. Resistance to magnetic fields. Quick change strap system. Micro-adjustment on the bracelet. All the things you should expect from a modern luxury sports watch in this price bracket. And the reality is you’re not going to lose out on resale, if you choose to go down that path. But at least you have a chance of actually buying one at retail to begin with. It might take a while but if you’re happy to wait (and persist) you will get one. There’s no way that’s happening with the Ref 5711/1A. Patek discontinued that model, remember? And unless you have a fantastic relationship with AP, forget seeing a Royal Oak any time soon either.
Of course, many will remain fixated on the astronomical price growth on the other two. That’s human nature. But the only way to get your hands on a watch that is currently trading above $100k, is to pay above $100k. That’s a big chunk of change left over to spend on other things if you decide to go with the Overseas 4500V. And you’re not leaving anything on the table as far as the watch itself goes. To me that’s a win win.
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Technical Specifications: Vacheron Constantin Overseas 4500V Self-Winding
- Case: 41mm x 11mm high – stainless steel polished and satin-brushed – screwed-down crown – soft iron ring for anti-magnetic protection – water-resistance 150m – sapphire crystal front and back.
- Dial: black, blue or silver – satin-finished flange – 18k white gold hour markers and hands with luminescent material.
- Movement: Calibre 5100 – in-house, automatic – 22k gold oscillating weight – 60h power reserve – 4 Hz – 172 components – 37 jewels – Hallmark of Geneva certified – hours, minutes, central seconds and date.
- Bracelet: stainless steel bracelet – delivered with a second strap in alligator leather and a third strap in rubber – DIY interchangeable strap system – steel bracelet with folding clasp and comfort adjustment system.
- Price: From USD 19,900.