While the 1970s gave us some fashions we'd rather forget, it was a great decade for watches. Vacheron Constantin's great contribution is the rare-as-hen's-tooth ref. 222, a classic time-only watch for which vintage collectors clamor.
To celebrate its 222nd anniversary in 1977, Vacheron Constantin decided to make a watch unlike any other it had created before. The idea was to create a bold sport watch that reflected the fashion of the late '70s, and the ref. 222 is exactly that. Many people wrongly believe that the 222 was designed by Gerald Genta, the famous creator of the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, Patek Philippe Nautilus, and IWC Ingenieur SL because the watch has a similar style. But it was a different young designer (obviously inspired by the master) who dreamed up the 222, accounting for its slightly quirkier looks.
In the spirit of the era's steel luxury sport watches, this 222 has a bold case with broad shoulders and an integrated steel bracelet with large, geometric center links. The dial has clear stick markers, long rectangular hands, and a small date window at 3 o'clock. It's purely functional, about as pared-back as you'll find anywhere. Only 500 of the original models were made in steel, with an additional 120 in two-tone gold and steel and 100 in solid gold.
Turning the watch over, you'd find a solid steel caseback with a bold "222" engraving that looks as if it were lifted from the Tron credits. Underneath that is the Vacheron Constantin caliber 1120, an ultra-thin automatic movement, originally made by Jaeger-LeCoultre, that was also used in the first Royal Oak and first Nautilus. It might not be a true in-house Vacheron movement, but it was the right movement for the job, and it's probably one of the best movements of all time. The combination of slim proportions and robust performance make it perfect for watches such as these.
The basic looks of the 222 have been the foundation for Vacheron Constantin's Overseas line for years. Earlier this month, at the SIHH show in Geneva, Vacheron unveiled the first true tribute to the original, the Overseas Ultra-Thin. Not only does the watch look like an updated version of the 222, with the faceted bezel and integrated bracelet (this time, with the brand's signature maltese cross-shaped links), it contains the very same caliber 1120 movement. This time around, you can admire the beautifully finished innards through the sapphire caseback. A tribute this good is surely going to raise the value of the original pieces over time.
This Vacheron Constantin Ref. 222 is available from Christie's Watch Shop and is priced at $33,900.