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How the Vacheron Constantin Overseas watch fell into favour

It used to be easy enough to stop by a retailer and pick up an Overseas sports watch. Not any more

The 41 mm Overseas self-winding model.
The 41 mm Overseas self-winding model. (Courtesy Vacheron Constantin/Instagram)

Not long ago, the current generation Vacheron Constantin Overseas was one of those watches that many called “underappreciated”—myself included. A classic steel sports watch with a distinct bezel design and vibrant sunbrushed dial, critics praised its lovely design, as well as its fantastic ergonomics and exceptional finishing on everything from its integrated bracelet down to the bevels on its movement bridges.

And shoppers found that if they wanted one, this watch was not difficult to acquire, at least from its launch in 2016 until about 18 months ago. 

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In June 2020, buzz about delivery waits started cropping up among collectors across North America. Around the same time, sale prices of the Overseas on the secondary market began to climb, according to Mike Manjos, chief revenue officer of Watchbox, a major dealer in the global pre-owned watch market.

“Since Q1 2020, we’ve witnessed an 83.5% increase in market value for the current generation blue-dial Overseas. Leading into that quarter, pre-owned examples of the blue-dialed Overseas were trading hands for roughly $17,000, which is under its $22,500 retail price,” Manjos explains, referring to the three-hand blue-dial version of the watch (called reference 4500V by the company). “In contrast, current sales for these pieces are now coming in north of $32,000. The most significant jump was around six months ago.”

Over the past year, I’ve heard several stories of people struggling to acquire an Overseas reference of any sort from Vacheron’s boutique network, with wait times floating somewhere around the six-to-eight-month window between order and delivery. Some North American retailers have informed clients that waits for a blue dialed 4500V in steel are up to two years in certain markets. 

In contrast to the waitlists found at Rolex, Audemars Piguet, and Patek Philippe—which can stretch upward of four or five years (or, at one point, up to eight years for the now-discontinued Patek Philippe Nautilus 5711)—waiting six months to two years sounds minor. But the key here is that a short time ago you could simply walk into a boutique or authorized retailer and buy an Overseas out of the display case. 

Those waitlists at other brands are not only driving up the secondary market values for their respective products (the Nautilus, the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, and just about all steel Rolex models). They are also doing Vacheron a favor. 

In fall 2017, I had a conversation with Aurel Bacs, senior watch consultant at Phillips Auctions, who has played a pivotal role in the vintage watch collecting boom over the last half-decade by bringing such high-wattage pieces to auction as Paul Newman’s Rolex Daytona, which sold for more than $17 million that year. 

When I asked Bacs about the explosion in the market for a different vintage watch, the Heuer chronograph, he explained a particular aspect of the collecting psyche that seems to apply to the Overseas. “We need to look at it in terms of ‘the next best thing,’” he explained. “It happens with watches as much as it happens with cars and other collectibles. At a certain point of desirability and market interest, certain items simply grow to be out of reach of the mainstream buyer. The person who was happy to pay $50,000 for a Rolex Daytona won’t necessarily be willing or able to spend $150,000 to $200,000 on the same watch.” Such collectors will still have $50,000 burning a hole in their pockets, so they set out to find something comparable, he said. “As more buyers land on a common answer to the same question, we then see that ‘next best thing’ starting to rise in turn.”

I’ve heard this sentiment echoed in one way or another by nearly a dozen Overseas owners I’ve spoken to recently. For many, the decision went so far as to become a matter of principle; even if they could crack the code to get their hands on a Patek Philippe Nautilus 5711 these days, the instinct when seeing one in the wild is to think that the wearer overpaid. 

A brief primer: Sports watches like the Overseas have been very popular for the past few years, led by the coveted Nautilus, of which an unworn example of its “final edition” green-dial variant fetched roughly a half-million dollars this past July at the Antiquorum Important Modern and Vintage Timepieces auction in Monaco. (The retail price is $34,893).

Very closely behind we have the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, and the Rolex Daytona, Submariner, and GMT-Master II. To be classified a “sports watch,” a timepiece is usually made entirely of metal (preferably steel) and often features a bracelet that is integrated into the watch case itself, rather than sliding in between a pair of lugs. 

Prices for these watches range from $8,100 for the Submariner on the low end to upward of $120,000 for a perpetual calendar Nautilus on the high end. Even for the cheapest models, there are waiting lists of hundreds, if not thousands. 

After a decade of watch collecting, securities lawyer Tom Ng decided earlier this year to move to the Overseas. “AP and Patek sports watches have simply become too visible these days, given how much attention they get online, and may well send the wrong message in some professional circles,” he says. “Meanwhile, the Overseas will still fly under the radar most of the time, all while being distinctive and versatile for day-to-day wear.”

Although demand has increased dramatically, the low annual production of the Overseas collection has led supply to run dry in no time. Vacheron’s annual production floats somewhere from 20,000 to 25,000 watches annually. Vacheron doesn’t share specific numbers of models made, but say the Overseas makes up somewhere around 20% of the brand’s production: we’re talking only about 5,000 watches annually. For context, there are watch brands out there that will call a 5,000 piece series a “limited edition.” (After months of requests, executives for Vacheron would not comment for this article.)

“At Wempe, the demand for Vacheron Constantin Overseas models started to increase exponentially in 2018,” explains Rudiger Albers, the U.S. president of watch retailer Wempe. “The then-new ad campaign, ‘One of not many,’ summed it up perfectly,” he adds, alluding to the brand’s promotion that year, anchoring Vacheron as being the brand for connoisseurs who want something rare.

Albers attributes part of the continued popularity to increasingly casual work conditions that allow for slightly less-dressy watches. “This doesn’t make our job any easier,” he notes, “as the annual allocation of Overseas watches per model can easily be counted on one hand.”

So what’s next for the Overseas? Just recently, Vacheron unveiled a pair of 150-piece limited edition Everest references, paying homage to the prototype worn by Cory Richards during his Everest climb. When the prototype sold at auction for a shocking $100,000, it was clear that there would be interest in a production version; upon the launch of the two models, we were informed that all 300 watches had been sold.

The sports watch market for both pre-owned and new timepieces is holding very steady. Modern Rolex references remain impossible to get without help from a company or retailer connection, and waitlists for a Nautilus or Royal Oak have grown so long that many boutiques simply won’t take names. Throw in a new contender with budding desirability and comparable quality that hasn’t been ruined by being the “it watch” of new-money maniacs with a thirst for attention? The Overseas probably isn’t going anywhere soon. 

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