February 3, 2023
by David Bredan
Unlike iconic cars, a range of emblematic consumer electronics, and various other items of nostalgia, watches are in a special place because they can take decades of hiatus, make a return in apparently unchanged form, and still receive the warm reception and immediate celebration of enthusiasts. The Vacheron Constantin Historiques 222, or Vacheron Constantin 222, for short, has made such a comeback, evoking praise and potentially pushing historic brands further still from experimenting with completely new and modern designs.
The Vacheron Constantin 222 is a contemporary re-edition of what the brand refers to as its “legendary 1977 Jumbo” watch designed by the one and only Jorg Hysek. The original was clearly inspired by the integrated bracelet craze of the 1970s, and it could be argued that this relaunch was motivated by the repetition of the same trend in the 2020s. The 222 was presented on the occasion of the 222nd anniversary of Vacheron Constantin 46 years ago and marked the addition of a sports-luxury piece to its catalog, marking a break in the stylistic evolution of the brand. Even this original version had a water resistance rating of 120 meters, reinforced by a monoblock case that required the movement to be cased from above. Still, it measured just 7mm-thick, courtesy of a 3.05mm-thick movement that displayed the hours, the minutes, and the date. It was 37mm-wide, a size that, back in 1977, merited the nickname “Jumbo.”
Looking back at its rich archive of emblematic designs, Vacheron Constantin has a Historiques collection that includes modern reinterpretations, as opposed to exact replicas, of its original watches. That said, the Vacheron Constantin 222 of 2022 still measures 37mm in diameter, sports the same fluted bezel, a gold-toned dial, straight hour markers, baton-style hands, an integrated bracelet, hexagonal central links, as well as the Maltese cross at the 5 o’clock position of the case, crafted from polished Pd150 white gold and soldered onto the case.
Look a bit closer and you’ll find that it’s not all the same. Specification updates of the Vacheron Constantin 222 include an increased operating frequency from 2.75Hz to 4Hz, oscillating weight with the 222 logo, a transparent caseback, more modern finishing on the movement, case, and bracelet, and a triple-blade (rather than double-blade) clasp. Interestingly, Vacheron Constantin notes the altered position of the date on the modern version as a plus — it is closer to the center of the dial thanks to a smaller movement. Although the consequent completion of the minute track certainly helps with legibility, it could be argued that date windows that fall closer to the center are often associated with arbitrarily enlarged watches built around movements that had originally been designed for smaller timepieces.
On the wrist, the Vacheron Constantin 222 has the powerful presence we have come to expect from integrated bracelet luxury watches crafted from solid gold. With that presence comes at least some ungainliness as well: The wide lugs and their unbroken brushed surfaces that give this type of watch its wide stance can look cumbersome from some angles. It’s a beautiful and impressive object in isolation that actually flatters few wrist sizes. The 222 stays true to its “Jumbo” nickname by wearing larger than its 37mm diameter would suggest, courtesy of its squared-off middle case and the overwhelming presence of 18k 3N yellow gold. Overall thickness remained impressively low at 7.95mm, although the 222 has not doubled but more than halved its water resistance over the last four decades.
Legibility remains excellent thanks to a gold-toned dial providing a satin backdrop for the large and thick applied hour markers and properly sized and delicately crafted baton hands. Proof that a slim watch with a consequently slim dial can offer plenty of depth and action on its dial. Flip the watch over and a massive oscillating weight in solid 22k gold reveals itself, sporting a ’70s-style 222 logo and a design that mimics that of the bezel. The Vacheron Constantin caliber 2455/2 is just 3.6mm-thick and, like most movements as slender as this, offers a rather compromised power reserve of just 40 hours. Although operating at a lower 3Hz frequency, Bulgari’s BVL 138 Finissimo movement combines a peripheral rotor and a 60-hour power reserve with just 2.35mm thickness. In compliance with the Hallmark of Geneva, the 2455/2 is, of course, beautifully finished both on its dial and caseback side.
The Vacheron Constantin 222 is about so much more than dry specs and movement performance. A “loud” design from a historic brand will forever be an attractive recipe, even if the resulting product is available only at a premium and with some compromises when compared to main catalog pieces. Sticking with Vacheron Constantin, $14,500 less will get you the recently updated Overseas in its boldest presentation with a solid-gold bracelet that looks rather more complex in its finishing, a solid-gold case and bezel, and a more capable and modern movement that offers 60 hours of power reserve at the cost of 1.1mm increase in thickness. And yet, in the eyes of many, the premium of the 222 will be easily justified by its design — speaking volumes about the powerful appeal of a historically important and timeless reference.
Although just recently relaunched, the Vacheron Constantin 222 looks like it has always been around. Obviously intended to fetch a slice of the integrated bracelet sports luxury watch segment in the 1970s and the 2020s, alike, it is nevertheless inimitable and instantly recognizable. In all probability, the next 46 years will pass over its Jorg Hysek-penned exterior as the previous 46 had done: just further enforcing its timeless appeal. That said, all this nostalgia comes at a price that would get you a solid gold Overseas — another Vacheron Constantin icon — and one or two other excellent luxury watches in steel. This is to say you’d really have to love the 222 to not go for that option, and we wouldn’t blame you — the 222 even made our Watches & Wonders Top Picks from 2022. The Vacheron Constantin 222 is priced at $69,000 excluding taxes. You can learn more on the brand’s website.