The Vacheron Constantin 222 is one of the great watch designs of the 1970s. Its tonneau-shaped case, distinctive notched bezel, and seamlessly integrated bracelet combine to create a design of such sheer understated elegance that many experts consider it the final member of the ‘Holy Trinity’ of sports watches, alongside the iconic Audemars Piguet Royal Oak and Patek Philippe Nautilus.
Strange, then, that this fabulous design should have fallen into relative obscurity in the years following its quiet discontinuation in 1985. Perhaps the 222’s little-known designer, the vastly underrated Jörg Hysek, is to blame simply for the fact that his name isn’t Gerald Genta? Or maybe its lack of a compelling backstory – the Royal Oak, for example, was famously drawn up by Genta in less than 24 hours on the eve of the 1971 Basel fair – has left it without a deserving chapter in the horological canon?
Whatever the reasons, the 222 is finally getting its dues as enthusiasts and collectors alike are showing fresh interest in the category. It seems that the good people of Vacheron Constantin have been paying attention, too.
Earlier this year they announced, quite unexpectedly, that they would be recreating this famous model as part of its Historiques collection. It has duly won two gongs at the Square Mile Watch Awards 2022: Watch of the Year and Best Heritage Watch.
We sit down with Christian Selmoni, heritage and style director at Vacheron, to talk about the 222 – past and present.
Could you tell us the story of the original Vacheron Constantin 222. How did it come into being? I believe it swiftly followed a much less commercially successful watch, the Reference 2215 Chronometer Royal.
Indeed, Vacheron Constantin’s first attempt in the field of sports watches with an integrated metal bracelet was the Royal Chronometer Reference 2215/2216 in 1975. The design was quite unique – despite bearing some of the codes of the emerging sport watches offered by prestigious names. It had an unconventional shape, and its dial was also different from sport watches. It wasn’t successful at the time, but I think about the amazing version with baguette-cut diamonds as indexes – in a steel case, no less! – that was quite unusual at the time, even if faithful to the style of the Maison: classic with a twist.
This model was followed two years later by the launch of the 222, more than one single model but a full collection including three sizes (37mm, 34mm and 24mm) and various materials. The 222 collection stayed in the Maison’s portfolio until 1985. On the contrary to the reference 2215/2216, which had an assertive unique design, the 222 watches are much more in line with other famous sporty designs created during the 1970s.
Genta is rightly heralded for the creation of the Royal Oak and Nautilus. Does Jörg Hysek, the 222’s designer, deserve to stand on the same pedestal?
The influence of Gérald Genta during this decade was impressive, however Jörg Hysek made an exceptional design, combining the essence of Vacheron Constantin style – elegance, refinement, sophistication, overall finesse – with all the attributes of sport watches like robustness, water resistance, ease of use.
The 222 is finally getting its dues as enthusiasts and collectors alike are showing fresh interest
The 222 relates to Vacheron’s 222nd anniversary. Why celebrate such a milestone?
We assume that our Maison wanted, during a challenging decade, to explore new universes and territories of expression. And certainly, sporty elegant watches were at this time quite new for prestige names and therefore a fantastic opportunity to expand in new directions while maintaining our excellence in watchmaking.
The 222 seems to finally have caught the eye of collectors. Where do you believe this renewed interest has come from?
Mostly for two reasons: there is today an incredible interest from the public and from watch lovers and collectors for sports watches created during the 1970s. And, of course, the 222 is part of this history. In addition, the 222 – in all its versions – has been manufactured in few examples from 1977 to 1985 when compared with other iconic designs from the same decade. This exclusivity also explains today’s appeal.
That brings us onto the release of the new Historiques 222. What was the thinking behind bringing the watch back now 45 years after the original release?
The current generation of Overseas was launched in 2016, and we wanted the collection to be developed and stated as the Maison’s contemporary offer of sporty elegant watches. This has been achieved with the launch of various models – mostly complicated – in the Overseas line, with great success, from 2017 to 2022. The idea of a revival of the 222 was in the air for quite some time, and we decided to celebrate this very inspirational model in 2022, 45 years after its launch, for this reason and coincidentally it became a ‘play with numbers’ opportunity.
You have honoured the original with a magnificent recreation. How does the new model differ from its inspiration?
The objective was to pay homage to the original 37mm “Jumbo” model, the most famous and sought after in the collection, and our design team did a fantastic job. They respected the dimensions and proportions of Jörg’s original design, while bringing some evolution, small improvements, such as the alternating satin-finished and polished surfaces, better date display integration, transparent case-back, and above all a general feel of sophistication and superlative finishing.
For us, the bracelet on the 222 is one of the finest on any sports watch. Have you made any changes to the original specifications?
Absolutely, the 222 bracelet is the pièce de resistance, as we say in French, of the new Historiques 222. Incredibly thin and flexible, it really is the definition of a ‘second skin’. This was made possible thanks to the joint effort of our design team and the incredible technical possibilities offered today by 3D design and state-of-the-art manufacturing technologies. Such tools were not available in 1977, so the new model, in this context, is showcasing the Maison’s technical expertise and its commitment to the highest manufacturing standards as well as its heritage.
The revival of the 222 was in the air for quite some time, and we decided to celebrate this very inspirational model in 2022
Why 18k yellow gold for this release?
The idea was to launch the Historique 222 in its rarest version, 18k yellow gold, and at the same time create a more flamboyant testimony to the 1970s decade – chic, sophisticated, and uninhibited.
What’s your favourite detail?
The notched bezel is set on a thin gold disc. The disc itself is satin-finished, however the bevelled and chamfered surface is polished. It’s a very small detail, but it brings such sophistication to the finished watch.
For more information, see vacheron-constantin.com