44018 Vacheron Constantin 222 Jumbo in Steel
Amongst the kind of people that read Hairspring, the original 222 occupies quite a different mindshare compared to the 5402 or 3700. This, because where the Royal Oak and Nautilus have been in continuous production since introduction, the 222 was a blip in Vacheron history, a supernova that dazzled and dissipated quickly. The 222 evolved into the Overseas, and that was line Vacheron poured resource into. Jorg Hyseks oft-forgotten third musketeer was just that, a footnote. To many people, including myself, that added a dimension of charm. It was always my personal pet favorite. The best of us die young, and this was James Dean in sporting steel. It would always look good, not get bigger, scale volumes, and grow senile in age. That is, until last year, when Les Historiques finally bit the bullet and reanimated James Dean like Victor Frankenstein. When a manufacture shines a bright light on the dark, dusty corners of their back catalogue, there are secondary consequences to vintage collectors. Despite all that, I still want this damn watch.
Thought to be one of fewer than 100 examples, this original Jumbo in steel is one of the most desirable 222s of all time. Vacheron Constantin were last of the big three Swiss houses to debut their steel sports offering. AP had first mover advantage, Patek stole Genta, and VC sat back watching and learning. When the time came, they went about things a little differently. Commemorating the manufacture’s 222nd anniversary, Jorg Hysek was tasked to pen an integrated sports offering. The case was super thin, harshly angular, hexagonal in theme, and serrated in detail. No porthole faff was to be found anywhere. Its design impression was VC to the core. I particularly love the VC-cross case stamp just beneath its 5 marker, a divisive detail to say the least. Interestingly, the Jumbo utilized an entirely different calibre to the midsized, a JLC 920-derived ultra-thin calibre 1121. It remains even today one of the thinnest full-rotor movement architectures ever produced. It’s VC’s razor-thin, brutalist 1977 birthday gift to itself.
The 222 was, until very recently, territory for the studied watch nerd. Then Brad Pitt fucked it all up, casually pap’d wearing the reissue despite being a Breitling ambassador (oops). Les Historiques did an incredible job, but I do wish there’d been a little more modern evolution. Exaggerated proportions, more modern dial detail, or a distinct bezel. As they designed it, the vintage and reissue are imperceptible across a room. And the production volume will be larger. It’s like Omega laser-scanning and reissuing the trilogy. It’s all fine and will undoubtedly sell well, but what if anything does it contribute toward moving the brand and their thought forward? It’s kind of like holding a press conference just to say, ‘we have no new ideas.’ The Everest was a far stronger modern release to my sensibilities. It was collaborative, contributed toward the maison, told a story, innovated in materials, and didn’t rest on laurels. Which all makes this steel 222 all the more special, because Les Historiques haven’t revisited it yet. They may. But in the interim, if I see someone wearing this, I’ll think ‘that person knows what they’re doing’. If I see a gold 222, I’ll think ‘they’re either very good clients of VC, paid silly money, or love Brad Pitt a bit too much’. Please, Les Historiques, you’ve had your fun. Leave it be.
This example is fantastic. The case sports a light to moderate surface wear, really only visible on the bezel and polished flanks. That said, its lines are factory and sharp. It’s one that hasn’t been messed up by a polishing wheel and had a life. The dial is, likewise, gorgeous: lightly greyed over time but with deep golden tritium echoed in the handset. The bracelet appears fairly tight as well. It comes from a well-regarded Parisian retailer, watch only.