44018 Vacheron Constantin 222 Jumbo Steel
Conor McGregor is quite the hoe for attention but in the stream of nonsense that leaves his mouth, one saying is worth listening to. Just before the José Aldo fight, at the height of his abilities, a reporter asked if the previous victory had effected him. He replied, ‘Loss can make or break a fighter, but a win can as well . . .you sleep on a win and you’ll wake up with a loss.’ Vacheron Constantin are in a precarious position today. The 222 has screamed from obscurity to fame in a few short years, thanks in no small part to Brad Pitt (wasn’t he supposed to be a Breitling ambassador?). It’s now their responsibility to oversee and advance not just the Overseas, but the 222’s legacy. I’m hoping they don’t sleep on it, back into obscurity.
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 Hysek’s 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.
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.
Les Historiques did an incredible job, but I do wish there’d been a little more modern evolution. Exaggerated thinness, more modern dial detail, or a finer 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.’
On a related note, the 222 has seen quite the stochastic market. We’ve seen the market evolve from 2016 auction results in 30-40K USD, to 70-75K by 2019, and a peak of a 179K USD at Phillips Geneva 2021. Today, they’re hanging around 100K or just under. And you thought your ceramic Daytona has been on a wild ride. Anyone who tells you they know what’s going to happen to the 222 is speculating, it’s unknowable. But if one can separate meaning from values as if separating art from the artist, the 222 is finally peaking, appreciated as the foundation of a rather significant lineage and stepping out of the Royal Oak & Nautilus shadow. Now, Phidias or 2215 Royal Chronometer, anyone?
This example is in decent overall condition. The case seems strong, with perhaps a light re-brushing in the case upper but not abused. Its dial shows no major damage or handstrikes, but shows wildly darker tritium in three of its indices. It is hard to say if this is indicative of the others being relumed or if parts of tritium have fallen off, leaving the bottom of the indice exposed, from just this photography. There is also a small bit of dial patina developing down under the Swiss signature. It comes from a well-regarded Shanghai retailer with extract and box.