The Beckertime Rivalry Series: The Patek Philippe Aquanaut versus the Vacheron Constantin Overseas
Today we bring you two sides of the triangle known as the Holy Trinity to face off against each other, Patek Philippe and Vacheron Constantin.
And, just to keep things nice and neat, we will be choosing a luxury sports watch from each brand, the category of timepieces invented by the third side, Audemars Piguet.
Needless to say we are looking at the very top end of the horology industry, a place where the elite go, usually with a blank check, to buy watches that tacitly proclaim their status and reflect their achievements.
But the pair of models we’re focusing on in this article are as close to laidback and (dare we say it?) fun as either manufacture offers; the Patek Aquanaut and the Vacheron Overseas.
Let’s see what’s what.
The Patek Philippe Aquanaut Versus the Vacheron Constantin Overseas: History
Each of the watches highlighted here have come along fairly recently, at least in relation to the length of time their respective brands have been in business.
The Patek Philippe Aquanaut first appeared in 1994, very much a reworking of the legendary Nautilus from two decades before, and a watch looking to capture a younger, hipper clientele. The final decade of the last millennium had seen the ‘Dot Com’ boom create (and just as quickly obliterate) vast fortunes for a new breed of youthful tech savvy entrepreneur and the Nautilus, once seen as the most disruptive and rebellious form in the 1970s, was now too close to the establishment to appeal to these newly minted millionaires.
Patek’s answer was a fresh take on the luxury sports watch, one which retained much of the Nautilus’s visuals but with a thoroughly modern twist.
So, the case was still roughly the same porthole-shape, but the hinged ‘ears’ which had been so distinctive on the earlier piece were dispensed with. What’s more, so was the integrated bracelet, the feature which had arguably done the most to separate the original watch’s genre from any other. Up front, the dial was given a textured checkerboard finish, echoed across onto the sporty ‘Tropical’ rubber strap—a first for any Patek.
The debut reference, the 5060A, came exclusively in black and measured 35.6mm, smaller than the Nautilus of the time. Crucially, it was also cast in steel, which was given a tool watch-like brushed finish.
The release of the Aquanaut came at precisely the right time and it hit the ground running. The intended audience snapped it up, loving the casual luxury which perfectly captured the spirit of the time. Serious collectors were not so convinced, lumbering it with the title of ‘Nautilus Junior’.
Nevertheless, the early success bred more innovations and Patek have released a host of variations over the years. Yellow gold models followed as did those fitted with a steel bracelet.
The design was revamped in 2007 on the 10th anniversary, with more rounded grooves to the dial texture and the 3 o’clock marker removed to make way for the date display.
The first complication didn’t come along until 2011, with the introduction of the Travel Time ref. 5164A. That was followed by the ref. 5968A in 2018, the Aquanaut’s first chronograph model.
These days, the 17-strong collection is mainly made up of simple time-and-date pieces, still with a few chronos and two Travel Time examples thrown in.
But it is still a far more energetic and vibrant family of watches than anything else in the Patek lineup, and has successfully fulfilled its remit of keeping the brand top of mind amongst all well-heeled youngsters.
Vacheron Constantin’s contribution to this contest was released in 1996, but can actually trace its roots back 20-years, to 1977.
That was the year VC threw its hat into the luxury sports watch ring, bringing us the ref. 222 to compete with the AP Royal Oak and Patek’ s own Nautilus.
Named after the number of years the brand had been in operation at the time (they were founded in 1755, making them the longest continually-running Swiss marque in history) the ref. 222 had a similarly Genta-esque styling to it, even though it was designed by a young Jorg Hysek.
It was launched in three variants; a 34mm and a 37mm mechanical model (both powered by the ultra-flat Caliber 920 from Jaeger-LeCoultre, which could also be found in the Royal Oak and the Nautilus) and a 25mm quartz version. Materials used were pure steel, a two-tone mix and all gold.
All followed the now accepted form—a ‘futuristic’ round bezel on a barrel-shaped case, sweeping into an integrated bracelet. It found a deal of success at the time, but as often happens, vintage examples are now hugely prized by collectors. So much so, in fact, that Vacheron launched a faithful reproduction of the ref. 222 into their Historiques Collection last year.
That piece was superseded by the ref. 333 in the 1980s, with a rounder case and more complications.
But both models were leading up to the first of the three generations of the Overseas, introduced in 1996 with a tonneau style case which was really a blend, aesthetically, of the other two. The 37mm steel watch had a dynamic looking fluted bezel made to resemble the brand’s emblem of the Maltese Cross.
The second generation came along in 2004, with a redesigned bracelet and the removal of crown guards, an increase in size to a more era-appropriate 42mm and some new patterned dials.
Finally, the current crop was released in 2016, and shows the company is taking the Overseas along more refined roads. Its once angular lines are now softer and more fluid, the Maltese bezel is toned down and the range comes with VC’s strap change system which allows owners to switch bracelets in seconds as the mood takes them.
There are 38 examples in the collection, with a slew of functions and in a range of metals.
The Patek Philippe Aquanaut Versus the Vacheron Constantin Overseas: Options
As you can see from the above, the Overseas collection is better stocked than the Aquanaut, both in materials and complications.
Out of the 38 on offer, roughly half are cast in steel, with the rest made up of rose or white gold, or titanium.
Size-wise, the Overseas runs from the largest at 43.5mm down to the smallest ladies pieces at 33mm and there are a number of different complications to choose from.
The entry level watches are, of course, the simple time-and-date models before we head into more haute horlogerie territory with dual time, world time, perpetual calendar and, at the toppermost of the top end, four stunning tourbillons, two of which have been skeletonized. But every example carries over the range’s styling cues, in particular the Maltese Cross-inspired bezel and the distinctive bracelet links (on the watches with metal bracelets).
With the Aquanaut, there is actually much less complexity than you might imagine from Patek. Out of the 17 in the series, all but five are time-and-date models, with the simplest, the ref. 5167 (40.8mm) and the ref. 5168 (42.2mm) representing the gateway into the range. After that, there are three chronographs and a pair of travel time examples and…that’s it. It seems strange for the company that invented the minute repeater, the perpetual calendar, the annual calendar (and the actual wristwatch itself) that they have not infused the Aquanaut family with some sexier complications, but it may be in order to not take focus away from the Nautilus range, which has a bit more scope.
As for materials, the watches follow the Overseas quite closely, with plenty of steel and a few in rose and white gold. However, there are no titanium pieces as of yet.
The Patek Philippe Aquanaut Versus the Vacheron Constantin Overseas: Prices
As relatively lighthearted as these two watch lines are, one thing you can rely on with both is that buying them is always going to involve parting with a sizeable amount of change.
Starting price over at Patek is about $21,650 for the ref. 5167A on a rubber strap. At the high end, the ref. 5062450R, an insanely bejeweled 38.8mm ladies watch, with 248 diamonds in 25 different sizes swamping its dial, bezel and hour markers, will set you back around $217,640.
With the Vacheron, these start at roughly $15,000 for the quartz-powered ref. 1205V/100A and go north until they reach the ref. 6000V/110R-B733, the 5N rose gold tourbillon piece, selling for around $170,000.
Of course, as with everything when we reach this level, the two brands’ respective price lists are basically just guidelines. We’ve all heard the horror stories regarding the waiting times for the most popular watches when trying to buy through official channels, and it holds true today more than ever, with COVID taking its toll on production—which wasn’t exactly speedy to begin with.
For the most desirable references from either marque, expect to either sit twiddling your thumbs for upwards of five years in the U.S. (if you can even get on the list in the first place) or pay anything up to four or even five times the price on the preowned market for this year’s models.
The Aquanaut versus the Overseas is an intriguing contest, between two of the biggest brands in the industry.
Either will make the ideal everyday wear for anyone with a great deal of money to splash on the best of the best, and both set you apart as a connoisseur of fine watchmaking.
Strangely, it would be the Vacheron which carries more aficionado status. The company is still not a household name in the same way as Patek, and they have a certain amount of discreet, under-the-radar cachet. Only those with a deep interest in the subject will recognize the watch and how it reflects on you as its owner. The Overseas is bought by those content with a low profile, even as they appreciate horological artistry.
With the Aquanaut, the ‘stripped back Nautilus’ nature of its visuals are still as fresh and enticing as ever and it remains the watch for the younger crowd—or at least, those who want to seem younger.
Two absolute giants of the business, you can’t really go wrong with either.
— Featured Photo Credit: BeckerTime’s Archive.