For the watch industry, the 1970s was a decade of great change—from within as well as without—and even Vacheron Constantin, stalwart member of the Big Three, wasn’t immune.
The 1969 introduction of the Seiko Astron, the world’s first commercially-available wristwatch, sent tremors throughout the industry.
Though quartz in and of itself was not a new technology, the Astron’s application of it was revolutionary. Both visually and internally, the Astron was something the industry hadn’t seen before, with a distinctive case shape to house the quartz movement.
And attempts by big Swiss manufacturers to release a quartz watch of their own—the Beta 21—met with failure.
As sales of Swiss watches dipped and as a looming oil crisis gripped the worldwide economy, Swiss manufacturers realized that they had to develop something truly unique if they wished to stay afloat.
Enter Vacheron Constantin. At the time, still an independent brand and hungry for change!
In 1972, Vacheron received the Diplome du Prestige de la France from the French government. This award recognizes excellent work—“industrial, economic, or cultural”—that elevates the “prestige of France.” It would be the first time a watch manufacture ever received the award, and the honor was certainly not lost on Vacheron Constantin.
The watch that Vacheron released to celebrate the diploma, aptly-titled the Prestige de la France, was a drastic departure from the round-cased watches the manufacture produced, and yet its unusual shape would foreshadow a watch that would be introduced in 1977.
To celebrate the manufacture’s 222nd anniversary, Vacheron brought out the 222. For its distinctive design, Vacheron Constantin leaned on a young maverick designer in their stable by the name of Jorg Hysek. The watch that Hysek designed bore a thin, angular case with an integrated bracelet. It was the birth of a new modern look for a classic atelier.
Though similar to the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, the serrated bezel of the 222 and its clean, elegant dial was entirely unique to Vacheron Constantin.
Internally, the 222 is powered by the Calibre 920. Produced by Jaeger-LeCoultre, the Cal. 920 (which Vacheron-Constantin re-designated as the VC 1120) was also used by Patek Philippe in the Nautilus and by Audemars Piguet in the Royal Oak. Introduced in 1967, this ultra-thin calibre is the only one to have been used by all of the “Big Three” watch manufactures (but, oddly enough, never by the manufacture that created it).
The 222 saw production in limited numbers: 500 in steel, 100 in 18k gold, and 120 in gold and stainless steel, and was discontinued in 1985, making it exceedingly rare