Feature: Vacheron Constantin Overseas vs Girard-Perregaux Laureato
When Audemars Piguet released the Royal Oak in 1972, everyone thought the watchmaker had gone mad. The watch was big, it was basic and it was expensive—and it sold by the bucket load. Patek Philippe got in on the action four years later with the Nautilus, and not wanting to be left out, Vacheron Constantin joined the club a year later, completing the 70s trifecta of steel sports watches from the top three. Today, such a watch will set you back from £17,000 and as much as £23,000—but is there something we’re missing that’s just as good for half the price?
Like the 1930s, the 70s brought about dramatic change to the watchmaking industry. Where wristwatches began to dominate over those of the pocket variety in the 30s, the 70s experienced a shift from mechanical power to electronic. Like the pocket watch, the traditional movement didn’t stand a chance.
But in the 30s, watchmaker’s skills were still transferable over to the new wristwatch format, but this time, with quartz, the technology was too far removed, and so new companies like Seiko were quickly taking the lead. The industry needed to pivot. Where the pocket watch was allowed to slowly die a quiet death, this time the watchmakers had a plan.
Rather than change the industry, the industry would change its customer. Rather than trying to cling on to an aging audience who were sticklers for tradition, there was a chance to latch on to a new group of people, a younger one, one that was flush with cash and wanted to show it. The idea was simple: create a watch that told everyone who saw it that you were rich. And not just rich, but rich enough to pay more than the cost of a gold watch for one in steel.
In order for passers-by to truly appreciate the magnitude of this wealth, even at a casual glance, the watch needed to look like nothing else ever made, and so renowned watch designer Gérald Genta put pen to paper and created what, at the time, seemed like a bit of a monster.
But it did the trick, drawing the wealthy and their money in their droves. Audemars Piguet did it first with the Royal Oak, then Patek Philippe with the Nautilus—pinching Genta for the design—then Vacheron Constantin with the 222—designed by Jörg Hysek to get Vacheron Constantin on the bandwagon, and which later became the Overseas. Even IWC and Rolex got in on the action too.
But before the Patek Philippe, before the Vacheron Constantin, before the IWC and the Rolex, there was another, because in 1975 there was a steel watch with an integrated bracelet, octagonal bezel and clous de paris dial made before any of those: the Girard-Perregaux Laureato.
The Girard-Perregaux is clearly a rip-off of the Royal Oak, but you have to remember that these were desperate times for watchmakers, and Audemars Piguet had found the antidote. And it may have actually been the first of the great imitators, what with the Nautilus, Ingeniuer SL, Oysterquartz and 222 all emerging after the Laureato. I mean, that’s ignoring the Bulova Royal Oak, which just outright looked like … a Royal Oak.
And Girard-Perregaux, like almost every other watchmaker that owes its continued existence to Audemars Piguet’s idea, continues to make its variant of that famous design to this day, and like all the others, applies a high-end approach to making it, just as it was originally intended to be. That means exquisite detailing, an in-house movement, hand finishing—everything you’d expect when paying north of £17,000.
But here’s the thing: the Girard-Perregaux Laureato does not cost £17,000. It doesn’t even cost half that. In an almost perfect 38mm, it’s asking just £8,100. Let’s break that down: this is a brand founded before both Audemars Piguet and Patek Philippe that has been continuously awarded for its innovations and excellence, that beat two of top three to the punch—for £8,100.
Okay, so copying the Royal Oak wasn’t exactly innovative, but if you’re looking for excellence, the Laureato has it and then some. On the in-house calibre GP03300 you’ve got circular graining, you’ve got Geneva stripes, you’ve got bevelling—and it’s all applied by hand. You get all that for less than—if you can even get one—a Rolex Daytona.
The Laureato has everything: it’s got heritage, it’s got history, it’s got quality—yet, for some reason, hardly anyone knows about it. Girard-Perregaux, despite its lofty position, seems to have done very little to let people know just how much of a big deal it is—which, for some, is a bit of a bonus. This is the 70s luxury sports watch that pipped the Nautilus to the post, that will only reveal its significance to those in the know—that you can wear with a smile. The irony is that this is completely the opposite of what the Laureato was originally intended to be.
If you want a watch from this era of monumental change, it’s entirely understandable to want the Royal Oak, the Nautilus and Overseas over this Girard-Perregaux Laureato. We’re talking about the heralded top three of watchmaking, we’re talking about watches that command huge waiting lists, we’re talking about watches recognisable even by people who’ve barely heard of these three brands. But if you want something just as special that’ll keep you and your bank manager happy, maybe the Laureato is the right watch after all.
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