In 1972, Audemars Piguet shook the watch world by introducing the Royal Oak, a premium-priced steel sports watch with an integrated bracelet and “porthole” styling. Designed by Gerald Genta, the Royal Oak provided a template for other Swiss luxury watch makers to follow. He went on to design similar watches for Patek Philippe (the Nautilus) and IWC (the "Jumbo" Ingenieur SL). Vacheron Constantin followed the same basic template for their “project 222”, introduced in 1977. Young designer Jörg Hysek created a very similar design, complete with screws from the caseback to the bezel “sandwiching” the case for water and shock resistance and an integrated bracelet of flat links.
The octagonal Ref. 333 model followed in the 1980s. It took up where the tonneau- or square-case 222 left off, featuring a similar integrated bracelet with inset hexagonal links but eschewing the separate bezel. For the 333, the case was a rounded octagon but the most distinctive element was the “cuts” at 3 00 and 9 00 which emphasized the octagonal shape and suggested the Maltese Cross motif indirectly. The case and crown were much smaller, as was typical in the 1980s, with 23 mm and 33 mm versions produced. The dial featured fine Roman numerals or bar markers and slim dressy hands. Two-tone cases were a popular option, with gold hexagonal insets in the bracelet, “bites” in the case, markers, and hands over a steel body.