The Blancpain Villeret Tourbillon Volant Heure Sautante Minute Rétrograde watch hands-on
This year, at Baselworld 2018, Blancpain decided to reinterpret the complication that truly represents the quintessence of precision in haute-horlogerie, the dream of every true enthusiast - the tourbillon. In 1989 Blancpain was the first watchmaker to to equip a wristwatch with a flying tourbillon and, almost 30 years later, the maison launched the Blancpain Villeret Tourbillon Volant Heure Sautante Minute Rétrograde, where, for the first time, a tourbillon mechanism is coupled with jumping hours and retrograde minutes - quite odd interpretations.
The Le Brassus brand belongs to the high-end watch sector within the Swatch group, it is one of the oldest Swiss maisons (Villeret 1735) and it is much more than the Fifty Fathoms, to which the brand is historically associated. This new release is a sort of "reminder" to the slightly forgetful enthusiasts who know little of the technical capability of the manufactory from Le Brassus.
The Blancpain Villeret Tourbillon Volant Heure Sautante Minute Rétrograde is a very classic watch featuring very measured shapes and proportions and very high-level construction characteristics. The case reached the 42mm limit and is 11mm thick, it is waterproof up to 3atm giving you peace of mind in case you accidentally splash it water. It is red gold, perhaps less popular than its rose gold counterpart, but it nevertheless radiates a wonderful feeling of love and harmony. It is paired with an elegant alligator leather strap or a metal bracelet with a déployante boucle. A platinum version - limited to 20 pieces only - is also available.
The complications featured by the Blancpain Villeret Tourbillon Volant Heure Sautante Minute Rétrograde are essentially three - the flying tourbillon, the jumping hours and the retrograde minutes, a demonstration of the capabilities, know-how and technology available at Blancpain's. The tourbillon is undoubtedly the element that catches your attention, because of its intrinsic charm and because it sports interesting solutions that take it to the next level. The starting point is not actually a traditional tourbillon, but rather a flying tourbillon with no upper bridge that reduces the overall size and increases the visibility of the mechanism.
The latter has evolved through the replacement of the lower bridge with a sapphire crystal disc that works as a support for the entire movement. The cage, the balance wheel and the escapement give the impression as if they were floating in the air above the fixed wheel attached to the sapphire crystal disc - a priceless panorama. Because there is no cage, the flying tourbillon requires less power to be moved and is less sensitive to shocks and bumps. The jumping hours and the retrograde minutes are indicated by the window placed near the center of the dial and the hand that ranges from 0 to 60. These are unusual complications, they are very classic and can rarely seen on modern watches, but they still ensue a great charm, especially because of the instant "jump" from one hour to the next and the minutes resetting.
High-quality decorations on the dial, located at the right place
Some of the details that immediately catch your attention and make the complications stand out are the neatness of the dial and its uniform tonality. This type of effect is obtained through an unconventional enameling technique that is carried out in the Métiers d'Art du Brassus labs. Blancpain created a grand feu enamel dial according to the traditional method of the champlevé - the artisans dig the golden base of the dial to create alveoli in the metal, where several layers of enamel are then placed to be then baked in a high temperature furnace (800°C).
An excessive monochromatic tone and the scarcity of nuances could deprive the dial of a sense of depth, thus making it look excessively flat, but because of the presence of diamond gold rims on the cage of the tourbillon, the hours window and around the minutes counter, this lack is non-existent. Actually, it creates an interesting game of lights and shadows with every movement of your wrist and when the light source changes, thus giving new and different nuances to the the personality of the watch.
Thanks to small details, Blancpain managed to create a three-dimensional feeling, which would have been missing if a "simply" enameled dial had been used instead - this makes this timepiece even more interesting. To summarize, these details have been positioned in the right place. It is not only the quality of the decoration that just transpires, but also the design and the attention to detail that have made these solutions successful.
What about the case-back?
As you may have guessed already, the Blancpain Villeret Tourbillon Volant Heure Sautante Minute Rétrograde is a watch of great importance with many hand-made details, therefore the caliber hosted within had to match the challenge. On the case-back is a sapphire crystal that lets you enjoy the 260MR hand-wound movement in all its beauty (39 rubies, 263 components, 32mm in diameter and 5,85mm in thickness).
The caliber is entirely in-house built, like all the other calibers from the brand. The bridges and the disc that indicates the power reserve are entirely hand-guzzled and there is also the now famous Blancpain wheel rim located on the spool. When fully charged the barrel can run for 144 hours (or 6 days). A characteristic that is common to all Blancpain calibers that also boast one of the most compact size on the market.
The Blancpain Villeret Tourbillon Volant Heure Sautante Minute Rétrograde is a precious timepiece, of great quality and that catches your attention in no time - you only need a quick glance to understand how exclusive and well-made this watch is. It basically revolves around three main spots that coincide with the three complications - the main one is the flying tourbillon - that are further enhanced by the uniformity of the dial color and by the use of small details, such as the diamond gold rims. The simplicity, the neatness and the study of the small details represent what makes this Blancpain truly wonderful.
Unfortunately, it is not a watch that you can easily see around, both because of its preciousness and because of the low interest that the general public shows towards the Villeret collection, in my opinion. This collection represents the perfect synthesis of the meaning of haute-horlogerie art and simply by getting to know it or studying it, you can enhance and refine your personal taste. The retail price? 139000 CHF for the red gold version and 169000 CHF for the platinum version.
(Photo credit: Horbiter®'s proprietary photo-shooting by Peter Tung)
Andrea Frigerio @Horbiter®