Blancpain Villeret Tourbillon Volant Heure Sautante Minute Rétrograde: A Triple First
Sometimes an entity is born of its ancestors, but also seems to be unique among its kin.
Imagine a field of lilies, all alike save one, a single lily plant that has grown from a sea of siblings yet has morphed into something new.
It is still a lily closely related to those around it, but different enough to stand out and unique enough to border on being a new variety.
It isn’t magic, though: in the plant world this would be due to a genetic mutation, a slight change to make it something different from its peers.
That change isn’t enormous, but it can be blatantly obvious – like a dramatic shift in color, a stark change in petal variegation, an increase in the number of petals, the height of the plant, or even how many stamens surround the pistil. These changes don’t make it a new plant, but it has diverged from the plants that spawned it, if only by a little.
This is the beginning of the process of evolution – or from a different perspective, a continuation of that process.
Plants and animals are constantly changing each generation, mutating, adapting, or maladapting. Not every individual, but somewhere in every generation there is some specimen that has shifted slightly – or significantly – and tiptoes out onto a new branch on the tree of life.
As in nature, as with design and development
As in nature, this occurs with design and product development, at least in the good companies. Every time a new generation of products is conceived, small or sometimes large changes are introduced, testing the waters of an area that might be unfamiliar territory.
In watchmaking, these changes may go unnoticed like adding a second O-ring to the case tube and winding stem. Or they may stand out like adding a rarely seen complication.
One brand that has recently dabbled with an evolution of sorts is Blancpain, where some tweaks to the DNA codes have resulted in something not seen from it before. And one of the most exciting resulting Blancpain releases of Baselworld 2018 is the Villeret Tourbillon Volant Heure Sautante Minute Rétrograde.
It may have a long name, but the result is clean and uncomplicated, figuratively speaking.
A modern-day first
The Villeret Tourbillon Volant Heure Sautante Minute Rétrograde incorporates three main features that have never been together on a Blancpain watch before and are all possibly a first in Blancpain history. The triple jab comes in the form of retrograde minutes combined with a jump hour and a “mysterious” flying tourbillon mounted on a sapphire crystal wheel for the perfect illusion.
The retrograde minutes, according to Blancpain and far as my research shows, has never been seen until now in a Blancpain wristwatch, so right off the bat this is an evolutionary step for the brand.
The jump hour mechanism is also stated to have never been in a Blancpain, though I did find one video on YouTube that shows what appears to be a 1930s or 1940s jump hour watch being disassembled for repairs. It features a Blancpain movement, but a lack of markings anywhere else on the dial or case, leading me to assume an off-brand Swiss watch using a Blancpain movement as was common during those times. So that’s two brand-new complications.
The mysterious flying tourbillon mounted to a sapphire crystal wheel is a first for the brand as that execution is still fairly rare within the industry as a whole. So the Heure Sautante Minute Rétrograde is an evolution, a new creature born in the tradition and style of Blancpain but with the boldness to try something a bit outside the norms (at least in the Villeret line).
The sheer simplicity of design combined with the fun complications (I always love a jump hour) departs from the usually traditional layouts and styling of this line. Of course, it doesn’t look unrelated and it’s definitely not an extreme change, but given the usual direction of the Villeret collection, the Heure Sautante Minute Rétrograde makes a splash.
Mechanism creates simplicity
The retrograde minutes and jump hour mechanism are rather straightforward: the minute hand rotates about 270 degrees over the hour and when it is released it flies back to zero, activating the hour jump. This ensures that both indications change at exactly the same time, which is very visually important for a watch with so little else on the dial to distract the eye. The hour numeral is inset into the top left corner of the minute dial since the mechanism is one and the same.
The large gold bezel around the opening for the hour numeral helps draw attention and create some visual texture as well as optically tie the tourbillon opening to the time display. Those three circles are the most complex areas on the front of this watch, as the rest of the dial is a broad white canvas of enamel, barely populated with the name of the brand and the tiny words “Swiss Made.”
That stark contrast from most Blancpain pieces is a welcome change for me; I love seeing what is possible when things are pared back to nearly nothing and allowing key elements to shine.
Inside the opening for the flying tourbillon you get a real treat: since Blancpain is the unofficial leader of tourbillons, especially in the Swatch Group, it should come as no surprise that the flying tourbillon was produced in house. The rotating escapement is a rather subdued style compared to what could have been designed, but again it isn’t trying to stand out too much.
That is even why it is positioned on the wheel of sapphire crystal: to keep the window through the movement as uncomplicated as possible.
Style for miles
When you flip the watch over, you start to realize why that simplicity goes so far. The movement is entirely hand guilloche on every plate, while the power reserve wheel features straight-line guilloche. This wheel is one of the most intriguing and simple power reserves I have seen, since the scale is engraved into the surface of the wheel below the level of the guilloche. Then a tiny indicator arrow is fixed right next to the wheel featuring the same blasted finish on the inset as is on the wheel.
The ratchet click on the mainspring is interesting, and the wheel has some L-Evolution design, appropriately sticking with the theme of evolution. However, I do wonder, since what we saw was a prototype, if that wheel is a standard component from another movement or if that was a purposeful design choice to sneak in some avant-garde style on the rear of the movement. It will be interesting to see if that detail remains when the final pieces are delivered.
In an attempt to create a truly simple and clean watch, however, the rear case back isn’t screwed or threaded, but instead a snap fit. Given that the water resistance is rated at 30 meters, it seems like an odd choice on this watch.
But perhaps it is a fantastic seal that needs nothing other than friction to keep it in place, which allows the rear bezel to be as clear of markings as possible. Even given that, the overall look of the movement in the simple case and with the simple dial pushes a design simplicity that is just slightly off path for Blancpain.
The mechanisms are top notch along with the finishing details. The high-fire champlevé enamel dial shines while helping the minimalist details to shine as well. The exercise in simplicity was a success, and the foray into retrograde minutes and jump hours put a big smile on my face, which pretty much seals the deal in my eyes.
Of course, I know it is a bit of an evolution for the Villeret collection and what is expected of this brand. The classic yet stark styling might put some people off, but if they are like me, they will be surprised and excited to see just how things are different while still being the same.
The Villeret Tourbillon Volant Heure Sautante Minute Rétrograde is not as simple as a field of flowers, but as a fun and clean take on what Blancpain has been and can be it stands as a valuable design exercise.
But the best part is, this movement is a first for the brand, and for a brand with such a long history to have a triple first in a watch . . . now, that is something worth celebrating. I know I am more than a little smitten with this new piece, and it happily takes a place among my favorites from Baselworld 2018.
While we wait to see what comes next, how about the breakdown!
- Wowza Factor * 8.95 This is right up my alley in terms of style, and coming from a brand like Blancpain that I love made me sit up and go wow!
- Late Night Lust Appeal * 89.5 » 877.695m/s2 Serious late-night lusting with this piece, and watching it in action doubles that lusting!
- M.G.R. * 66.7 Flying tourbillon with jumping hours and retrograde minutes is enough to make any WIS geek out!
- Added-Functionitis * Mild Nearly time only, just an additional power reserve function makes this only need children’s strength Gotta-HAVE-That cream, as it tries to manage its own swelling!
- Ouch Outline * 11.6 Getting a papercut on your eyelid! I recently got a papercut on my hand, and I started to think about the worst places to get them. That’s when the eyelid popped into my thoughts. And then I shuddered. I knew it was serious, and yet I’d take that hit for this piece on my arm!
- Mermaid Moment * The top of the hour! For watches like this, all it takes is seeing that jump mechanism in action and I’m hooked. Every hour is a reminder to book a venue, find a priest, and get those invitations out!
- Awesome Total * 808 Add the number of hours in the power reserve (144) to the caliber number (260), and then multiply the result by the number of case metal options (2) and the result is a palindromic awesome total!
For more information, please visit www.blancpain.com/en/news/villeret-tourbillon-volant-heure-sautante-minute-retrograde.
You might also enjoy The Jump Hour: A Love Story.
Quick Facts Villeret Tourbillon Volant Heure Sautante Minute Rétrograde
Case: 42 x 11 mm, platinum or red gold
Movement: manual winding Caliber 260 MR
Functions: jumping hours, retrograde minutes; power reserve
Limitation: 50 pieces in platinum; red gold is unlimited
Price: 139,000 Swiss Francs in red gold; 169,000 Swiss Francs in platinum
Also published on Medium.