As the Chinese market continues to grow as a driving force in the global luxury space, watch brands are increasingly turning towards designs and complications tailored directly to Chinese tastes and culture. This has become something of an annual tradition in the watch industry as the Chinese New Year approaches, but for 2022 and the upcoming Year of the Tiger, Blancpain has broken away from the more typical animal-themed reissues of existing designs and created an all-new set of complications for tracking the classical Chinese calendar and zodiac. The new limited edition Blancpain Villeret Traditional Chinese Calendar is the culmination of five years of movement research and development, introducing a suite of new complications alongside familiar elements and a refined classical design.
Although imposingly sized at 45mm, the polished platinum case of the Blancpain Villeret Traditional Chinese Calendar takes a deeply classical approach to design. Blancpain dedicates as much visual real estate as possible to the complex dial, leaving only a narrow polished bezel, but this element is given a touch of character through its rounded double-stepped form. The brand also aims to hide some of the case’s bulk in images through clever case geometry, particularly through sloping rounded case sides that give the design a bowl-like effect from certain angles and should help to minimize the case’s footprint on the wrist. In keeping with the clean and classical design ethos, the lugs are simple, straight, and unchamfered, keeping the visual focus squarely on the dial and movement within. The brand does add a touch of embellishment to the Villeret Traditional Chinese Calendar’s case with a single Madagascar ruby cabochon set into the pillbox crown. To keep the lines of the case as simple as possible, the brand integrates correctors for each of the complications hidden underneath the lugs and around the sapphire display caseback, cleverly striking a balance between aesthetics and easy usability. Naturally, this is a far cry from a sports watch design, but even by modern dress watch standards the Villeret Traditional Chinese Calendar’s 30 meter water resistance rating is below average.
The dial of the Blancpain Villeret Traditional Chinese Calendar is an intriguing blend of familiar classicism with uniquely Chinese motifs. From the outset, this is a clear departure from the familiar Western perpetual calendar design, but the white Grand Feu enamel dial and delicate leaf handset help to root it in Blancpain’s deep stylistic legacy in images. Some of the complications are familiar as well, including the blued central pointer date and the classic 6 o’clock moonphase subdial. While the smiling face of the moon disk on this indicator is a handsome callback to centuries of moonphase designs, it stands at an odd intersection with the rest of the traditional Chinese hallmarks on the dial for a very simple reason- in Chinese tradition, there is no “man in the moon.” Rather than the classical Western pareidolia that renders the craters and dark spots of the moon’s surface into a human face, Chinese folklore interprets the same pattern as a rabbit. With this in mind, a rabbit motif on the moon disk may have been a more holistic design choice. From this point, however, the rest of the complications take a more firmly Eastern bent. At 12 o’clock, a cutout display window indicates the current zodiac year with an animal silhouette. Below this is a subdial for the classical Chinese lunar calendar, displaying both the 12 months and 24 solar terms of the year in concentric rings. At 9 o’clock is a pointer Gregorian calendar subdial, indicating the current month and date in Chinese characters along with a small window for the leap month indicator. It’s the 3 o’clock subdial that may seem the most unfamiliar to enthusiasts, which indicates the current phase of the five elements and ten celestial stems. These two cycles interact with the better-known 12-year animal cycle of the Chinese zodiac, expanding the zodiacal cycle out to a 60-year rotation. For example, 2022 is not only the Year of the Tiger, but also is a Water year in the cycle of the five elements, and also corresponds to Ren on the table of celestial stems. Although the next Year of the Tiger will arrive in 2034, the next Year of the Tiger that also corresponds to these two other factors will be 2082. Although it’s a complex system with very little practical application, the engineering involved to create customized complications for these astrological scales is undeniably impressive.
The in-house Caliber 3638 automatic movement inside the Blancpain Villeret Traditional Chinese Calendar is an intricate testbed for a host of unique new complications. Much of this complexity is hidden in images behind full bridges, but Blancpain finishes this movement dramatically with broad Côtes de Genève, along with polished chamfered edges and jewel sinks. The crown jewel of the decorations in images is the platinum rotor, engraved with a hyper-detailed rendition of a tiger and another single Madagascar ruby cabochon. Although the brand does not list a frequency for the Caliber 3638, the movement’s power reserve is a massive 168 hours. Blancpain finishes the watch with a classic black alligator leather strap.
While the practice of creating Chinese market-specific limited editions is nothing new, the new limited edition Blancpain Villeret Traditional Chinese Calendar goes above and beyond to blaze new trails in mechanical horology with a beautifully finished execution. Only 50 examples of the Blancpain Villeret Traditional Chinese Calendar will be made, and the watch is available now exclusively through Blancpain boutiques at an MSRP of $87,800. For more details, please visit the brand’s website.