November 22, 2018
by Zen Love
The Villeret is one of Blancpain‘s most important and well-known collections, representing a classical side of the brand’s personality. Classical it may be, but overly conservative or boring it is not, in my opinion. Introduced at Baselworld 2018, the Blancpain Villeret Grande Date Jour Rétrograde features a pair of useful complications presented in a slightly idiosyncratic way, just to mix things up. I believe this particular combination of functions and the movement variation that powers it are new to the brand, and the retrograde day of the week is a new feature for the Villeret collection.
The Blancpain Villeret is characterized by a stepped (or “double pomme,” as Blancpain calls it) bezel, thin leafy hands, and squat Roman numerals that leave a lot of open dial space. For simple two- or three-hand models like, for example, this Blancpain Villeret with enamel dial and eight days of power reserve, this leaves us with a very formal look. That’s still a great everyday type of watch for me, but tastefully asymmetrical designs like this can make you want to look closer. I think my favorite such example in the Villaret collection was the Quantieme Annuel GMT that we saw hands-on here.
At 40mm wide and 11.1mm thick (with a water-resistance of 30m), this Blancpain Villeret Grande Date Jour Rétrograde is for formal or daily wear with an automatic movement and practical functions. The French name descriptively just means “big date retrograde day.” The day and date complications are about the most popular and handy ones out there, but Blancpain presents each in an unusual way. The “grand date” is one of my favorite complications, mostly because it forces the date to be more prominent and thoughtfully integrated into the design. It uses one wheel for each digit being displayed and is naturally more complicated than the more common single date wheel.
If you’re new to watches, “retrograde” in this context means that instead of an analog hand moving in a continuous circle, it jumps back to the beginning of whatever it is indicating to start over. This can and has been used for just about any type of time-related display as watchmakers reach for novelty and just plain complication for its own sake. Of course, it also just means more creative options. The complication usually involves a snail cam and a spring that is wound and then released to power the jump. Retrograde displays of all kinds are fun because they add animation to the dial when the hand snaps back. For the Blancpain Villeret Grande Date Jour Rétrograde, that will only occur once per week at midnight Sunday, or when you are setting it. Blancpain tells us, however, that this happens alongside the date change instantly at precisely midnight – which is not the case for all movements.
The Blancpain in-house 6950GC automatic movement is a new variation on the 6950 movement which, in turn, is based on the 1150 before it. This adds the retrograde days to an existing big date movement, as can also be found in the Villeret collection. The 6950GC operates at 4Hz with two barrels providing 72 hours of power reserve. It’s displayed through the caseback with Geneva stripes and a guilloche decorated rotor with a cool honeycomb pattern.
Blancpain has a neat little system for watches which have multiple displays that periodically need adjustment. For the Blancpain Villeret Grande Date Jour Rétrograde, the date and time are set via the crown, and the only other display to adjust is the day of the week. To do that, Blancpain has tucked a little corrector under the lug that can be operated with your finger – instead of some pusher or “dimple” in the case side that on some watches requires the use of a tool as well as adding visual clutter.
With its retrograde days anchored at 8 o’clock and off-center big date, asymmetrical designs like that of the Blancpain Villeret Grande Date Jour Rétrograde’s dial are always going to be divisive. Some other watches with a similar aesthetic approach that come to mind for me include the Drive De Cartier Small Complication that we reviewed here, some Grand Seiko watches like the Spring Drive Chronograph SBGC001 reviewed here, or the F.P. Journe Octa Sport as reviewed here. The challenge is getting the balance right, though it will never be right for some people. When it works well, such idiosyncratic or bold designs can be captivating, but the danger of getting it wrong is that it is annoying to the wearer over the long term or looks messy. I have a pretty open mind to this type of thing, personally, and feel that Blancpain has done a nice, restrained job here. Gazing at the dial, though, I did wonder if something like a power reserve indicator around the currently empty 3 o’clock portion of the inner dial might also look cool.
The Blancpain Villeret Grande Date Jour Rétrograde comes in two case material and dial combinations, being steel with a white dial or red gold with a silver dial, and each has an option of a leather strap or mesh bracelet in a material to match the case. I’d definitely choose the steel bracelet. As shown here in steel with a leather strap, the Blancpain Villeret Grande Date Jour Rétrograde has a US retail price of $13,800. Learn more at blancpain.com