For 2014, Blancpain released an interesting new tourbillon piece, known as the Villeret Tourbillon Volant Une Minute 12 Jours timepiece, which I now present to you hands-on here. This is also a good time to mention that at the outset of Baselworld 2014, the aBlogtoWatch team more-or-less declared to ourselves that “we tire of tourbillons.” So why are we going hands-on with one (again)? Well, rumors of the demise of the tourbillon at aBlogtoWatch are greatly exaggerated. It isn’t that we are wholly dismissive of these little expensive machines, but rather that we only want to cover those which make use “feel something.” Death to “boring tourbillons,” then. For me, there is an appealing combination of both elegance, technique, and design in this new Blancpain Villeret Tourbillon Volant Une Minute 12 Jours that makes it worth discussing.
About five years ago, there were rumors that Blancpain would be abandoning the tourbillon for a similar mechanism called a carrousel. Both are varieties of the same concept, which is a system which spins a regulator (escapement + balance wheel) on its own axis in order to theoretically remove the error-creating effects of gravity (as invented by Breguet long ago). Blancpain apparently felt that the tourbillon was becoming to common and too pedestrian, so they gravitated toward the carrousel – for a while. I believe it was their attempt at being a bit different in the then crowded world of tourbillons.
A few years ago in 2013, Blancpain even came out with an interesting and, in my opinion, highly collectible watch known as the Blancpain Tourbillon Carrousel (hands-on here) that actually contained both a tourbillon as well as a carrousel. It was as though Blancpain was saying “OK, here is a watch with both of these mechanisms, so that you can see how they are (slightly) different. More recently, it seems that Blancpain is learning to love the tourbillon again, since the “tourbillon” term simply has gained too much cache among luxury lifestyle aficionados, and the carrousel – for all its merits – is simply something standing on the sidelines. The irony, of course, is that both of these mechanisms are arguably mostly aesthetic and decorative, offering more value in their craftsmanship and complexity, versus actual horological utility. So with the Blancpain Villeret Tourbillon Volant Une Minute 12 Jours watch, we once again have Blancpain serenading the tourbillon.
In a nutshell, what you have in a timepiece such as this Blancpain Villeret Tourbillon Volant Une Minute 12 Jours is a time-only dial with with an exposed one minute tourbillon in an automatic movement with 12 days of power reserve. There also happens to be a discreet power reserve indicator built into the rear of the pleasantly hand-engraved movement. Once again, Blancpain has been able to include a lot of appealing features in one more-or-less simple design – and for me, that in and of itself is worth taking note of. A timepiece like this under less refined direction could have been a design disaster.
Like I said, on paper, the Blancpain Villeret Tourbillon Volant Une Minute 12 Jours watch sounds excellent – and, of course, the good news is that it delivers in reality. Someone looking for various features will have a lot to enjoy here. Listing off some of the features are: 42mm wide in precious metal, enamel dial, hand-engraved decoration, power reserve indicator, automatic self-winding movement, 12 days of power reserve, tourbillon, silicon balance spring, and available limited edition model. Sounds pretty good, if that is how you quantify what you look for in timepieces.
Let’s focus on the movement for a moment, as it is the Blancpain in-house made caliber 242 automatic. Comprised of 243 parts, it operates at 4Hz (I believe) and has a massive 288 hours of power reserve. That is 12 days, which puts it in a unique zone between some of the fancier Vacheron Constantin 14 Day Tourbillon movements, as well at the more plentiful 7-10 day tourbillons out there. You also have a lot of typical Blancpain-style parts, such as the way some of the gears are skeletonized, the shape of the balance wheel, and the engraved designs.
Speaking of the balance wheel, you might find it interesting that Blancpain decided to produce it in a very “anti-traditional” black color, versus in naked brass. Attached to the balance wheel is also a silicon balance spring. Here, is where Blancpain is attempting to assert the modern nature of this otherwise classically composed luxury watch. Literally topping the movement is the automatic rotor which, once again, offers a slightly unique visual interpretation. The working part of the rotor (the weight) is hidden under the caseback, for the most part, and the visible rotor is mostly skeletonized. The idea is to offer the convenience of an automatic movement with the movement view of a manually-wound movement without an obstructive rotor.
How do you feel about the power reserve indicator that is on the movement? It is very easy to miss, as its matching color makes it a bit of a complication chameleon. Nevertheless, the addition of a power reserve indicator is very much welcome, especially given the long power reserve of the movement. The icing on the cake is the attractive amount of hand-engraving all over the visible parts of the movement. The decoration style is subtle enough, without making the movement look like an expensive doily. Yet it also adds value to the watch’s prestige overall.
There is nothing amazingly unique about the dial of the Blancpain Villeret Tourbillon Volant Une Minute 12 Jours. It is in white enamel with typical brand-style Roman numerals and skeletonized “leaf-style” hands. The hands are long enough, which is good, and the legibility is reasonably good. Something about the gold version’s hand clashing with the black hour markers makes the platinum version with its 18k white gold hands feel like a better match for the dial. In my opinion, a dial like this could benefit from black oxidized gold hands which would make for an extremely elegant monochromatic dial only interrupted by the brass in the movement gears seen through the tourbillon window.
Does the Blancpain Villeret Volant Tourbillon Une Minute 12 Jours watch wear well? It does, like a substantial dress watch that has something to prove to you with its open window on the dial. Note that most similarly designed watches have an exposed tourbillon over 6 o’clock, while the Blancpain Villeret Tourbilon Volant Une Minute 12 Jours has a tourbillon that is open over the 12 o’clock hour indicator. Not totally unique, but something that is certainly on the rarer side. The case is a welcome 42mm wide, and that makes it on the larger side for a dressier watch, but you didn’t come to Tourbillon territory not to show off – at least a little bit.
Blancpain will produce the ref. 66240-3631-55B of the Blancpain Tourbillon Volant Une Minute 12 Jours in 18k red gold as a non-limited edition (it comes on an alligator strap that is lined with alzavel). In addition to the 18k red gold version is a limited edition of 188 pieces ref. 66240-3431-55B Blancpain Villeret Tourbillon Volant Une Minute 12 Jours watch in platinum. Price is $127,400 in 18k red gold and $148,800 in platinum. blancpain.com