It was 2018 when Blancarre (BLANCARRÉ) watches came on the scene as a brand founded (originally in 2016) by the talented Swiss wristwatch designer Nicolas Mertenat. The company released a single watch that was produced in a few versions, meant to celebrate the square shape. The name of the brand is basically “white square,” and the design ethos at play here is very much about the visual architectural experience of putting as many squares as possible in a watch (circles and curves be damned!). While the resulting Blancarre watches are beautiful (in my opinion), to really understand these watches you need to either be in the design community or be highly sympathetic to the types of things that high-level wristwatch designers think about, especially after years of having to design what many of them consider boring (albeit commercially successful products).

The problem with brands like Blancarre is that they’re very niche. After hearing a brief word from Blancarre in 2018 (just before the very last Baselworld), aBlogtoWatch has not heard from the company (a shame because I really liked their concept). Now, I get to go hands-on with a Blancarre watch being the reference BC01.51.T2.C2.01.01, also known as the “Solid Black.” This is because an assortment of these watches was sold wholesale, and right now Sigma Time (a popular eBay store for wristwatches) has a selection of them for sale at a price that feels hard to beat. One of the biggest things going against new brands like Blancarre isn’t their inherent value but problems in getting the consumer community to buy into luxury pricing right away. At the same time, if a new brand doesn’t come out with something novel and well-made (i.e., something that precedes luxury pricing), then consumers will also shun it. So new companies with good ideas and products, often need a minimum of five years of earned momentum with the public, before people (aside from early adopters) really start to buy into new concepts. Many brands simply aren’t set up with that type of buffer and get discouraged when their admittedly niche products don’t get immediate love from the market.

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The Blancarre Solid Black is a comfortable, awesome-looking watch with some built-in quirks. Among those quirks are some harder-to-read (albeit secondary) hands (the main time is easy to read), as well as some design decisions that would never be ideal for a mass market (the bezel corners are a bit pointy). That said, being a professional watch designer with a lot of seasoned experience (including previously being a designer department manager at Omega), Mertenat made sure that wearing and viewing a Blancarre timepiece was a really enjoyable experience. I think that the overall wearing comfort and how nicely the high-end rubber strap wraps around the wrist are the best selling points for such an avant-garde design.

When my son first saw this Blancarre he said, “Cool, a Minecraft watch.” Mind you, my son is still too small to play Minecraft, and I am not even sure how he knows this. In any event, he was correct that the all-angular square-based look of the Blancarre Solid Black was very close to looking as though it were built using pixels. Mind you, that being a traditional Swiss watch, the Blancarre design ethos is trying to merge the world of mechanical timekeeping with today’s world and aesthetics. Blancarre is hardly the first brand to do this, and I personally appreciate these types of design exercises where the platform of a traditional watch is rendered in a way that makes it feel thoroughly modern.

While there are no watches that look quite like the distinctive Blancarre Solid Black, this timepiece collection uses a familiar profile that we have seen on other square-cased watches that have a squared lug structure. Paul Picot has been making a square chronograph for years that has an almost identical case silhouette, and it is not the only one. Thus, Blancarre started with a proven shape but make it in a way that is all its own, with a look that feels very original.

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You can’t make an interesting timepiece with a boring movement. While the Swiss Made automatic movements inside of Blancarre timepieces aren’t new, they are uncommon today, and we don’t see this type of two-time zone complication all that often. The dial has a main time with central seconds, and a secondary time in 12-hour format as a subdial. The dial also has a big date indicator. These movements aren’t lavishly priced but offer more interesting design opportunities than a standard three-hand movement, etc. I also don’t think a traditional chronograph movement would have easily fit into this case profile. So, rather than think about the watch’s complications as being related to some larger tool purpose, just understand that they were probably selected for design and emotional purposes. The movement itself is a base Swiss Made ETA automatic operating at 4Hz with about two days of power reserve. On the base movement is a module that adds the big date and second-time zone complications. The way you adjust the second time zone is a bit wonky, but it’s not that big of a deal. This is not a new module system, after all. Basically, if you advance the time, both 12-hour dials move forward, but if you go backward, only the main time adjusts while the hour hand of the smaller time zone doesn’t move. This way you can sync and un-sync the two time zones if you prefer.

It can be said that the matte black seconds hand and subdial hour and minute hands (against the matte black surfaces) are hard to read; this is true. I think the designer wanted to include them so that they are there if you need them but mostly out of the way when you don’t. Minimalizing things on watch dials tends to add beauty rather than detract from it. Given that Blancarre was his design exercise, it was more important that the dial of the watch be beautiful than perfectly utilitarian in all situations. I think it was a good tradeoff, especially since reading the main time is without challenge.

Another quirk of the design is the “floating” Blancarre logo, which is printed on the underside of the square-shaped sapphire crystal. This sort of gets in the way of reading the hands at times, but over the long run, it helps add a welcome sense of visual depth to the dial. The “traditional” way of applying the logo would have been to simply print on the face, but would that have been Blancarre enough?

The dial overall is a wonderful exercise in making a watch dial using squares. Even the hands and hour markers (including the minute tracks) are as square as they can be. The dial is also multi-level, with lots of depth and things to look at. The surfaces are all matte, which means there are zero ugly reflections. We do get some glimmer on the case via the bezel. On this Blancarre Solid Black watch, the bezel structure is black ceramic. Other versions of the watch have a matte black ceramic bezel, a titanium bezel, or a white ceramic bezel. All the models look pretty cool, in my opinion.

The case looks large given the sharp angles and blocky structure, but it isn’t too big and wears a lot like a Cartier Santos 100 generation timepiece. I also appreciate that despite the square sapphire crystals (well, rectangular for the caseback crystal), the Blancarre Solid Black case is at least water-resistant to 50 meters. Aside from the ceramic bezel, the rest of the case is produced from titanium. This version of the Blancarre watch has the grade 5 titanium colored black via a scratch-resistant DLC coating application. The case design has a lot of rich details including the vertically striped sides of the titanium case. The bezel is a 37mm square, and with the flanks, the case is about 40mm-wide. It has a roughly 52mm lug-to-lug distance, and the case overall is about 12mm-thick.

The strap does an excellent job of continuing the angular theme and is produced in high-grade black rubber. What is smart about the strap is that it is not overly thick, which allows it to wear more comfortably on the wrist, despite being a more rigid-feeling form of rubber. The buckle is matching DLC-coated titanium. Also, I want to mention that even though the case has some sharp exterior edges (such as the bezel points), none of the sharp edges touch your skin while wearing the watch. I really wasn’t expecting a design like this to be as comfortable to wear, but in a lot of ways, the designer and founder of Blancarre really did “think of it all” given how refined this watch is and the exceptional attention to detail throughout. These types of watches are the result of real passion projects, even if the artists themselves are not always the best at explaining their work.

The minimalist vibe of the Blancarre Solid Black continues with the almost entire lack of text on the watch. In fact, you could argue there is no text on the watch (aside from date window numerals) and that the only text is floating above the dial. Accordingly, there is no text on the slick-looking industrial chic caseback.

Given the prices at which these limited-production Blancarre watches are available, I expect them to be gone as soon as enough enthusiasts like me learn about them. Cool stuff like this rarely comes with flashy marketing because the people who found these brands have the mistaken belief that most consumers are chasing good products. On the contrary, most consumers are seeking popular products. Only real (rare) enthusiasts are seeking the good stuff. Fortunately for us, enough of it is out there. The original retail price for the Blancarre (BLANCARRÉ ) Solid Black watch 5,700 Swiss Francs. As of writing, it has a current price of $1,999 USD (some other versions are less) via the Sigma Time Store on eBay.

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