Angus Davies reviews the Blancpain Villeret Ultra-Slim (Reference 6651-3642- 55B), a watch from the brand who can trace its history to 1735.
Blancpain has never produced a quartz watch and probably never will. When I formed ESCAPEMENT I vowed I would never feature a quartz watch and with such a wonderful array of mechanical watches in the marketplace, there should never be a need for me to reverse this decision.
A watch is not merely a tool to impart time but an expression of the owner’s personality, an appreciation of craftsmanship and a living testament to the imagination of watchmakers of yore.
I use the word “living” as a fine timepiece is a mechanical device which has personality and a character all its own. It is like a beautiful creature which allures and entrances with its form, with a heart (the movement), blood in its veins (lubricant) and eyes and limbs which express the inner-self (face and hands).
A “proper” watch has emotion, emanating from a snow-capped Atelier in a beautiful Swiss village, where Artisans isolated from the world, nurture a new generation of watches. The Swiss village in this instance, is Le Brassus, home to Blancpain.
Acquisition by the Société Suisse pour l’Industrie Horlogère
At the end of the 1950s, Rayville-Blancpain was producing more than 100,000 watches per year.
To make it possible to meet the continually growing demand, the firm became part of the SSIH (Swiss company for the watch industry), joining such brands as Omega, Tissot and Lemania. In 1971, production topped 220,000 watches.
During the 1970s, the watchmaking industry came up against major problems: quartz watches were revolutionising the watchmaking sector. The fall of the dollar against the Swiss franc reduced transatlantic exports. The first oil crisis, in 1973, provoked a world-wide recession.
The SSIH was forced to reduce its output by half and to sell off part of its assets. On 9 January 1983, it sold the Rayville-Blancpain name to Jacques Piguet, son of Frédéric Piguet and director of the company of that name, and Jean-Claude Biver, at that time employed by the SSIH. The company set up production at Le Brassus, in the Joux Valley, and from then on traded under the name of Blancpain SA.
In the last ten years, since 2002, the company has been steered by Marc A. Hayek, a competitive man with a proven talent on the race tracks of Europe steering a Lamborghini Gallardo to racing success, but with an obvious gentle disposition to work with such delicate delights which draw the adoration of many.
Blancpain has remained faithful to the principles and traditions of haute horology, but has sought advancement with numerous releases of new calibres under his stewardship. In the last six years, 18 new calibres have been launched.
A diverse range of timepieces to suit different wearers is presented, with various needs and wants. One thing remains, supreme refinement.
The Blancpain Carrousel Saphir Volant Une Minute does not have conventional bridges and plates, but houses a complex movement sandwiched between sapphire crystals.
To fully understand the significance of this watch, read the extract from the companies’ own website:
Like the tourbillon, the carrousel counteracts and neutralises the effects of deceleration and acceleration of the balance wheel caused by the gravitational attraction of the Earth. The balance wheel and escapement, the regulating organs of a watch, are influenced by gravity when they are positioned vertically. But when rotated by a tourbillon or a carrousel, they pass through all vertical positions in succession, cancelling out these inaccuracies.
A tourbillon consists of a rotating carriage; a carrousel, in contrast, consists of a platform on which the balance wheel and its bridge go round like a wooden horse on a merry-go-round, the reason for its name.
Blancpain has achieved a world first by reviving this complication, almost forgotten for more than a century, and using it in a wristwatch. Incidentally, the carrousel from the Manufacture of Le Brassus is the first to have a carriage that completes one revolution in exactly one minute.
To allow the owner to admire this ingenious system, the carrousel is visible through an opening in the dial at 12 o’clock. A refined presentation shows off this elegant mechanism, one of whose bridges takes the form of a hand displaying the seconds.
This year I was fortunate enough to attend the launch of the Blancpain X Fathoms in Dubai. This timepiece is probably the most advanced diving watch ever, incorporating liquid metal technology and with two depth gauges, providing an accuracy previously thought impossible.
I often look at various watches and find it difficult to walk away without parting with fiduciary notes. However, food, school fees and paying my domestic bills prevents me, a self confessed watch addict, from making several purchases each day.
Blancpain offer a vast array of complicated watches which I admire and crave: Tourbillons; Minute Repeaters; Perpetual Calendars are just some of the numerous complications to peruse.
On some occasions, less is more, or certainly more appealing when I am in a certain frame of mind.
The Blancpain Villeret Ultra-Slim is achingly adorable. The face is simple, plain and uncluttered. It reminds me of the “girl next door”, no need for make up, Couture, ostentatious jewellery or cosmetic enhancements. It is perfect as presented.
The opaline dial is white with red gold Roman numerals featured. Roman numerals are used on the dial, helping to provide an appearance which is attractive and readily understood.
The hands are red gold featuring an open aperture in the centre, with a parabolic profile to the top and the bottom.
A diameter of 40mm is perfect. Whilst I would not dismiss a larger case, this watch does not crave bulk, indeed it is the shallow height which is this watches’ USP (Unique Selling Proposition). A case thickness of 8.7mm is remarkable when you learn of the superb power reserve of 100 hours afforded by the Calibre 1151 which resides within. The case features a sapphire case back to afford views of the self-winding calibre.
The Calibre 1151 is self-winding and only 3.25mm thick, which makes it an obvious partner for the Ultra-Slim case. A slender physique does not mean an absence of power, 100 hours is exceptional in far larger calibres.
The date features on the outer circumference of the calibre. However for me it is the perlage, Côtes de Genève, 28 jewels and 210 components that live in harmony which tantalize the palate.
I am like many watch collectors, I have a list. It grows in size, sometimes has a hierarchical nature to it when funds become available but always features some of the finest exponents of haute horology.
This watch is on the list and its name has a single numeral adjacent to it – a strong recommendation from a watch fanatic and self confessed addict.
Angus is a self-confessed watch addict and is frequently asked to contribute to various printed magazines and websites around the globe. He also writes for individual watch companies on matters of horology and has appeared on television and radio as an industry expert.