Blancpain Villeret Dual Time ¶
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Founded in 1735 by Jehan-Jacques Blancpain in the Swiss town of Villeret, Blancpain has become one of the top haute-horlogerie brands on the market today. They produce a number of styles ranging from restrained elegance to bold sport, and a limitless selection of complications. Unfortunately it is often overshadowed by the “better known” players in the high-end Swiss watch market – Blancpain often plays second fiddle to sister brand Breguet, and has less recognition than the powerhouse manufactures of Vacheron Constantin, Patek Philippe, and Jaeger le Coultre. Thus Blancpains are often under appreciated, which is a shame as some of their timepieces - like the Villeret Dual Time we have here - are quite stunning and can offer impressive value on the used market.
Today Blancpain is one of the jewels of the Swatch group, providing a complimentary brand to Breguet and offering competition against the venerable Vacheron Constantin (which is part of the rival Richemont group). While Breguet offers traditional designs and old-world craftsmanship, and a distinctive brand style common to all models, Blancpain has a “younger” style with clean and simple dress watches like the Villeret as well as bold sport designs like the Fifty Fathoms and L-Evolution collections.
Looking over the range of models, it can often seem that the brand lacks the focus you would expect from a high-end manufacture. Where Patek Philippe has a particular style, Blancpain makes everything from an ultra-thin dress watch up to a ridiculous 55mm diver’s watch that makes a U-Boat look tame. They seem to be trying to sell a watch to everyone. Personally I have always liked the Villeret collection, and have a soft spot for the classic Fifty Fathoms.
When we received this Villeret it immediately took me back to my early interest in watches when I was a teen. Blancpain was one of the first luxury watch brands I learned about. I once saw a very simple, sober Blancpain design being advertised in an issue of Robb Report, and immediately fell in love with the brand and the design. I can’t recall the exact watch, but I remember it had a gold case, white dial, and a leather strap. That became the prototypical “high-end watch” in my own mind from that point on. It had to be elegant, perfectly proportioned, and classically styled. That remains my criteria for my personal watches to this day, though I have expanded my taste to include a few select sport models.
Most Villerets share the same aesthetic cues that make the line immediately recognizable to wrist spotters. They feature slim case profiles, narrow bezels and expansive dials, simple lugs and crowns, and a very clean dial designs. Even complicated models, like the Dual Time, have very simple dials that have a certain minimalism to them in spite of the extra registers. In that regard the Dual Time is a prototypical Villeret – add or subtract complications and you have an idea of what most of the lineup looks like.
The Dual Time features a 38mm 18k rose gold case with an impressively slim 10mm height, quite a feat for a watch that has several complications in an automatic movement with a 4 day power reserve. I adore simple dress watches of this ilk. The case is very simple but has some nice curves and a rounded profile that matches the domed bezel quite well. I never liked ornate lugs and overly complex case designs in dress watches, I think simplicity is key to making a good classic watch.
The Villeret features an exhibition back to show off the movement, one of Blancpain’s signature automatics featuring an exceptionally long power reserve. Blancpain in general seems to keep a low profile when it comes to quoting specifications on their movements, which is surprising considering that many of them have 4, 5 or even 8-day power reserves (when most brands are touting 50-70 hour power reserves as something special). The 5L60 calibre in the Dual Time is an automatic winding in-house movement with an impressive 100-hour power reserve – impressive because it’s a very small, slim movement with several complications. All functions are accessed through the crown without the use of quickset pushers on the case; the first position on the crown adjusts the main hour hand in one-hour jumps (and sets the date) while the second time zone stays static, the second position adjusts the time on both displays together. Only the hours are adjustable, minutes of both time zones are always linked (sorry Newfoundlanders). The movement is soberly finished with machine-made cotes de geneve striping and bevelled plates, nothing spectacular. It has the appearance of a very high quality mass-produced movement, which is exactly what it is.
For many years Frederic Piguet SA was providing complications and building movements for higher-end Swiss brands, including Blancpain. In 2010 FP was absorbed into Blancpain, essentially giving Blancpain an in-house movement manufacturing facility overnight, but they continue to provide movements and modifications to other brands. Part of the Swatch Group’s rules for third party brands outside the Group is that they must disclose in their technical specs if FP modules are used in their watches. Before this rule was introduced many high-end brands would simply “neglect” to mention the use of FP modules, which suggested that the movements were produced entirely in-house. The popular conception is that many prominent watch brands produce their movements entirely in-house, something that is quite far from the truth – see my article on movement sharing for more information about the practice.
The dial of the Dual Time is a highlight of the watch. It’s very simple but beautifully put together. The finish is an opaline white, a creamy eggshell colour with a fine grained finish and semi-matte appearance. All the markers are applied to the surface and have quite a bit of depth. The main dial has beautiful three-dimensional Roman numerals, while the secondary time uses batons and Arabic numbers. The day-night indicator features a tiny sun and moon, with subtle engraving between the two halves and around the subdials. All the finishing is subtle but flawless and well proportioned.
The strap is stunning as well. As you would expect on a watch of this calibre, it has a very fine grain alligator hide with a solid deployant buckle. You can always tell the quality of a fine leather strap by the way it slides between your fingers; a “cheap” alligator or crocodile strap will have a coarse or plastic-like feel, a high quality strap like this one has a buttery smooth, oily texture. It also has a supple feel and flexibility that is unmatched by cheaper hides. I also really like buckles that hide the excess length on the inside of the strap without using extra keepers for a clean look on the wrist.
The Villeret Dual Time is a stunning, simple dress watch that is a classic example of Blancpain’s traditional style and elegance. In relation to complicated models from other high-end marques, it is relatively good value for a fine 18k gold timepiece with a nice movement and useable functions. The Dual Time was replaced recently by the Villeret Demi Fuseau Horaire, which adds some extra workmanship at the expense of the subtle elegance that sets this watch apart. I believe that the Dual Time we have here is an excellent choice for a fine gold dress watch if you are seeking an alternative to the usual suspects from Patek, Rolex, Vacheron and Audemars.
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