Complications represent the ultimate expression of the watchmaker’s art. Their production requires superior skills, which all take pride of place in the Blancpain Manufacture. Our collections include calendars (full, annual and perpetual), moon-phase indications, date displays, equation-of-time indications, double-time-zone functions, alarms, tourbillons, carrousels, chronographs (split-seconds, monopusher and flyback), jumping hours, retrograde minutes and seconds, depth gauges and minute-repeaters (with and without automatons). The combining of complications is also something in which Blancpain are experts.
Fully crafted in-house – an exploit that is unmatched in the watchmaking world – our movements attest to our Manufacture’s technical mastery and exceptional know-how.
The minute-repeater is a complication that is outstanding in the watchmaker’s art. Initially conceived so that it would be possible to tell the time in the dark, it remains one of the most appreciated complications and one of the most difficult to make.
Thanks to a complex mechanism comprising two gongs struck by hammers and a mechanical memory activated by means of a slide, the minute-repeater sounds the hour with two tones. A low-pitched chime sounds to indicate the hours, followed by two rings – the first high, the second low – for the quarter-hours, and lastly a high note for each minute. In order to guarantee the purity and musicality of the striking mechanism, it is essential to make a very careful selection of metals and adjust each movement by hand. The construction of a minute-repeater is so demanding that only a few of these watches, individually numbered, leave our Le Brassus workshops each year.
Blancpain played a pioneering role in the development of minute-repeater watches. We have carried out considerable research into improving the tone of our mechanisms. Our minute-repeaters are equipped with cathedral gongs whose blades extend one and a half times around the movement, so producing a sound of exceptional quality. The acoustic purity of our timepieces is further guaranteed by the use of balance-wheels that help reduce the background noise produced by the mechanism.
A complication that was forgotten by the big names in watchmaking for more than a century, the carrousel seeks to reduce the effects of the earth’s gravity on the functioning of the movement. It is thus an alternative to the tourbillon, distinguished from it by its functioning principal. The carrousel is linked to the barrel by two gear trains. The first provides the energy required for the functioning of the escapement, while the second controls the cage’s speed of rotation. In reviving this mechanism, scaled down in size to wristwatch proportions for the first time, and affording it a new lease of life, Blancpain has made watchmaking history. Blancpain’s Carrousel Volant Une Minute is the first to have a cage that makes a full rotation in one minute. Not only did this model mark up a whole series of world firsts when it was presented in 2008, but it remains unique in the watchmaking world today. In order that the owner can admire this ingenious system, an opening at 12 o’clock on the dial reveals the carrousel. A refined presentation brings out the beauty of this elegant mechanism whose upper bridge takes the form of a hand to indicate the seconds.
The tourbillon is one of the most striking watchmaking innovations of the 18th century. This complication takes into account the influences of the earth’s pull on watches’ running precision, which vary with a watch’s position, and corrects them through having the regulating organ (sprung balance and escapement) built into a cage that is set in rotation. In its most classical form, the cage accomplishes one rotation per minute. As this assembly turns in all the vertical positions, it is subjected in an identical manner to phases of acceleration and deceleration. In this way, the effects of gravity are compensated for and cancelled out.
Over the years, Blancpain has developed a number of models combining the tourbillon with other complications such as the chronograph, the perpetual calendar and the highly exclusive “1735”. We also presented the first flying tourbillon, whose particular feature was its unusual construction, with upper bridge removed to offer an unobstructed view of its principal components. In 2018, Blancpain took this concept even further in the Villeret Tourbillon Volant Heure Sautante Minute Rétrograde model, replacing the lower bridge with a transparent sapphire disc. The tourbillon cage, its balance-wheel and its escapement thus appear to float in the air above the fixed wheel, attached to the sapphire disc.
Traditional Chinese Calendar
With the Traditional Chinese Calendar, Blancpain rose to the challenge of mechanically uniting two different interpretations of time. Five years of research and development were necessary to enable the principal indications of the Chinese calendar and the Gregorian date to appear alongside one another in the heart of a timepiece. Since the base units of these two systems for dividing time are not the same, this was a veritable technical feat. While the Gregorian calendar’s is the solar day, the Chinese calendar – referred to as lunisolar – is centred on the cycle lunar cycle, comprising 29.53059 days. And a year of twelve lunar months is about eleven days shorter than a solar year. In order to preserve alignment with the cycle of the seasons, an intercalary month is added to the Chinese calendar every two or three years. It is this particularity that lies behind the variability in the date of the Chinese New Year. But the calendar’s complexity does not stop there. It involves a system of subdivision of the day into 12 double hours, which replace the Gregorian calendar’s 24 hours of 60 minutes. Each of these double hours is named after one of the twelve earthly branches, in order, and is represented by one of the animals of the Chinese zodiac.
Blancpain’s Traditional Chinese Calendar is a watchmaking masterpiece whose creation surpasses the perpetual calendar in complexity. Each watch is fully assembled and painstakingly adjusted by hand by a single master watchmaker in the Grand Complications workshop of our Le Brassus Manufacture.
The perpetual calendar is a veritable mechanical memory capable of indicating the day of the week, the date, the month and the leap year. This calendar takes account of the variations in length of the months and requires no manual date adjustment until 2100, a special feat that requires highly advanced expertise.
In 2004, keen to take the watchmaker’s art into uncharted territory, the Blancpain Manufacture unveiled the world’s first correctors to be located under the horns, for use with a perpetual calendar. This patented system allows correction of the calendar’s indications with simple pressure of the finger, without need for a correction tool. Placed beneath the horns, the correctors are invisible when the watch is worn. Consequently, Blancpain’s perpetual calendars are characterised by a smooth and sleek middle, unmarred by the small “dimples” that one usually finds on calendar watches.
Running Equation of Time
The equation of time features among the rarest and most fascinating watchmaking mechanisms. It links the watch to the sun’s cycle, so that it can display the difference between true solar time (solar hours and minutes) and mean solar time (civil hours and minutes).
The sun has been used as the basis for time since Antiquity. However, the apparent movement of the sun – the true solar time indicated by sundials – is not regular. For convenience, the decision was made to divide the day into 24 hours of equal length. While very useful for the needs of civil life, this standard does not correspond to the actual duration of a solar day, deviating from it by between +16 and -14 minutes. Four days per year, the errors cancel each other out and the true and mean times correspond exactly. The variations between true and mean solar time recurring in an identical manner on the same date each year, it was possible for the watchmakers to reproduce them mechanically and provide an indication for them, generally on an auxiliary sector or dial. It was then up to the user to make a mental addition or subtraction of the deviation displayed to determine the true solar time.
Once again, Blancpain has ventured into the upper realms of watchmaking complications in creating the Running Equation of Time, the first wristwatch to feature a “running” equation of time. In this model, the dial is equipped with two coaxial minutes hands, with one indicating mean solar time (that seen on clocks and watches) and the other true solar time (that of the sundials, reflecting the elliptical nature of the earth’s orbit around the sun). This innovative system, particularly functional and easy to read, allows direct reading of true solar time, with no need for the mental calculations required by traditional equation-of-time watches.
Mechanical Depth Gauge
The mechanical depth gauge is a complication built into Blancpain’s X Fathoms model enabling depth measurement to 90 metres and recording of the maximum depth reached. It comes with a separate display for the 0-15 m range, with an exceptional precision of +/- 30 cm, and a retrograde five-minute counter for the decompression stops.
Research carried out by Blancpain showed that the elasticity and resistance to permanent deformation of an amorphous metal make such a metal an ideal material for the fabrication of the depth gauge’s central component: the membrane. This choice allowed its thickness to be reduced to half that of a steel membrane, with a consequent gain in precision. To guarantee maximum precision of the depth indications, Blancpain calibrates each of its X Fathoms timepieces individually.
The flyback chronograph allows the direct measurement of successive time intervals.
With an ordinary chronograph, three consecutive presses on the push-pieces are required to measure a succeeding time interval: stopping of the chronograph, resetting to zero and restarting. With the flyback function, a single press on the flyback push-piece stops the measurement of the first interval and resets the hand to zero. The chronograph hand resumes its course immediately when the push-piece is released.
Appreciated by pilots for the time-saving it allows, this complication is particularly suited to aviation and navigation, but also to scuba diving. In addition, Blancpain’s flyback chronograph watches are water-resistant and operational to 10 bar, or even 30 bar for the models in the Fifty Fathoms collection.
This very useful complication can be programmed to set off an alarm at a precise time. A 12-hour counter with two hands, located at 3 o’clock, indicates the time for which the alarm is set. A press on the push-piece at 8 o’clock sets the alarm via a column-wheel. An “on-off” indicator, positioned at 1 o’clock, indicates whether the alarm is set or not. The alarm ring is produced by the striking of a hammer against a gong.
Decidedly functional, Blancpain’s alarm watches combine two complications that are much appreciated, particularly by travellers: the mechanical alarm and a second time zone indication, namely the GMT complication. The date, whose correction (forwards or backwards) is relayed to the second time zone, completes these functions.
In Blancpain’s Réveil GMT models, the reference time is indicated by a central hand on a scale of 24 hours. The time of the alarm relates to the second time zone, which is indicated by the customary hours and minutes hands and corresponds to the time of the country visited.
The annual calendar watch indicates the date, that is to say the number of days into the month, automatically taking account of the variations in length between months. Unlike the perpetual calendar, the annual calendar does not take into account either the special case of February, which is treated like a month of 30 days, or leap years. It therefore needs to be manually corrected once a year, at the end of February.
At Blancpain, the date is displayed on the main dial by means of an additional hand, or in a specific aperture.
This complication indicates the date, the day of the week and the month. The changing face of the moon, reproduced on the dial, gives it a poetic touch.
The Blancpain timepieces fitted with a full calendar display the day of the week and the month in two apertures. The date is indicated by means of a central hand. In the Villeret collection, it takes the form of a serpentine hand in blued steel, in reference to an 18th-century watchmaking tradition, which required a watch to display any secondary information using a hand of characteristic shape. Unlike the annual and perpetual calendars, the full calendar does not take account of the variations in month length and needs to be corrected five times per year, at the end of each month of less than 31 days.
The reproduction of the lunar cycles on the dials of Blancpain’s full-calendar watches evokes the ancestral links between watchmaking and astronomy. The moon-phase timepieces indicate whether the moon is new, waxing, full or waning. The face of the moon corresponding to the current lunar phase is visible through an opening in the dial.
The Calendar week indication is a complication that enables the week number (number of weeks into the year) to be displayed on the watch’s dial. Much appreciated these days, this information is indicated by a central hand that points to one of the numbers displayed around the outer rim of the dial. The change in week number takes place at midnight, on the passage from the Sunday to the Monday, in parallel with the changing of the date.
The numbering from 1 to 53 reminds us that certain years are officially allocated 53 weeks: this will be the case in 2020, then in 2026, to cite just instances in the near future.
Designed with the idea of being as useful as possible, Blancpain watches displaying the week of the year are also provided with a large date and indications of the day of the week and power reserve. Correction of the week-number indication is independent and is a simple operation, thanks to a corrector located beneath the case that is easy to manipulate with the tip of a finger.
This refined and useful complication displays the date within the month in large numerals in two apertures. The date is displayed by a combination of two discs via two large apertures placed side by side. The first disc indicates the tens and bears the figures 0 to 3, while the second indicates the units, from 0 to 9. Perfect synchronisation of the two discs is necessary.
The large date mechanism developed by Blancpain stands out for its ingenuity. Going beyond the larger display of the date and its instantaneous changing at midnight, the Blancpain timepieces equipped with this complication distinguish themselves by their optimal energy efficiency, with a consequent saving in power reserve. In addition, they are slimmed down to a minimal depth for accentuated elegance, while still being protected against shocks.
The reproduction of the lunar cycles on the dials of Blancpain watches evokes the ancestral links between watchmaking and astronomy. The moon-phase timepieces indicate whether the moon is new, waxing, full or waning.
The face of the moon corresponding to the current lunar phase is visible through an opening in the dial, located at 6 o’clock. The phases of the moon are indicated by means of a wheel of 59 teeth, which covers two full lunar cycles of 29.5 days. This is why the moon is depicted twice on the disc turned by this wheel. The moon-phase mechanism is activated once per day, towards 6 p.m., by means of a gear-train.
On certain women’s models, Blancpain’s cherished attention to detail can be seen on the moon’s charming feminine face, where a fly lingers on the corner of its smile.
Half Time Zone
This complication concerns the double-time-zone watches. It makes it possible to adjust the second zone time by precise jumps of 30 minutes, making for totally relaxed travel in those countries where the time lag between GMT and the local time is an odd number of half-hours.
Unlike the usual GMT mechanisms, in which the correction of the hours hand is made in steps of an hour, the half-time-zone watches involve the moving of two hands, that of the hours and that of the minutes. Their production is therefore considerably more complex.
With their half-time-zone timepiece, Blancpain have privileged convenience of use. The Manufacture developed an ingenious system for controlling three functions from the crown, by the use of a selector to choose between correction of the local time and correction of the date. This selector is fitted with a column-wheel that ensures incomparable precision and an action that feels as smooth as velvet on use of the push-piece located on the crown.
This complication provides a display of two time zones on a watch’s dial. At Blancpain, it has the advantage of being associated with the date indication, which is linked to local time.
Certain GMT models proposed by Blancpain feature an additional hand indicating the reference time on a scale of 24 hours, while the local time (second time zone) is shown by the main hands. Others use a 24 hour or 12 hour counter, which takes the form of a subdial. In the case of a 12 hour counter, an additional aperture informs the user whether it is referring to daytime or night-time.