0023 Blancpain Villeret Flying Tourbillon
Nineties Blancpain is a distinct beast entirely, from all of horology. Famously, toward the ceasefire of the quartz crisis, Blancpain ran ads claiming ‘since 1735, Blancpain has never produced a quartz watch and we never will.’ Jean-Claude Biver and Jacques Piguet may not have quite singlehanded dragged Swiss mechanical watchmaking into the modern era, but that claim is not far off (I won’t so easily forget AP’s 5548). By the late 80s, the war was won and Blancpain were on a victor’s high. Through the early and mid 90s, a stream of magical, classic-leaning high complication calibres emanated from the brand. This is one of that neo-vintage era’s best.
The Blancpain team slowly revealed what we today call ‘the six masterpieces’: an ultra-thin, calendar moonphase, qp, minute repeater, split seconds, and this ref. 0023 flying tourbillon. But it’s not just any flying tourbillon, this was the world’s first wristwatch flying tourbillon calibre. ‘Flying’ here meaning that the dial-side display of the tourbillon is unobstructed by a bridge of any sort, with the cage connecting to the movement on its backside only. This was pioneered, like most things, by AL Breguet but only applied to wristwatches first here. The solution required one diminutive ball bearing on a rear-facing bridge to support the entire carousel, quite an accomplishment. Fittingly, it is the only movement component viewable through a small caseback display window.
The calibre was designed by Vincent Calabrese exclusively for Frédéric Piguet and Blancpain. Moreover, despite the complication, its case is only a miraculous 7.4mm thin. This made it the world’s thinnest hand-wound tourbillon at launch. And still, the team somehow managed to include an eight-day power reserve. I don’t mean to keep hammering these overused comparisons home, but it does still absolutely blow my mind that this (in name and merit) masterpiece Villeret can be had for about half the value of a ceramic Daytona. I know where my money’s at.
This example has a clean case, with light wear as one would expect of just under three decades. That said, no major bashes, no significant marks, and a case that has been cared for. Hallmarks are still deep and lugs full. Its dial is unaltered by time, in a lovely state. It is running well and comes with its full set from a well-regarded London retailer.
Find this VIlleret Flying Tourbillon here from Watch Brothers London for 22650 GBP.