The tourbillon will always hold a special place in the world of high-end mechanical watchmaking. Although not a complication in its own right, many a word (and a picture) has been devoted to describing the beauty of this intricate and often mesmerizing escapement. Such is its complexity that to successfully build one is often seen as a coming of age event for talented watchmakers seeking to establish a name for themselves in the highly competitive world of independent watchmaking.
The flip side to this popularity of course is that the luxury watch market is brimming – to the point of saturation – with tourbillon-equipped timepieces. Some, like the descriptively named Arnold & Son Double Tourbillon Escapement, have made the tourbillon (or in this case tourbillons) the focal point of their timepieces. Others meanwhile hide them away – think De Bethune’s gorgeous DB25 LT Tourbillon – reserving the privilege of appreciating their beauty for their owners alone. Regardless of your preference however one thing is for sure, there are a lot of tourbillon timepieces out there.
This is not a bad thing of course, in fact depending your perspective it can be seen as rather a good thing but if there is one thing watch collector’s love, it’s a bit of variety. Enter the Blancpain Carrousel Répétition Minutes Chronographe Flyback, a wonderfully complicated timepiece from Blancpain’s exclusive Le Brassus collection.
At first glance you could be forgiven for thinking this is just another tourbillon-equipped timepiece, albeit a very beautiful one. Closer inspection however reveals that this is not actually the case at all. Rather, as the name suggests, this particular watch is equipped with a carefully constructed, superbly finished Carrousel escapement, which is on full display just above 6 o’clock. This of course begs the question; just what exactly is a Carrousel escapement?
The Carrousel Escapement
At the superficial level the Carrousel style escapement is remarkably similar to the Tourbillon. As we know the balance wheel and escapement, the regulating organs of a watch, are influenced by gravity when they are positioned vertically. The role of a Tourbillon or a Carrousel is to counteract and neutralise these effects of deceleration and acceleration of the balance wheel caused by the gravitational attraction of the Earth, by rotating the balance wheel and escapement so that they pass through all vertical positions in succession, cancelling out these inaccuracies.
A Tourbillon achieves this feat by housing the balance wheel and escapement inside 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, hence the reason for its name. The distinction between these two devices lies in their construction. Whereas the tourbillon is linked to the barrel by one gear train, the carrousel has two: the first supplies the energy required to drive the escapement; while the second controls the rotation speed of the carriage.
The relative effectiveness of either system has been the subject of some dispute for many years now however when you’re talking about spending this sort of money accuracy is clearly not your top priority (otherwise you’d just buy a cheap quartz watch and use the change to get yourself another Porsche.) No, what we are talking about here is mechanical mastery coupled with aesthetic beauty, which brings us to the Blancpain Carrousel Répétition Minutes Chronographe Flyback.
The Blancpain Carrousel Répétition Minutes Chronographe Flyback
The first thing you will probably notice about the Carrousel Répétition Minutes Chronographe Flyback is its size. Presented in a 45mm x 17.88mm round case crafted from 18k red gold the piece certainly makes its presence felt on the wrist. Given the complexity of the movement housed inside however this is more than understandable. The chapter ring is made from grand feu white enamel in classic Blancpain style, with the distinctive roman numerals also reminiscent of the brand’s popular Villeret collection. What really drew me in though was the stunning view of the open-worked movement visible in the centre of the dial, complete with the eye-catching 1-minute flying carrousel just above 6 o’clock. It doesn’t ‘whir’ quite like a tourbillon but is still somehow every bit as mesmerizing.
Hours and minutes are indicated via the two central hands in gold, whilst a central seconds hand performs the timing function for the flyback chronograph. For those of you not familiar with the concept of a flyback chronograph this basically means that it is possible to instantaneously restart a time measurement while a first measurement is in progress, in this case simply by pressing the pusher at 4 o’clock when the chronograph has already been activated. Now, at first glance it would seem there is no benefit to having a flyback chronograph on a watch that doesn’t have any sub-dials for tracking elapsed time however look a little closer and you will notice that there is an additional red-tipped gold hand tracks that tracks the elapsed minutes on a 30 minute counter at the center of the dial.
As you’ve probably guessed by now incorporating a flyback chronograph complication, minute repeater complication and a carrousel escapement all in the same timepiece is no mean feat. In fact according to the brand this is the first time it’s ever been done. This is not entirely surprising as Blancpain is the only high-end watchmaker – that I’m aware of, at least – that is actively using carrousel escapements in its timepieces since bringing them back from the dead in 2008 with the launch of the world’s first flying carrousel.
To make it all possible Blancpain developed the self-winding Calibre 2358, which offers a healthy 65 hours of power when fully charged. This fully secured movement (meaning you can safely move the hands forwards or backwards without fear of damaging the movement) is comprised of some 543 components, including cathedral gongs for the minute repeater (which sounds heavenly by the way.) Visible through the sapphire case back, the beautifully finished movement features bridges and mainplate in matching 18-carat gold.
Finishing the look is an alligator leather strap in chocolate brown. And the price? A cool US$449,600.