With 2012 being the Chinese Year of the Dragon, and with the momentous growth of Asia, and China in particular, as a luxury wristwatch market, it should be no surprise that many brands have created timepieces aimed squarely at Chinese consumers this year. Dragons and other Chinese motifs and styles were a recurring theme at both the SIHH and Baselworld watch fairs, and Blancpain may have come up with the most distinctive model yet for Chinese (and Chinaphile) collectors: the Traditional Chinese Calendar, new from the brand’s Villeret collection.
Like other calendar watches, this one has a date function and a moon-phase indicator based on the Gregorian calendar: a central, serpentine pointer of blued steel points to the date on a chapter ring with gold appliqué numerals. The moon phase is displayed in a subdial at 6 o’clock. However, the watch’s other calendar functions, represented by subdials at 12, 3 and 9 o’clock and an aperture at 12 o’clock, are all keyed to the millenia-old, traditional Chinese calendar, which differs from our modern one in several significant ways. (Click on photos for wallpaper images.)
The Gregorian calendar is a “solar” calendar, which uses the solar day as the base unit of measuring time. The Chinese calendar is “lunisolar,” a solar calendar that uses the lunar cycle, which comprises precisely 29.53059 solar days, as its base unit. A year made up of 12 lunar months would be 354.36707 days in length, about 11 days too short in comparison with our familiar solar year of 365.242374 days. This means that an entire leap month of either 29 or 30 days is sometimes necessary to preserve the calendar’s symmetry with the cycle of the seasons. In essence, a year with a leap month (13 lunar months) is longer than a traditional solar year and a year without one (12 lunar months) is shorter. This is why the date of the Chinese New Year varies from year to year.
The traditional Chinese calendar also incorporates cosmic and mythological elements like the 12 signs of the zodiac, represented by 12 animals; the five elements; and the so-called 10 celestial stems (also called the heavenly stems; the 12 Zodiac animals correspond to the 12 “earthly branches”; each year is named by a combination of stem and branch.) Also, each day is divided into 12, rather than 24 units (also corresponding with the 12 zodiac animals), meaning that one Chinese hour is equivalent to two of ours.
All of these elements are recorded and displayed on the grand feu enamel dial of Blancpain’s watch. The subdial at 12 o’clock indicates the double-hours and their symbols, while the window above it shows the zodiac sign of the current year. The subdial at 3 o’clock, with a yin-yang symbol at its center, depicts the symbols for the five elements and the celestial stems, and the one at 9 o’clock indicates the traditional Chinese month, date, and leap month.
The “brain” at the heart of this complex calendar is Blancpain’s automatic Caliber 3638, made up of 434 parts, including 39 jewels. The movement has a seven-day power reserve and is adorned with a white gold rotor, set with a Madagascar ruby and a dragon engraving to commemorate the year 2012. The 45-mm case is made of platinum and has a crown with a cabochon-cut ruby and five integrated under-lug correctors to adjust the calendar functions. The hour and minute hands are elegantly shaped to look like hollowed leaves.
The watch is a limited edition of 20 pieces, each priced at $83,600. There is also a non-limited version in a rose gold case for $63,200.
Movement: Blancpain Caliber 3638, automatic; diameter = 32 mm; thickness = 8.3 mm; 434 components; 39 jewels; 168-hour (seven days) power reserve
Functions: Hours, minutes, date indication, moon-phase display, traditional Chinese calendar functions include double-hour indication, signs of the zodiac, date and month of the Chinese calendar, indicators for the five elements, celestial stems and leap months
Case: platinum or rose gold; diameter = 45 mm; thickness = 15 mm; sapphire crystal front and back; water-resistant to 30 meters; on Mississippi alligator strap
Dial and hands: white grand feu enamel dial with chapter ring of gold appliques; hollowed-leaf-shaped hour and minute hands; blued steel serpentine Gregorian date pointer
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