When most of us think of Blancpain, the first image that comes to mind is most likely one of the brand’s iconic Fifty Fathoms divers’ watches, or something elegant and ultra-complicated from its Villeret collection. But there is a third, sportier line in Blancpain’s portfolio that receives substantially less attention and, arguably, less adoration from watch aficionados: the L-Evolution, a series innately tied in with Blancpain’s sponsorship of the Super Trofeo racing series, and with Lamborghini, the luxury Italian sports car marque whose racing machines populate its field.
The Lamborghini Blancpain Super Trofeo, the product of a union between these two power brands, was first run in May 2009 and was initially a Europe-only series, featuring 30 cars. Since then it has expanded to Asia and the U.S., and 2015 marked the first year that the Super Trofeo Finals were held here in the States, at Florida’s legendary Sebring International Racetrack, home of the 12 Hours of Sebring. This year’s field boasted no less than 84 cars, with participants from Europe, Asia, and America. I was privileged to receive an invitation from Blancpain to attend the Super Trofeo Finals in Sebring, and for this longtime admirer of Lamborghini cars, it was, needless to say, an exciting experience — made even more special by the wrist companion that I coaxed from Blancpain for the weekend’s events: the Blancpain L-Evolution-R Chronographe à Rattrapante Grande Date. In short, the experience has made me much more an advocate of this oft-overlooked collection from this centuries-old Swiss manufacture.
The model I wore and reviewed was Ref. 8886F-3603-52B, with a case that combines vibrant 5N rose gold with carbon fiber. To me, this marriage of classical elegance with cutting-edge-tech rarely works, but I found it very appealing here — and appropriate to the watch’s motorsport-inspired theme, as carbon fiber is used regularly in the world of auto racing due to its high tensile strength, sturdiness, light weight, and resistance to high temperatures. Carbon fiber, with its telltale light checkerboard pattern, is also used for the caseback and for the dial. The motif is continued on the black, overstitched alcantara strap, which incorporates carbon inserts. A particularly attractive detail is the carbon-fiber insert that punctuates the gold buckle, further marking the L-Evolution as a luxury timepiece that’s not afraid to show its sporty side.
More on that dial: the Lamborghini and auto racing-inspired aesthetic touches are very much in evidence and yet surprisingly subtle, especially to those who may not have attended a Super Trofeo race. The numerals “12” and “9” at their respective hour positions are executed in the same font used to identify the Lamborghini cars in the race. The large date display at 6 ‘clock uses a digital-type numeral font that evokes the one on the electronic clocks used to time laps at racetracks. The use of red — for the borders of the hour numerals and the 2 o’clock chronograph pusher — is a nod to Lamborghini, and the split-seconds pusher at 8 o’clock is shaped like a gas cap. Finally — and this one actually took me more than a day to notice — the counter at 9 o’cl0ck is in the shape of Lamborghini’s badge.
The automotive aesthetic also finds its way to the movement, Blancpain’s automatic Caliber 69F9 (photo below, by Redbar Crew’s Adam Craniotes), which incorporates an incredible 409 parts, including 44 jewels, and which Blancpain has obligingly put on display underneath a sapphire caseback window. The big winding rotor resembles the wheel of a racecar’s tire, and the decorative finishes echo the high-tech look of the watch’s exterior: bead-blasted two-tone material on various parts and straight graining on the NAC bridges imparting an anthracite look.
While the overall look is decidedly sporty, this watch’s movement offers a level of complication comparable to that of many of the brand’s more elegant haute horlogerie timepieces. Its chronograph mechanism is governed by a column wheel (which ensures precise pusher control) and a vertical-coupling clutch mechanism (which helps to prevent unwanted jerking of the chronograph hand upon activation. Having used the stopwatch at various points during the racing weekend, I can report that these functions performed admirably.
Of course, the chronograph mechanism itself is among the most complicated of its kind; it includes not only a flyback feature (in which the elapsed seconds hand can be stopped, returned to zero and restarted instantly with a single push of a button) but also a “rattrapante” or split-seconds function (explained further here), which is a useful and eminently sensible addition to a watch whose DNA is rooted in auto racing. To record split times, such as those of various racecars completing laps, one simply activates the chronograph with the red pusher at 2 o’clock to start the chronograph sweep-seconds hand, and the split-seconds hand superimposed directly underneath it, on their lap around the dial. Press the pusher at 8 o’clock to stop the bottom hand to record a split time; the top hand continues moving. Press the 8 o’clock pusher again and the bottom (split-seconds) hand will jump to instantly catch up to the top (sweep-seconds) hand and begin timing a new interval. To return all hands to zero, simply apply a firm press to the gold pusher at 4 ‘clock.
The Blancpain L-Evolution-R Chronographe à Rattrapante Grande Date (the “R” marks it as part of the “racing” collection; mainstream L-Evolution watches don’t include quite so much direct Lamborghini design influence) is very comfortable to wear despite its weight; this is owed partly to the relatively lightweight carbon fiber parts balancing out the weighty rose gold elements, but mostly, in my opinion, to the aforementioned alcantara strap. Alcantara is the extraordinarily comfy material used for the interior of Lamborghini cars like the Aventador, and once you’ve had it caressing your wrist for a few days — attached snugly with the folding rose-gold clasp — you may wish, as I did, that all watches were equipped with such straps.
As one might expect, based on not only the materials but the highly complicated chronograph movement (and let’s not discount the mechanics required for the big date), the Blancpain Blancpain L-Evolution-R Chronographe à Rattrapante Grande Date carries a daunting sticker price, at least for non-Lamborghini owners: $55,700. On the other hand, it’s hard to not consider it justified for a timepiece that so deftly marries motorsport-inspired high-tech materials and design with the highest levels of Swiss mechanical watchmaking.