Blancpain Great Wave: BaselWorld Epilogue
The Great Wave Villeret Metier d’Arts watch comes into focus, and brings a contemplative focus to our fair experience.
At a quiet moment after my last presentation at BaselWorld 2016, I found myself as usual at the Blancpain booth, where the bar is always open and the company is good. This remains the last place one can still have a cigar (or cigarette, as you please) inside the fair and it was just too cold to try to finish a cigar outdoors this year. Anyway, I was nursing an unnamed Swiss wine and taking a moment after looking at the Blancpain novelties to contemplate the chocolate boxes from the brand, to which there is a sad tale. To begin on a happy note though, here is the Blancpain Piece Unique, Villeret Metiers d’Art “The Great Wave” wristwatch. Only one watch will be made and it is very special, though not because it is extremely mechanically complicated. Indeed, it is a time-only proposition, with the 8-day power reserve manual-winding calibre 13R3A.
There is something unusual about that movement but first, feast your eyes on the dial here. Obviously, the scene depicted is the “Great Wave” in question; it is in fact a meticulous recreation of the Hokusai woodblock print called the Great Wave off Kanagawa. The dial material is actually a first for Blancpain, Mexican silver obsidian. The Great Wave design is in white gold, which is created on a Shakudo base. To obtain the patina you see, this base is immersed in a rokusho salt bath. Gold is famously non-reactive but this bath actually oxidizes it, according to the presenters who showed us the watch, which means this must have a been an alkaline sodium bath. Now what you see has different levels of polish to it, which lends the depiction of the wave lifelike qualities, and this has been painstakingly executed. Finally, the Shakudo base is removed and the white gold engraving is affixed to the Mexican silver obsidian base.
Adding to artisanal spirit here, the brand has opted to modify the standard 13R0 movement to move the power reserve indicator from the dial to the bridge side, so it can be viewed via the caseback and not interfere with the beauty of the dial. As you might imagine, this watch calls for a superlative strap and it has just such a strap, in calfskin handcrafted by a Swiss artisan. Honestly, the only thing that keeps this from being my favorite from Blancpain is the fact that there is only one and that the Villeret collection features one of my favorite complications, the annual calendar with GMT (in steel no less!).
That said, The Great Wave is a contemplative watch, one you could spend hours pondering, which brings me back to that chocolate. For years now, these chocolates have been a comfort here at the Blancpain booth (the ones at Longines, Breitling and Rolex are also excellent and consistent) but this year, the aftertaste is bittersweet.
Benoit Violier passed away under tragic circumstances earlier this year and this occasion at BaselWorld is the first time since the news broke that I have come into contact with anything bearing his name. For me, this was the truly somber moment of the fair but it was also great to see his work and name live on, especially since his restaurant was recently declared best in the world. The artisanal touch he brought to the chocolates will always remind me of the unique pieces that Blancpain creates.
- Dimensions: 42mm
- Functions: Hours, minutes, power reserve indicator
- Power Reserve: 8 Days
- Movement: 13R3A, manual winding
- Water Resistance: 30 meters
- Material: Platinum
- Strap: Artisanal calf leather
- Unique Piece