The Blancpain Villeret Chinese Traditional Calendar is one of the more tasteful renditions in the lineup of Chinese zodiac watches that appear this time of year. It is also the most complicated, which makes it appealing to collectors who can appreciate it on that level rather than for the usual metiers-rendered symbolism of the zodiac animal. The ox, hovering in a small aperture at 12 o’clock, is overshadowed by a virtuoso display of functions below, driven by a movement that is more complex than a perpetual calendar. It fuses the Gregorian calendar, which is based on a solar day, with a traditional Chinese calendar, which is lunisolar. A solar year is about 11 days longer than a year of 12 lunar months.
The center dial tracks Gregorian time, with leaf-shaped hands signaling hours and minutes on an index of Roman numerals. A blue serpentine hand clocks the date on the outer periphery. The Chinese calendar, displayed on three subdials, is a little more complicated. The subdial at 12 o’clock is the double hour counter, representing the Chinese system of subdividing the day into 12 double hours. It reveals them in figures and symbols over a cycle of 24 hours. Just above that, the ox, which represents one of the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac (also referred to as the 12 earthly branches), is indicated on the disk. Each year the disk can be adjusted to show the current zodiac animal via the crown.
The subdial at 3 o’clock illustrates the five elements (wood, earth, fire, water and metal) along with the ten celestial stems over a cycle of ten years, with a yin and yang design in its center—the ox represents yang, which in Chinese philosophy is the active principle, opposed to yin, which is the receptive principle. The subdial at 9 o’clock uses a short blue hand to indicate the lunar months and a long blue hand to indicate lunar days. It contains a small round aperture that turns red when the year has a 13th or intercalary month. The Chinese calendar gets a leap year every two to three years, which explains why the date of the Chinese New Year varies. In 2021, it begins February 12.
Needless to say, reconciling all of these elements in one movement takes time and space. The caliber 3638, first launched in 2012, was five years in development. Its 464 components are contained in a case measuring 15 mm thick and 45 mm wide. A silicon balance spring makes it friction-free and more reliable, and three series-coupled barrels give it a seven-day power reserve. All functions can be adjusted using five underlug correctors, a system patented by Blancpain.
This watch is a very intense way of proclaiming 2021 as the year of the ox. The second in the 12-year cycle of the Chinese zodiac, the ox is a solid beast of burden, associated in Chinese culture with the qualities of diligence, persistence, and honesty—the kind of qualities it likely took to create the piece.
The platinum Traditional Chinese Calendar, with a cabochon ruby crown and a grand feu enamel dial, is a limited edition of 50 pieces priced at $87,800. A non-limited 18-karat red gold version with a guilloched rotor is priced at $66,400.