A Study In Consistency

Isochronism. A strange word that means a lot in the mechanical watch industry. The idea really being that something moving in the watch does so at a consistent rate – this is the basis of accuracy in a watch. Some high-end watches experiment with a trick to improve isochronism by using two parts that operate with some inherent error, but can be doubled to run side by side, doing the same thing with the error from each canceling out their aggregated error. At least that is more or less the idea. For those who aren’t physicists, let me just say that when watch brands strive for this effect – it is usually beautiful (as well as costly).

For 2011 Montblanc’s Villeret manufacture offers a new high-end timepiece that focuses on the idea of two things working together for the greater good. They call it the Montblanc Villeret Tourbillon Bi-Cylindrique. It is a modified version of their famous Tourbillon Mysterious, and now offers a tourbillion with two conical mainsprings operating at the same time. Conical balance springs are wound in a manner more like a cone than being flat. The idea is that they are less influenced by gravity. So why not have two of them? The original Tourbillon Mysterious (Mysterieuses) had a unique case, really large tourbillion and hour and minute hands printed on transparent sapphire discs. The “mystery” was not being able to see how the hour and minute hands moved around. 2011’s watch is no longer a mystery. Montblanc has opened up the dial to show some of the gear work that moved the sapphire discs around. It looks very impressive, but feels a bit ironic given all the emphasis on the original model being “mysterious.”

What is wild to see however are the two conical balance springs. One is inside of the other and beat oppositely – so as one spring is closing the other is opening. The result is a venerable “ballet of accuracy in the making.” The large diameter of the tourbillon carriage benefits the two springs as they are quite easy to see with the naked eye. Another area where Montblanc has succeeded in offering visual pleasure is the entirety of the watch face. The complex mechanics are plentiful, but the dial doesn’t feel cluttered. Any lover of viewing ornately designed, complex watch movements will take great pleasure in looking at the dial of the Tourbillon Bi-Cylindrique. My choice is the 18k red gold model, as the base plate of the dial has tastefully applied perlage polish on much of its surface. There is also a version in 18k white gold, and just one piece in platinum.

The “tear drop” style case for the watch is large, being 47mm in width – wearing a timepiece like this will require the right type of person. That person should also have at least a brief education on the history of the Montblanc Villeret facility – formerly known as Minerva Villeret. There, Montblanc timepieces are dutifully hand-made and decorated, using a bevy of tradition techniques not easily found anywhere else. Despite the adherence to tradition in their processes, watches like the Bi-Cylindrique feel resolutely modern in their willingness to play with traditional concepts or aesthetics and those complications designed to make watches as accurate as possible. The Tourbillon Bi-Cylindrique will be limited to one piece in platinum, eight pieces in 18k white gold, and eight pieces in 18k red gold. Price is $290,500 in 18k red gold, and $303,700 in 18k white gold.