Unveiled in 1993, this exceptional creation from Blancpain is the world’s first Wristwatch Repeater with Automata.
Automata, or moving figure watches have had a checkered past. The techniques for creating them evolved near the end of the 17th century. The subjects for the moving figures were frequently erotic scenes. Their allure was instantly recognized. Watchmakers responded with ingenious fantasies to tempt those with the means to acquire these most rare and expensive creations. This did not long go unnoticed by the Church. Religious authorities in the Swiss cantons of Geneva and Neuchâtel formed an alliance to strike out against this free libertine exotic expression. Not only was further production of the watches banned, but those in existence were made subject to seizure.
The fate of confiscated watches was both predictable and grim: destruction. What were already rare pieces for reasons of cost became even rarer. In some cases, the ingenuity of the watchmakers came to the rescue. Rather than placing the automata in plain view on the dial or case-back, watchmakers created a separate hinged case-back that would hide the automata from all but the most detailed inspections. With the hinge closed, the watch would appear as an ordinary, unadorned timepiece.
Notwithstanding the clever means for avoiding detection and seizure, the creation of erotic timepieces was effectively suppressed. Most critically, this complication did not pass from pocket watches to wristwatches, as the industry transformed itself at the beginning of the 20th century.
Blancpain brought back this most celebrated – albeit clandestine– complication with the introduction of its Calibre 332 in 1993. This set a milestone for wristwatches: the world’s first minute repeater with automata. Both erotic and non-erotic figures are combined with Blancpain’s famed minute repeater movements.
Combining moving figures with the delicate repeater mechanism is a watchmaking tour de force. It is always difficult to integrate a repeater with automata because the moving figures require so much power from the movement. Compounding the test of watchmaking ingenuity is the fact that the movement of the figures must take place in a way that does not disturb the functioning of the delicate repeater mechanism. When all of this is done in the scale of a wristwatch, as opposed to a clock or large pocket watch, it is doubly difficult.
In Blancpain’s case, the figures were mated with the world’s smallest repeater mechanism, which made the challenge even greater for its craftsmen. As befits the world’s first automata repeater wristwatch, Blancpain decided to make each watch unique, with hand-created and carved figures adorning the back. Certifying the individuality of its own scene, never to be duplicated,each Calibre 332 watch is engraved with the inscription “pièce unique”, meaning “unique watch – one in a series of one”.
Beyond the individuality of each of the scenes, each represents an artistic achievement. The figures are all painstakingly hand-engraved. The background scenes are created following the techniques developed by Huguenot artisans 300 years ago, but nearly forgotten for the past 150 years. Multiple enamel layers are hand-painted and fired in a process called “grand feu” enamelling. What results is a miniature artistic masterpiece in its own right.