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Editorial - When The Moon And The Sun Unite

Editorial When The Moon And The Sun Unite

Understanding the Chinese calendar is not as simple as it sounds…

The Blancpain name is a very old one — Jehan-Jacques Blancpain was first listed on the village records of Villeret as a watchmaker in 1735. In the intervening centuries, the brand has since become known for its compelling combination of traditional watchmaking codes and crafts. It’s thus appropriate that Blancpain is the only Swiss high watchmaking brand at present that has taken on the daunting challenge of interpreting the Chinese calendar (which predates the Gregorian system by at least one and a half millennia) in a wristwatch. With the Chinese New Year taking place tomorrow, on 1 February 2022, it’s time we took a closer look at this fascinating calendar system.

The Blancpain Villeret Traditional Chinese Calendar is much more than a watch with calendar functions indicated in Chinese script. It is the mechanical representation of a vastly complex system that reconciles the use of a lunar month to the solar year, thereby incorporating two of the most readily observable natural indications of time (the lunar phase and solar cycle). After all, the Gregorian month, for all its practicality, has no discernible analogue in the natural procession of celestial or meteorological phenomena.

Villeret Calendrier Chinois Traditionnel

Villeret Traditional Chinese Calendar © Blancpain

Unifying the lunar month with the solar year in a coherent, structured calendar is no easy task, since dividing the solar year by the lunar month does not yield a whole number. The lunar cycle is approximately 29.5 days long, which is translated into months of either 29 or 30 days each. Each lunar twelvemonth therefore falls roughly 11 days short of a complete solar year of 365 days. 

To counter this cumulative lag, a leap (or intercalary) month is inserted every two or three years. This ensures that the Chinese calendar year is still roughly equivalent to the solar year, even as it sedulously maintains the lunar cycle as a monthly unit. In contrast, the Hijri calendar (the traditional Arabic calendar used in much of the Muslim world) is a lunar calendar that makes no attempt to keep in sync with the solar year, thus the Hijri date has no fixed place in relation to the seasons. 

The position of the leap month in the Chinese calendar can seem arbitrary, since there is no specific month that is designated as intercalary. Rather, the progression of 29- or 30-day months is allowed to run on until a lunar month comes along which falls wholly behind its solar equivalent (calculated as the time taken by the sun to travel a twelfth part of its ecliptic). A leap month is then added immediately following this laggard month — as a sort of catch-up mechanism — before the rest of the regular-numbered months can proceed.

Villeret Calendrier Chinois Traditionnel

Villeret Traditional Chinese Calendar © Blancpain

As someone who grew up in a multiracial and multicultural society, my day-to-day life passed according to the Gregorian calendar, but there was always a Chinese calendar hanging in the kitchen, alerting us to special cultural events. It was the only way we could keep track of the various Chinese festival days, because I can tell you that no Chinese person I have ever come across understands how the Chinese calendar works. 

I’m still amazed that a bunch of Swiss watchmakers managed to mechanically codify this mind-bending system of astronomical mathematics, a system that mystifies even those who live according to its cadences. Expressing the Chinese calendar in a watch is not simply a matter of adding a wheel or two and relabelling the dial indications — it is a whole new complication. In honour of the upcoming year of the Tiger in the Chinese zodiac, the Blancpain Villeret Traditional Chinese Calendar has been released with an engraving of this majestic beast on the rotor, visible through the transparent caseback. 


Even if you don’t celebrate the Chinese New Year, I’d like to wish you a roaring year ahead, filled with all the energy and strength we associate with the King of the Jungle.


Lecture 1 Comment(s)

2 February 2022
Ber Ivaldi
Merci pour ce tr es bel article! Ce serait bien de pouvoir partager vos articles sur FB!

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