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The Millennium Watch Book
Montblanc  - Villeret 1858 Tourbillon Bi-Cylindrique

Montblanc Villeret 1858 Tourbillon Bi-Cylindrique

A Minerva Marvel*

A dual-cylinder tourbillon? There had never been any such thing. A tourbillon with unbelievable levels of finishing? Nowhere to be found. A really bizarre case? Not many of those, either. To break into top-level watchmaking, Montblanc really didn’t do things by halves.

Having been actively engaged in watchmaking for years, Montblanc decided to move rapidly and strongly up-market with its buyout of the Minerva Manufacture in 2007. Four years later, it started to produce watches in a new segment: fine watchmaking in the most traditional sense of the term. Over and above the other Grand Complications timepieces that were to follow, the Villeret 1858 Tourbillon Bi-Cylindrique revealed to the world at large the true extent of what the brand had acquired: a historic, highly autonomous, and creative Manufacture capable of making a tourbillon with absolutely peerless finishing.

Divided Opinions

This watch with its imposing 47mm diameter is one that people either love or hate. For a start, its overall style was divisive, as it virtually goes without saying that the protuberance at 6 o’clock giving the case its characteristic teardrop shape was not to everyone’s taste. Daring to be different and stand out from the crowd can be a perilous undertaking when the watch in question costs over €200,000. The fact that this was a 16-piece limited edition (plus a few made to order in platinum) didn’t exactly broaden its appeal, either. On the other hand, the watch in its entirety – and nowhere more than in the tourbillon – achieved levels of sophistication and finishing that were nothing short of mind-blowing, even bearing in mind the fact that by 2011, the most meticulous brands had embarked on tourbillons vying with each other in precisely this respect. Whatever else one might think, the timepiece certainly deserves its place in the pantheon of fine workmanship.

A Twofold Impact

Historically, the Minerva workshop has been home to a simply incredible range of talents, up to and including the manufacture of hairsprings. To demonstrate the full extent of its prowess, it decided to push existing limits in all respects. Rather than the customary single hairspring, the MB M65.63 calibre has two, on a single balance: assembled in opposite directions, one pushes as the other pulls. This rare and subtle artistry requires extremely sophisticated pairing that delivers considerable benefits in terms of concentricity. Simply put, it means that the centre of gravity of the hairspring and balance assembly remains virtually constant, thus reducing friction and increasing accuracy still further.

Villeret 1858 Tourbillon Bi-Cylindrique

Villeret 1858 Tourbillon Bi-Cylindrique © Montblanc

Tubular Springs

And that’s not all. Rather than being flat or of the Breguet ‘terminal curve’ type, the two hairsprings are cylindrical. Rolled up like tubes, they sit upright, with a terminal curve at each end. Rather than uncoiling and coiling, they beat vertically. They are also concentric. The first, small-diameter hairspring beats inside its second, larger counterpart. This is watchmaking of the very highest standard, demonstrating extraordinary craftsmanship, in which the timing process in particular must have been an extremely lengthy undertaking.

Pipes and a Pin

TThe entire structure is housed in a tourbillon cage like none other ever seen. It rests on two concave pillars that are flawlessly polished, including on the curved surfaces. The tourbillon bridge resembles a long safety pin, twisted at the mid-points either side of the balance-staff. The brand describes this shape as an elongated figure of eight – so much so that it no longer resembles an 8. These long, openworked, criss-crossed filaments have been rounded with a file and mirror-polished, with a matt finish on the sides. In summary, this alone represents three weeks’ worth of work, unprecedented at that time – and most probably at any time in history. The cage features three arms that have been dealt with in similar fashion. It is very large, built to house a huge balance measuring 14.5mm in diameter, a size called for by the calibre’s very low frequency of 18,000 vibrations per hour.

Mystery and beauty

The Villeret 1858 Tourbillon Bi-Cylindrique also features an open dial, revealing a splendid spring at 9 o’clock. The plate and bridges are made from nickel silver, an alloy similar to brass and better-suited to enhancing finishes – but much more difficult to work with. Hours and minutes are displayed on two sapphire crystal discs placed one atop the other, driven from the rim by a previously unknown mechanism: mysterious hours. To give them plenty of space, Montblanc came up with its bulging case, extending down to the notorious protuberance at 6 o’clock. Here, in yet another impressive finishing-related accomplishment, the concave, polished bezel becomes convex. The timepiece as a whole reveals the extent of Minerva’s expertise and the quality of its finishes. If only they could have done without that teardrop…

*This year GMT Magazine and WorldTempus have embarked on the ambitious project of summarising the last 20 years of the Tourbillon in  The Millennium Watch Book - Tourbillons, a big, beautifully laid out coffee table book. This article is an extract. The Millennium Watch Book - Tourbillons is available on www.the-watch-book.com, in French and English.

 

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