Just in time for the upcoming St. Valentine’s Day (it’s actually less than a month now,) the Swiss brand has presented their new Blancpain Ladybird Ultraplate Saint-Valentin 2016 (Ref. 0063F-1954-63A) timekeeper. Featuring an in-house automatic movement with an exterior design done by something that looks like a team of real professionals, this limited edition watch may be a little expensive for most of us, but it still seems to be worth every penny.
Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative, as Oscar Wilde once observed. This is especially true when it comes to big brands that rarely dare to fix something that isn’t broken and prefer to use the same time-proven formula again and again as long as it generates good sales.
Blancpain doesn’t seem to be an exception here. If you compare their Saint-Valentin special edition timekeepers issued during the last five or six years, you will immediately notice that they basically take a standard timepiece, adorn it with diamonds and precious metals, and add a couple (or more) stylized hearts for good measure. Sounds rather obvious, but apparently gets the job done.
Also, being one of the majors when it comes to the Swiss watchmaking industry, the brand has enough resources to make their watches actually look great even despite the generally unimaginative approach to design.
When it comes to this new reference 0063F-1954-63A, all elements of its exterior look very organic and proportional to each other (even their signature “heart pierced by an arrow” charm feels quite in its own place here providing the watch with an even more playful -but not frivolous- appearance) showing quite clearly that Blancpain indeed invested a significant amount of time and skilled labor into making this limited edition model actually look special. In fact, if I didn’t know that this trinket was based on the original Ladybird series that was presented almost a year ago during the Baselworld 2015 trade show, I would probably have an impression that this beauty was designed from scratch just to please less than a hundred (99 of them, just to be precise) of extremely lucky ladies that will get one of these as a very expensive Valentine’s Day gift.
The only thing that disappointed me just a tiny bit was the way the tiny self-winding mechanism that powers it was decorated, but, well, more on that below.
Case & Strap
As I have already noted in the section above, the Ladybird Saint-Valentin 2016 Automatic (Ref. 0063F-1954-63A) is based on the last year Ladybird collection. Its diminutive case is still crafted from highly polished 18-carat white gold and measures the same 21.50 millimeters in diameter (although it is 0.6 millimeters thicker, probably due to the set of differently cut diamonds that decorate its fixed bezel.)
Speaking of diamonds, it is a pleasure to see that their shape and size seems to be very well-chosen to the elements of the dial. Thanks to the way they were cut and set with hair-thin edges left on inner and outer sides, the bezel looks light and elegant: something that you don’t see very often when it comes to ultra-compact timekeepers.
Well, perhaps, some may find the winding/setting crown with its traditional “B” letter engraved on its top a bit too short to be operated comfortably, however, the deep notches on its edges partially compensate for the lack of, um, graspable surface.
As for the strap, it is nice to note that the Swiss watchmaker was generous enough to equip the piece with a very fine-looking white strap crafted from delicate, but relatively durable calfskin leather that is secured on your wrist with polished white gold pin buckle. Also, as far as I understand, the “heart-and-arrow” charm that hangs on the lower screw lug (I mean, “lower” if you wear the watch on your left hand) can be easily removed and put on the other one making it more comfortable for lefties or simply those who prefer to wear their watches on right hands.
Compared to that of the gorgeous Blancpain Chronographe Flyback Saint-Valentin 2012 (Ref. 3685F-9454-55B,) this gadget’s dial may look a bit too simple, but I actually find it very entertaining for a classic two-hander.
Being based on “mass-produced” (as far as a trinket that retails for more than $20,000 USD can be called “mass-produced”) model, the watch features a rather standard dial layout with four larger diamonds serving as hour markers for 3, 6, 9 and 12 o’clock positions and dozens of smaller ones set pell-mell with five or six rubies filling the upper third of the stylized “heart”. The polished open-worked white gold hands are also standard.
The description above may sound a bit condescending, but, truth be told, I actually admire the gracefulness with which Blancpain’s designers managed to turn the original timekeeper into a sort of “St. Valentine special” without slipping into banality.
When you craft a piece of jewelry using white gold, you just can’t go wrong with a nice piece of white mother-of-pearl. The organic material not only plays well with the metal giving the timepiece a wormer, more attractive look, but also serves as a nice background for the shining precious stones making them more natural, not so in-your-face as it sometimes happens with darker dials.
Of course, the lack of a proper minute track or chapter ring makes the dial less legible, a bit harder to measure more or less precise time intervals (the lack of a seconds hand and even a single drop of Superluminova on hour and minute hands doesn’t help much either). However, I understand that this is more of an accessory than a time measuring device, so I think I am not going to subtract a whole point from the usual Legibility score that you can see at the end of this brief review. I think, 4.5 out of 5 will be a fair enough score in this particular instance.
Otherwise, when it comes to pure esthetics, I must say that the dial is almost perfect. Again, not terribly original, but is almost perfect in the same way that an expensive British limousine is perfect with its nicely balanced set of curves that form the same basic shape that is here for the last half a century, well-balanced like a bottle of good wine.
By the way, did you know that at the time the original model was launched 60 years ago it was the world’s smallest circular-shaped timekeeper that was also powered by one of the smallest mechanical movements? Well, with so many competitors around here it probably wasn’t feasible to continue their fight for the “world’s smallest” title during these six decades, but at least they did their best to keep the watch small by using Caliber 6150, their smallest in-house mechanism with automatic winding, to animate this model.
Measuring just 15.70 millimeters in diameter and less than four millimeters thick, it still comprises impressive 180 parts and is even equipped with a silicon balance spring that makes the watch less susceptible to strong magnetic fields that usually negatively affect accuracy of a normal mechanical movement.
Perhaps the only thing that disappointed me here a bit is the way the tiny engine is decorated. Probably to be offered with a price tag of well above$20,000 when it hits stores, the watch certainly deserves a mechanism that features something more advanced than the usual Geneva stripes on its bridges and sunray pattern on its 950pt platinum oscillating weight.
Pricing & Availability
According to Blancpain’s press service, the watch will be available starting 14th of February, this very year, but I guess you can always preorder one in a boutique near you. As for the price, the MSRP is healthy 22,000 CHF in Europe which roughly translates to the same $22,000 USD or just over €20,000. The price looks impressive, but not too steep for a model done in white gold and powered by an in-house mechanism. And even you can’t afford one in this time of economic turbulence (I just wonder when this turbulence finally stops, possibly never,) hey, you can always make a DIY gift using just a bare minimum of tools and your own imagination. After all, it is the attention and intent behind it that really matter, not the price tag that your St. Valentine’s gift is bearing.
WWR preliminary verdict
Build quality: 5/5
Value for money: 4.5/5
Blancpain Ladybird Ultraplate Saint-Valentin 2016 Automatic (Ref. 0063F-1954-63A) watch specification
Price: CHF 22,000 (MSRP)
Movement: Automatic, Caliber 6150, ultra-thin, 15.70 mm x 3.90 mm, in-house, silicon balance-spring, 180 parts, Swiss Made
Number of jewels: 29
Movement frequency: 28,800 vph
Power reserve: 40 hours
Movement decoration: Geneva stripes, polished screw heads, sunray pattern on 950pt platinum oscillating weight
Functions: Hours, minutes
Case material: 18-carat white gold
Bezel material: Matches case, set with diamonds (0.534 carats)
Crown material: Matches case
Case shape: Round
Bezel shape: Round
Case size: 21.50 mm
Case height: 8.23 mm
Lug width: 11.00 mm
Dial: White mother-of-pearls, set with rubies and diamonds (0.058 carats)
Hour markers: Four diamonds
Hands: White gold, polished, open-worked
Water resistance: 30 meters
Strap: White calfskin leather strap on gold pin buckle and a “heart pierced by an arrow” charm in 0.206 carats ruby and a diamond
Case back: Sapphire