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Vincent Calabrese joins the ranks at Blancpain
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Vincent Calabrese joins the ranks at Blancpain

Tuesday, 08 April 2008
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Christophe Roulet
Editor-in-chief, HH Journal

“The desire to learn is the key to understanding.”

“Thirty years in journalism are a powerful stimulant for curiosity”.

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5 min read
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Everyone knew Vincent Calabrese had been very much involved in designing the flying karrusel, presented by Blancpain at this year’s Baselworld. And yet when the Le Brassus firm lifted the veil on one of its finest creations, his name stayed under wraps. The much-awaited announcement proved to be even bigger news than expected: Vincent Calabrese has sold his company to Blancpain and joined the Manufacture as a creator. An interview with a very happy man.

How far back do your relations with Blancpain go ?

Vincent Calabrese : My first contacts with Blancpain date back to 1986 and the creation of their tourbillon, so we’ve really been together for many years. For a long time though, I wasn’t able to say the tourbillon was my work. When Marc A. Hayek took over the reins at Blancpain, we met and he promised we would do something together. All that remained was to decide what, and the kind of profitability they had in mind. We soon agreed to make a karrusel.

It would have been pointless designing a one-hour karrusel ; it had to be a one-minute karrusel. In other words, we had to reinvent this complication. Which is what I did, once I’d realised that the karrusel is a differential in itself. With help and resources from Piguet, we were able to develop a mechanism that’s now earning every superlative going : smallest, thinnest, longest power reserve, etc.

So making this one-minute flying karrusel paved the way for the collaboration you announced today ?

I hugely enjoyed working with this team. Blancpain trusted me ; they believed that even at 64, I still had something to offer, something to invent in watchmaking. As for me, I was tired of the commercial side of my profession and, after 31 years going it alone, had nothing left to prove. I took a long, hard look at the situation. This union with Blancpain would give me all the creative freedom I wanted and the industrial resources I dreamed of. I decided it was time to go out on a high note. Now I’ll be able to devote myself entirely to creation, and Blancpain can use my experience and image, and nurture the hope I can still innovate in watchmaking.

Not that I’ll have carte blanche. I’ll suggest ideas and we’ll make choices. Having said that, we have to remember that competition is sharp, and that there is now an abundance of watchmaker-creators with the result that we’re seeing anything and everything in the profession today. All these constraints make it increasingly difficult to concentrate on creation. It also means ideas never get off the drawing board, through lack of time, lack of money and ultimately lack of motivation. In this sense, the karrusel was a turning-point.

You’re losing your independence and you seem delighted. Surely something of a contradiction ?

You know, one more contradiction won’t hurt me ! Seriously though, I’ll no longer have to pay for my creations through production. I’ll no longer have to worry about selling my wares. By joining Blancpain, I’m seeing an old dream come true. The technological progress of recent years means we can now bring a breath of fresh air to watchmaking. And believe me, that’s not some off-the-cuff remark from someone, meaning myself, who’s always said there’s been nothing new in watchmaking for the past four hundred years.

When I look at the profession today, I see everyone trying to keep up with everyone else. I want to keep on wending my own way, still making my own choices in terms of innovation and materials. This collaboration with Blancpain guarantees me this independence and gives me means I could never have hoped for before. Now I have to prove I’m up to the job. I think the karrusel is a very good start. It shows I still have potential. For me, the fact I didn’t learn my trade from books is an advantage because in a way, it’s tradition that kills us. You have to learn to break free of whatever’s been done before.

In concrete terms, what form will this collaboration take ?

Throughout my career, I’ve alternated between making watches under my own name and commissions for others, as in 2007. I ended all relations with customers last year, which leaves the way open for today. Once Baselworld is over, we’re going to set about creating a team in Lausanne that will focus entirely on research, with no outside constraints. Depending on what our first project will be, hopefully I’ll be coming to Baselworld 2009 with a first prototype.

Will there be a "Blancpain by Calabrese" collection ?

I don’t know and to be perfectly honest I don’t care. I just want to show there’s life in the old dog yet. After a thirty-year career during which I think I have left my mark on Swiss watchmaking, nothing matters more than… the future.

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