The L‘Evolution line of Blancpain was a rather short-lived excursion of the Manufacture into a more expressive and controversial design language. Today I invite you to explore the L‘Evolution Grande Date 8 Jours reference 8850-11B34-53B, let’s look at a large variety of notable details and the overall impression of this timepiece.
About the L‘Evolution line
The L in the name stands for Leman, so this line was an attempt to translate the established and revered Leman into the future, at least it started that way. Actually the L‘Evolution became the family of three different types of watch: the above mentioned modern evolutionary iteration of the Leman, a variety of motorsports inspired timepieces and some very unusual and creative Grandes Complications.
The translation of the Leman line into the (at the time) modern day was driven by some key aspects: the increased size, the use of new 8 day movements (based on caliber 1315) and a very brave design language, especially with respect to the dial layout. All these aspects will play a significant role in our exploration of the Grande Date 8 Jours.
The case design
The design elements that are maybe the easiest identifiable nods to the Leman as we know it are the bezel and the rounded style of the middle case. But there are multiple twists to it, and some unique and bold ideas.
The double ring bezel has been a key design element of all non-dive watches made by Blancpain since the 1980s. For the L’Evolution this bezel design has been transformed into two flat rings, with only the inner ring being complete since the outer ring is interrupted by the new style lugs.
Those lugs are actually not part of the middle case but removable from the case. The idea at the time was to have a specifically designed bracelet including the lugs as an option for the L’Evolution, but it was never realized.
These new lugs do not show any family resemblance with the Leman series, but they work very well with the overall bold design. Their height is visually reduced by large milled recesses which show a sandblasted finish.
On the left case flank we find the typical Blancpain signature, it is executed significantly smaller in relation to the case size than we know it from the Leman series, though.
The beautiful crown on the right case flank is surrounded by trapeze shaped protectors. The crown protection offers a very nice aesthetic counterweight to the sandblasted lug recesses.
Reference 8850 has a satin brushed finish with the very subtle polished highlight of the bezel rim. With the Leman series I always preferred the polished case finish over the satin brushed version. To me the perfect rounded shapes of the Leman were highlighted better when high polished. With the bolder case design of the L‘Evolution I feel contrary: here the satin brushed finish is my favorite.
To finish on the topic of case design we need to take a look at the screw down case back. Here we find an identical aesthetic and technical solution to the 40mm Leman models, and also a sapphire crystal to allow a view on the movement.
The 8 day movement
In 2006 Blancpain introduced the manual wind 8 day caliber 13R0, which also was the technical base for the well known caliber 1315 with automatic winding and 5 days of power reserve.
Caliber 1315 has been powering the larger Fifty Fathoms and Bathyscaphe models since 2007. Over those last 16 years it has been proven to be possible one of the most accurate, sturdy and comfortable movements in the world of watches.
For the L‘Evolution and the 42mm Villeret line caliber 1315 built the base for a variety of 8 day movements. Oscillating with 4Hz and featuring a titanium balance these calibers are a luxurious and reliable power unit. Even without Grande Complications, these movements are true Haute Horlogerie made by Blancpain.
In the case of the L’Evolution Grande Date 8 Jours we have caliber 6938 with 255 components, a titanium balance and 3 barrels for the 192 hours of power reserve, oscillating with 4Hz.
Looking through the sapphire case back we see a specific decoration for the L‘Evolution line, a little less technical than the cal 1315 decoration in the Fifty Fathoms, a little less traditional than in the 42mm Villeret timepieces.
The 18ct gold rotor and the bridges carry a combination of broad stripes and a sunburst decoration, the screw heads are mirror polished, the bevels are hand polished, too. The classic decoration style of the preceding Leman line can’t be found here, but at a different place.
The face of the watch
Yes, we see the typical Geneva stripes and perlage of the large date module on the dial side as a nod to the classic Leman style of movement finish. This classic decoration and the partly visible double date mechanism are visible due to an anthracite skeleton dial with sunburst finish.
Another nod to the preceding Leman/2100 line are the over sized Roman numerals. But here they are styled very differently and fully lumed.
The skeleton hands have a unique shape which still reminds us of the classic Leman sword hands, and of course the central seconds hand has to have a red lacquered tip… although there’s a twist to this, too.
This type of open worked dial has been received with quite some controversy, especially due to the over sized numerals. I think it is fair to say that this style reminds more of a „concept“ iteration than an „evolution“ of the Leman, since it simply lacks the timeless nature of what is so evident with the Leman series.
On the wrist
With 43.5mm in diameter and 15.5mm in height the L‘Evolution Grande Date 8 Jours is evidently a large watch. At the time it was designed the trend to larger watches was in full swing, and any caliber 1315 based watch needs some room to hold it.
With the matte black alligator strap and the well designed deployant clasp (the same as we know it from the large Fifty Fathoms or Bathyscaphe) the watch sits comfortably and safe on my small wrist, though.
It’s not a timepiece that goes undercover radar, quite the opposite actually. With its size and extrovert look it is an eye-catcher, playing with the light and looking not exactly subtle.
The L‘Evolution is not your typical Blancpain, that’s for sure. And it is a controversial timepiece, which is not a bad thing at all. It represents a specific time in the development of Blancpain, a time defined by strong innovation and creativity.
To me this particular timepiece is actually one of the more „modest“ L‘Evolution models, clearly linked to the preceding Leman and not driven by the affiliation to motorsports like many others. Despite its brave design language and the open worked dial it has a nice aesthetic balance, and there are a many beautiful and refined details to enjoy.
I like it for the creativity the went into it. In the end it needs to be understood in perspective of the time it was designed and the braveness it took to try something totally different to the established aesthetic code of the Manufacture.
The attention to detail, the beautiful execution and the outstanding movement actually make it a typical Blancpain, even if it doesn’t look like it at first sight.
Today there’s only one timepiece designed as an L‘Evolution on the Blancpain website, listed under specialties: you find the impressive Tourbillon Carrousel here. Some live impressions of that watch can be found here in the blog.
To compare reference the satin brushed 8850 to a polished L‘Evolution you can read my essay on the GMT Reveil version here. Two examples for motorsports inspired L‘Evolution timepieces can be found here in the blog.
I hope you enjoyed this essay and the photos.