Blancpain, for the most part, is the epitome of a brand that has become very well known for a very specific facet of their business. When you think Blancpain, the mind immediately wanders to dive watches, the Fifty Fathoms and so forth, however there’s much more to the Swatch Group-Owned house than that.
A Brief History of Blancpain in 8 Facts
A longstanding history, interesting changes in leadership, and other moves within the company that often went against the grain of convention give Blancpain one of those interesting backstories that makes owning one of their creations that more rewarding for those “in the know”. After some rummaging through the brand’s archives, here are a handful of interesting factoids about one of the fathers of the modern-day dive watch.
More Than Just Diving
While the bulk of Blancpain’s notoriety stems from the diving world, this is not the only lifestyle category in which the brand is a major player. The brand has actually had significant involvement in Motorsport since 2010. Though not as heavily publicized as Formula One or the Rolex 24h at Daytona, Blancpain has been the core sponsor of a number of FIA GT competitions through the years, starting with the Blancpain Endurance Series in 2010, followed by a GT Sprint series not long thereafter.
As of 2013 the two series fold under a single banner as the Blancpain GT Series, which includes 10 races throughout Europe at legendary race tracks including Monza, Silverstone, Brands Hatch, Spa-Francorchamps, and the famed Nurburgring.
Technically The Oldest
This one came as a bit of a surprise, but according to records, Blancpain holds title as officially being the oldest registered watchmaking brand. In 1735, Jehan-Jacques Blancpain recorded his watchmaking business in the official property register of the municipality of Villeret, making himself the earliest in on record to have done so. By 1815 his grandson was industrializing the watchmaking process of the brand’s facility, and later that century the company continued to invest in infrastructure in order to survive as the American industrialization of watchmaking put the Swiss watch industry under significant stress.
The Roots of Ocean Commitment
Blancpain’s Ocean Commitment watches have only been around a short while, but the brand’s longstanding commitment to preserving marine ecology has significantly deeper roots. Having created a range of noteworthy tool-focused dive watches throughout the decades, Blancpain often had hands in research expeditions throughout the globe.
In more recent years the brand has been investing more and more resources to supporting conservation efforts, becoming the sponsor of the World Oceans Summit as of 2012, as well as providing funding to scientific expeditions and producing the annual Edition Fifty Fathoms underwater photography book since 2008 as further means of amplifying undersea awareness.
The Biver Rebirth
You all know of Jean Claude Biver’s exploits with the rampant success of Hublot and general growth of the LVMH watch division, but long before then he became one of the three new owners of Blancpain in 1983. The acquisition made by Biver and Jacques Piguet came when the company was in dire straits, and the quartz crisis had already led so many other legacy brands to fold. It’s hard to imagine that just 12 years prior in 1971, the brand hand seen annual production figures climb to over 200,000 pieces per year,
Countering the Quartz
Under the guidance of Biver and Piguet, an unorthodox approach was set forth. Rather than folding to the reality of quartz calibers taking over, the duo pushed back in the opposite direction. Having then been in the business of producing fairly complex calibers for some time, it was decided that Blancpain was to retain a focus on exclusivity.
Grande Complications were the name of the game, culminating in the launch of the 1735. Boasting a combination of a minute repeater, a tourbillon, a perpetual calendar, a moon phase indication, and flyback chronograph, the 1735 was a tribute to the traditions of watchmaking that many in the era thought were going to be lost forever.
100 Meters, No Screw-Down Crown
As Blancpain was developing the original Fifty Fathoms, they ran up against one key challenge. With Rolex having patented the screw-down crown, they were forced to integrate a new dual-gasket crown system in order to preserve water tightness at depth. While they were able to achieve the rating, their R&D team decided it would be best to have some semblance of a warning system, should their watches face an unplanned ingress of water.
The end result came in the form of a large moisture indicator at the six o’clock position—a feature that soon became a standard requirement with the U.S. Navy the brand was then supplying. This unique trait was carried forward to the latest Tribute To Fifty Fathoms that launched in 2017, and remains unreplicated throughout the dive watch category.
Rare Crafts and Erotica
Much like Vacheron Constantin and Patek Philippe, Blancpain has an entire division dedicated to rare crafts (or Metiers D’Arts) that regularly works with engraving, enameling, and other unique and antiquated forms. Most notably though, not long after the Biver/Piguet acquisition it was decided that the brand would foray into the world of erotic watches with a series of unique automata minute repeaters.
Taking a rather discreet approach, the dial side of these watches are quite traditional, often featuring enamel dials and roman numeral indices. On the “business end”, an elaborate automata depicting the sensual act of a client’s choosing (created upon order) appears in gold.
The Tourbillon Versus Carrousel Debate
Though the tourbillon has become beyond widespread, its sibling the carrousel (a similar mechanical complication created in order to counteract the impacts of gravity) has long remained a little more under the radar. Somewhere around 2010, during the beginnings of the real “tourbillon boom”, Blancpain decided to focus its efforts on the carrousel as a means if distinguishing their high watchmaking division from the pack.
The idea never really took off, but it did lead to the birth of the Blancpain Tourbillon Carrousel—a watch that uses both complications, and aside from just being a fascinating timepiece, gives its wearer a closer look at the differences between the two designs.