Blancpain isn’t the most mainstream brand in and out of the watchmaking business but any fashion and timepiece enthusiast would know it holds all the boasting advantages that no new invention from any of the watchmakers at present can surpass. As the longest-running watch company in the world, it’s gone through all the firsts in the craft of watchmaking and even has a fair share of firsts of its own.
Blancpain Villeret Quantieme Complet GMT
The oldest watchmaking brand in the world
Blancpain’s products before the 19th century has been lost in history and the few of them that exist to this day are as rare as diamond. For this, it’s important to note that Blancpain began in 1735 and has had four centuries worth of watches to keep track of. That year, Jehan-Jacques Blancpain set up his own workshop in his house in Villeret, Switzerland. It would be the registered base of his brand, making it the oldest and continuous watchmaking brand in the world.
In 1815, Blancpain would apply modernization to the brand, at least by that era’s standards, when the watches would be released in series. That and the ultra-flat movements would be some of the changes that the great-grandson of Jehan-Jacques, Frederic-Louis Blancpain, would incorporate to the brand. The greatest he made though was the cylindrical escapement, which was also a major innovation to the watchmaking business as a whole.
Further industrialization was achieved in 1865 when the new water-powered manufactory was established. All this aided the brand to be one of the few to survive through to the 20th century. Just 26 years after the turn of the century, the brand collaborates with British watchmaker John Harwood on the world’s first wristwatch. In 1930, they redesign the automatic movement to fit small rectangular cases used for the first automatic watch for women, which is the Rolls case by Léon Hatot.
Until 1932, Blancpain’s lineage was able to maintain the business within the family but it was during that year when Andre Leal, marketing director, and Betty Fiechter, company director, bought Blancpain. They changed the name to Rayville-Blancpain while everything else that characterized the brand remained as is.
It was already an incredible feat for a woman at the time to achieve the likes of Betty Fiechter’s position and what she’s done but this was reinforced more upon Andre Leal’s disappearance during World War II that brought her in a difficult position as the lone head of the company.
Blancpain villeret grande date 8 jours
Blancpain Tribute To Fifty Fathoms MIL-SPEC – Baselworld 2017. Image: Monochrome Watches
Betty Fiechter would prove her expertise in the release of Fifty Fathoms, a great diving watch then and now. She developed it in 1953 with her nephew Jean-Jacques Fiechter. It has a patented double-sealed crown system for an extra-safe waterproof case. It was ordered and a requirement for the French Navy to use in deep, dark, and cold water and it would become a favorite of Jacques-Yves Cousteau’s, who is a Naval officer and pioneer of marine conservation.
In the 1970s, it would reach global market in several countries’ armed forces, including Germany, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, and the United States.
Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe – Oceantime
Through the ‘Quartz Crisis’ of the ‘70s
In 1956, a record-setting women’s watch would be renowned for the incredibly small size of the movements of the watch and the smallest balance wheel. It would be called the Ladybird.
In the ‘60s, it joined the Societe Suisse pour l’Industrie Horlogere (SSIH), which is what we now know as the Swatch Group, when they merged with another important Swiss Watch Group. At this time, the brand was producing at least 220,000 luxury watches. That was before the quartz crisis but the brunt of that would be felt in the ‘80s when the brand experienced a decline for the whole decade.
SSIH sold Blancpain to Jacques Piguet and Jean-Claude Biver, who changed the name to Blancpain SA and built a manufacture in Le Brassus. The two focused on the making of the grande complication wristwatches, which was an alternative to cheap quartz movements. It made Blancpain an archetypal brand for the return of luxury mechanical watch brands after the quartz crisis, compelling SSIH to acquire the company again.
The 1735 grande complication
Blancpain 1735 Grande Complication – $800,000
The biggest innovation by the brand before the new millennium was the Blancpain 1735 Grande Complication, which includes all complications from six watch masterpieces. That means it has the minute repetition, tourbillon, perpetual date, moon phase calendar, and flyback chronograph. Each watch takes a year for an expert watchmaker as it involves 740 parts, all assembled by hand.
In 2002, Mark Hayek became the chairman and CEO of Blancpain, one of the haute horlogerie brands known today. The brand revived the Karrusel, which was a once-famous complication, forgotten for a hundred years because the founder found it expensive to develop further. It was first used as an alternative to tourbillon in 2008.
In recent years, Blancpain acquired the Frédéric Piguet company, which has been detrimental to the brand’s expansion. Yet in more recent years, a reimagined version of the Fifty Fathoms have been developed since 2014.
Blancpain Boutique in Hong Kong.
Places to Shop for Blancpain Timepieces Online