Reputed as the oldest watch brand amongst the existing ones, I bet that you have already known about Blancpain. Even though it is not as overwhelmingly discussed like other watch legends such as Rolex and Patek Philippe, the Blancpain name has enjoyed high respectation in the industry.
Actually what most of us know about this brand should be its deep roots with the military and its flagship military watch – the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms collection. Going through around 70 years of history and modifications, this iconic Blancpain diver watch has constantly brought significant success to the brand. With the revival models released in the 2010s, Blancpain has enjoyed another momentum of its time. Let’s learn more about how the brand connects with the military and its legendary military watch models.
Traced back to 1735, the Blancpain company was first established as a watchmaking workshop by Jehan-Jacques Blancpain at his home in Villeret. Ever since the beginning of Blancpain, the name had stood still for the production of prestigious timepieces. By the 1800s, Blancpain had already become the most prominent watchmaking brand in Villeret, Switzerland. The company further industrialized its manufacturations and sustained its place in the market from the American competitors.
In 1926, Blancpain joined a partnership with John Harwood, and began to produce its first automatic wristwatch. Since then the company has prided itself in using only mechanical movements, with no any digital components inside its watches.
In 1932, after the owner of the Blancpain company, Frédéric-Emile Blancpain, passed away, the family’s full management on the company came to an end while its only descender Berthe-Nellie had no interest in taking the rule of this watchmaking company. Then the two associates of Frédéric-Emile Blancpain, Betty Fiechter and André Léal, purchased the company and renamed it from Blancpain. The Villeret Manufacture to Rayville S.A., succ. de Blancpain. Its new name “Rayville” referrs a phonetic anagram of Villeret, the origin of the brand. Although the name and the management of the brand had changed, the brand’s value and quality remained and even further solidated.
In 1950 Jean-Jacques Fiechter joined hands with his aunt Betty Fiechter into the management core of the company and inserted new energy and strategies to the company. In 1953, the brand had started its long relationship with the military navy units.
Deep roots in military watches
Blancpain has an exciting history in diver watches and their military-issued timepieces are among the most coveted ones. Its most notable Fifty Fathoms was first developed for military use. It was initially custom made to cater the specifications of France’s elite vmilitary unit, which was called Frogmen, akin to American Navy combat specialized SEAL units.
Back in 1952, the French navy’s “frogmen”, which we call combat swimmers today, needed a reliable diver watch that could meet the demands and stresses for their operations and yet no one took up the challenge. Finally, the founders of the unit approached Blancpain’s CEO at the time, Jean-Jacques Fiechter, for the answer. Jean-Jacques Fiechter happened to be also a diver himself and he understood pretty well what the navy would need for a professional tool watch. He accepted such a challenge and set forth creating this new watch, which has later become the most successful piece of the brand.
Later the brand also especially created timepieces for other military units. In 1957, the hyper-specialized watches, the MIL-SPEC I and MIL-SPEC II models were first produced to address the very specific requests of the United States Navy. The most distinctive feature of this military watch is its hemispheric moisture indicator placed on the bottom half of the dial.
To this date, Blancpain is housing a wide range of collections in different styles, including the classic dress watch lineups Ladybird and Villeret tourbillon Watch, as well as its professional tool series, Air Command chronograph watch and the iconic Fifty Fathoms.
As mentioned, the Fifty Fathoms diver’s watch was first released in 1953, which is the same year as the release of the Rolex Submariner. The initial model was specially made for the military use of the elite French Navy combat unit “Les Nageurs de Combat”, or “Frogmen”. Later the Fifty Fathom watch has further spread its name after the famous actor Jacques Cousteau wore it in the legendary film, “The Silent World”.
The first Fifty Fathoms was built in 42mm diameter. Its case was made with robust stainless steel and was equipped with double O-ring gaskets to securely seal the crown. This first model offered a water-resistance of 50 fathoms, which was indicated in its name. Fathoms are a British unit for the measurement of depth, which is equivalent to 6 feet or 1.83 meters. The Fifty Fathoms actually rated to 300ft, or to be exact, 91.5m. Indeed with years of technical improvements, the updated variations are now offering at least 300 m or 1000 ft of water resistance, with more refined design and additional features.
As a legible diver watch, the dial of the Fifty Fathoms Blancpain watch is well designed to ensure excellent underwater readability. Although the radium used for the indexes of the original model was proved to be dangerous that released radioactive toxins, the company had quickly replaced it with non-radioactive luminescent coat for the later models. The tribute models to Fifty Fathoms released in 2010, have clearly referenced its non-radioactive credentials on the dial.
Grounding with the enormous success of this signature model, Fifty Fathoms has been extended to a versatile collection that appeals to a much broader audience in the market who are fond of sporty robust styles. It is not just a house of diver watches, but an impressive range that includes flyback chronograph versions and even tourbillon versions.
Being a historical and esteemed name in the world of haute horlogerie, each Blancpain watch is proudly made to be part of our children’s inheritance. Blancpain continues to explore new ways in watchmaking technologies and keep a beautiful balance of traditions and modern designs. Let’s keep an eye and be excited for every new breakthrough of this watch legend.