Blancpain – The oldest watch brand in the world
As is so often the case, the origins of this world-class brand, which is so prestigious today, lie inconspicuously in the idyll of the Swiss Villeret municipality. Here, Jehan-Jacques Blancpain opened an eponymous watch workshop on the upper floor of his house in 1735. The manufactory quickly gained an excellent reputation, and – through continuous improvements – modernizations and a management passed on within the family, turned into one of the most important Swiss watch manufacturers in the middle of the 19th century.
However, industrialization in the second half of the 19th century and structural changes within the management led to some turbulent decades, including a temporary change of name to “Rayville”.
Blancpain and the French Navy
The year 1953, when the French Ministry of Defence instructed its officers Robert Maloubier and Claude Riffaud to form a combat swimmer unit, was a pioneering year for the manufactory. In order to equip them according to their vocation, the protracted search for suitable diving watches began. In the end, Blancpain was approached because no other watch appeared waterproof and robust enough to meet the strict requirements of the French Navy. With this award, Blancpain started a completely new chapter.
To this day, the manufactory boasts that in its more than 280-year history it has only produced mechanical and never quartz watches – an assertion that only very few houses can claim and one that Blancpain almost cost its existence.
During the quartz crisis, when new battery-powered watches flooded the market in the 1970s and 80s and largely replaced less precise mechanical watches, production at Blancpain was discontinued in 1970. It became quiet around the brand and the future was uncertain.
Jean-Claude Biver and a turn for the better
In 1981 however, the long-awaited historic rebirth of the brand finally followed, when Jean-Claude Biver and Jacques Piguet acquired the brand name and only two years later began producing mechanical luxury watches again (under the old name).
Today, Blancpain has regained its former strength. The current management understands how to skilfully underline the essential values and thus the identity of the brand and is concentrating again on its actual core competence: the manufacture of high-quality luxury watches. As the founding father Jehan-Jacques Blancpain once said: “We are writing tomorrow’s history today.”
Especially noteworthy are also Blancpain’s efforts in the area of underwater world protection. Under the name “Blancpain Ocean Commitment”, the brand is strongly committed to exploring and preserving the oceans.
Fifty Fathoms is undoubtedly the collection that gives the brand its current distinctive recognition value. Today’s designs are still strongly stylistically oriented on the first diver’s watch launched in 1953, which was conceptualized for the French navy. Functionality and reliability are the main characteristics.
Watches in the Villeret collection are true classics for the wrist. True to the motto “less is more”, the focus here is deliberately on the essentials so that these watches are particularly valued for their classic and timeless elegance.
Blancpain already launched the Rolls, the first automatic wristwatch for women, as early as 1930 and has thus always occupied a pioneering role in the history of modern ladies’ watches. The watches in this collection are by no means merely miniature men’s watches but the most sophisticated masterpieces, often hand-decorated and meticulously designed for women’s wrists in the service of beauty.
Blancpain in numbers
192: 192 hours of power reserve
The “Quantième Perpétuel 8 Jours” offers a superb power reserve of 192 hours (or eight days).
50: 50 Fathoms
The unit “fathoms” is nothing else than the English expression of the unit of measurement of the nautical thread. Specifically, 50 fathoms correspond to a (diving) depth of 91.45 metres.
1735: Founded in 1735
Founded in 1735, Blancpain looks back on a history of more than 280 years and thus far more than any other watch manufacturer. This makes it the oldest watch brand in the world.
100: 3 times 100
Watches of the 2100 series have a power reserve of 100 hours. In addition to that, they are water-resistant up to 100m and tested for a period of over 100 days before they reach the customer.
4,000,000: 4 million km2
As part of the “Blancpain Ocean Commitment”, the brand has already helped to protect over four million square kilometres of marine area – and counting.
Blancpain – A Chronology
1735: The watch manufactory is founded in Villeret, Switzerland, by Jehan-Jacques Blancpain.
1815: The founder’s great-grandson, Frédéric-Louis Blancpain, set the course for a successful, more modern future with a great deal of strategic vision.
1930: The first rectangular model, the Blancpain Rolls, is officially launched. It is also the first ladies’ automatic watch.
1932: Frédéric-Emile Blancpain dies and the company passes to his two closest employees, as his daughter Berthe-Nellie has no interest in the watchmaking heritage. The name is changed to “Rayville”.
1953: The now legendary Fifty Fathoms is born. Originally designed for underwater military use, it was equipped with a unidirectionally adjustable bezel to show the wearer the remaining dive time.
1961: Rayville-Blancpain is incorporated into Société Suisse pour l’Industrie Horlogère (SSIH), the forerunner of today’s Swatch Group, in order to continue to meet the general increase in demand for high-quality watches.
1970: The production stops and it gets quiet around the brand.
1983: The production is resumed in Le Brassus, Switzerland, under its old name Blancpain.
1992: The shares in the company are transferred to the Swatch Group again for 60 million Swiss francs.
2008: Blancpain presents the “Carousel”, an almost forgotten complication and an alternative to the tourbillon.
2014: The label “Blancpain Ocean Commitment” serves the exploration and conservation of the oceans.
2017: The “Tribute to Fifty Fathoms MIL-SPEC” is released.
2021: Blancpain unveils the watch model ‘Tribute to Fifty Fathoms No Rad’ as a unique piece for Only Watch.
Why buy a Blancpain?
It is no wonder that a watch manufactory, which has evidently existed for over 280 years, has enormous expertise and a considerable store of knowledge. In particular, watches such as the “Blancpain 1735” are masterpieces of modern watchmaking and impressively demonstrate the brand’s skills: It houses a Tourbillon, a Perpetual Calendar, a split-second chronograph and a minute repeater. Even for an experienced Blancpain watchmaker, it takes a good year to assemble the calibre.
Nevertheless, Blancpain’s entry-level watches are also characterized by their first-class quality, innovative movements and timeless designs. In particular, the Fifty Fathoms diving watches, probably the best-known models from Blancpain’s own ranks, benefit from their enormous historical relevance.
Fans of the brand
Such a history and sophistication naturally inspires watch lovers and celebrities alike. It’s hence no wonder that Blancpain watches can often be spotted on prominent wrists. Among the most famous fans of the brand are Vladimir Putin, Brad Pitt, David Garrett, Francis Ford Coppola and Oliver Kahn, to name just a few.