Among all watchmaking legends, Blancpain is the pioneer, the Gaia of Swiss watchmaking or even the whole industry. Yet, its origin is still unlearnt by most.
Started in 1735, Jehan-Jacques Blancpain registered himself as a watchmaker in the Villeret village. What started out as a humble business has turned into the largest watch manufacturer within the village, and soon enough, the brand found itself making complicated movements for various prestigious brands in Geneva and Switzerland.
For almost 200 years, the brand he created remained family-owned until 1932 when Frédéric-Emile Blancpain passed away, leaving the company to his loyal assistant, Betty Fietcher.
More Than Being ‘the oldest’
Perhaps the instant connection everyone made with the name Blancpain would be ‘Fifty Fathoms’. Not only is the name Fifty Fathoms easy to remember, it actually represents how deep the watch can go. ‘Fathom’ is a British measurement of depth and Fifty Fathoms is around 300m deep. Diving 300m deep into the water was a challenge for divers already, let alone a watch. Blancpain solved the problem by developing a double O-ring design for the crown to counter the pressure from deep water and strengthen the water resistance.
The watch was such a breakthrough and caught the attention of Robert “Bob” Maloubier, captain of the unit ‘Les Nageurs de Combat’, and the legendary diver, Jacques-Yves Cousteau.
Blancpain did so much more with Fifty Fathoms than we can ever imagine. On one hand, Fifty Fathoms is perhaps the deepest diving watch present on the market back when it first published. On the other hand, Blancpain set the standard for every subsequent diving watch, making Blancpain, once again, the leader of watch technology.
Reborn like a Phoenix
Riding the waves, Blancpain joins brands like Omega and Tissot to be a part of the Société Suisse pour l’Industrie Horlogère (SSIH) in 1961, producing movements for the SSIH group while continue making watches with the name Blancpain. However, everything good thing comes to an end, no matter how prosperous a brand was, one can not simply avoid the quartz crisis in the 1970s.
It was a devastating time for everyone, Blancpain included. Luckily, just 4 years later, it was purchased by Jacques Piguet and Jean-Claude Biver. In an attempt to revive the brand, they shifted focus to producing timepieces according to old watchmaking tradition, looking to bring the 18th-century ‘Villeret village’ Blancpain back to life. Through the ‘Villeret’ collection and the Bathyscaphe, we can see that it was a huge success.
Blancpain has done all the right things trying to bring itself back into the market, but they are not done yet. Marc A. Hayek decided to pull out a ‘secret weapon’ to really ensure that they came back stronger than everyone else, a recreation of a classic, the limited-edition Fifty Fathoms. The rest is history.
Next time when you walk past a boutique, instead of focusing on the Fifty Fathoms, try to think about its heritage and all the great things it has achieved because Blancpain, is more than you can imagine.
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