With a history dating back to 1735, Blancpain is the oldest watchmaking brand in the world. Founder Jehan-Jacques Blancpain began his first workshop on the upper floor of his home in Villeret, which is known today as Bernese Jura, the name for the area of the Swiss canton in Bern which is part of Switzerland’s French-speaking region.
Blancpain’s great grandson, Frédéric-Louis Blancpain, introduced modern production methods to his great grandfather’s traditional workshop in 1815. He also introduced the cylinder escapement, which was a major innovation beyond the typical crown-wheel which was the mechanism of choice at that time. The company focused on high end watches, and though the death of the last family member managing the business occurred in 1932, the brand was preserved by its new associates.
It had been a family operation for over two hundred years. The company saw many evolutions until it became part of a merger with the Swatch Group. The Blancpain name remains as does its highly regarded reputation for building some of the most elegant and finely crafted time pieces in the world.
Blancpain watches have never had digital displays, or produced quartz watches. The company produces less than thirty watches per day and each one is created by a sole watchmaker. The company is famous for its complicated mechanical watches, the first deep diving watch, the first smallest watch movement and the first most-thin movement. The company also creates some of the most luxurious one of a kind time pieces, which use extravagant materials and highly artistic designs.
Here are 10 of the finest Blancpain watches of all-time.
1. Blancpain Piece unique, Villeret Metiers d’Art “The Great Wave”
This is the only watch of its kind in existence. It is not mechanically complicated as it is a manual winding caliber 13R3A, with an 8-day power reserve. What is different about the movement, however, is that the power reserve indicator has been moved away from the dial to the bridge side. It is a modified standard 13R0 movement, but this relocation of the indicator allows it to be seen from the caseback, leaving the beautiful dial displayed without any distractions.
The wrist strap has been handcrafted in calfskin, executed by the artisan hands of a Swiss master. It is a beautiful black construction, with perfect, simple stitching lining either side of the band.
The dial is the crowning artistic accomplishment, as it is a recreation of the Great Wave off Kanagawa, the renknowned woodblock by the Japanese artist Hokusai. The dial features Mexican silver obsidian, and this is a first for Blancpain. The Great Wave is made from white gold on a Shakudo base. The patina results from a process which immersed the base in a rokusho salt bath, which oxidized the gold. What this provided was multiple levels of distinctive wave like effects. Once the wave was executed, the Shakudo base was removed and the engraved white gold was securely positioned on the Mexican silver obsidian dial face. It is a supremely elegant watch.
2. Calendrier Chinois Traditionnel
This watch is the first ever which features the Chinese traditional calendar. It was created in 2012, and includes both the minutes and hours of the Gregorian calendar, but also the integral features of the Chinese as well. Included are the zodiac signs, the five elements, double hour indication, the date, indication of intercalary months, the current month, the phases of the moon, and celestial stems. The watch represents significant watchmaking history because the traditional Chinese calendar was never attempted previously, making this an historical horological complication achieved. This model is a Calibre 3638, is self-winding and will limited to 20 pieces yearly. The case is platinum and crown set with a Madagascar ruby. The back is sapphire and the dial is fully-fired enamel.
3. Fifty Fathoms
The Fifty Fathoms was developed in 1953. Famed oceanographer Jacques Cousteau wore it in 1957 when he filmed the movie The Silent World, which certainly gave it a place in the public eye. The watch was one of the first which introduced a new modern watch for divers, and particularly for swimmer in combat. The missions accomplished by these special forces members worldwide included deep diving, and silent swimming as part of their work. In the past, they were called Sea Fighters or Frogmen.
Blancpain’s part in created the Fifty Fathoms was due to the French Ministry of Defence French frogmen unit and its need for a reliable timepiece which would not fail in deep waters. The watch needed was one that was durable and accurate. Blancpain created that watch for the French special forces. The watch was designed with a black dial, an outer bezel which rotated, clear markings and large bold easy to read numerals. The bezel needed to align with the minute hand so that divers would easily know how much oxygen time they had remaining. Glow in the dark markers were required to be clearly seen.
Blancpain designed the watch to be waterproof up to 50 fathoms, which was the maximum depth divers could safely achieve using a one-time mixture of oxygen. It featured a double o-ring gasket rather than the traditional crown, and the case back was screwed. It also had an antimagnetic and automatic movement so the watch did not need to be wound daily. The large and robust watch was subsequently used by American, German and Spanish special forces. Variations of the original have been produced since this extremely important and historic watch was first made. Modern variations have sold for approximately $9,200.
4. The Ladybird
In 1956, Blancpain created the first Ladybird. What distinguished this beautiful woman’s watch was that it set a world record for being the smallest round watch in the world. It had a Caliber R550 movement which was just 11.85mm in diameter, but had long power reserve of 40 hours. This was also a considerable feat considering the era.
Over the past 60 years, the Ladybird model has always been a part of Blancpain’s collections for ladies, although there have been many different variations. As tastes have changed, the variations featured models set completely with gems, or models with interchangeable straps.
But in 2016, at Baselworld, a 60th anniversary version of the Ladybird was unveiled. It has a contemporary Caliber 6150 self-winding movement that is still one of the smallest in the world. It is a diminutive 15.7 mm diameter. It has a white-cold case which is set with a 32-diamond bezel. The hour markers are set with eight diamonds, the dial features a classic foliage motif in mother of pearl, and the hour and minute hands are open work. The anniversary edition of Ladybird has only 60 engraved- numbered pieces available, and each are offered at the price of $19,300.
5. 2013 Tourbillon Carrousel
Presented at Baselworld in 2013, this watch made history because it combined in one timepiece the two methods used to compensate for the effects of gravity on the watch’s balance wheel. Tourbillon is the better known, and carrousel the lesser. Each mechanism runs different gear trains within the mechanism. Blancpain is the first to use the two together in one watch. To make it very clear, each complication is labeled. The watch itself is absolutely stunning, because the complications within are easy to see through the sapphire case back. The watch is elegant, with its flinque decoration around the carrousel. The flying tourbillon is labeled at the 12 o’clock spot, and the flying carrousel is labeled at the 6 o’clock spot. This superb mechanical wonder was priced at GBP 221,610.
6. Mille Et Une Nuits
A dazzling watch for women, this model features 18 carat white gold, 467 diamonds, 30 rubies, and 1 pink sapphire cabochon. The dial is mother of pearl with 48 diamonds and 38 rubies. The strap is 18ct white gold set with 72 diamonds. The total carat weight for the timepiece is 4.28 carats. The price for this watch is approximately $142,598. Its mechanism is scaled slightly smaller than a man’s watch, but it has all the complications and self-winding feature expected from a Blancpain luxury timepiece.
7. 1735 Grande Complication Watch
The 1735 is a timepiece which resulted from an old world challenge among the most highly skilled of watchmakers at the time. The goal was to merge the complexities of six earlier timepieces into one new, completely sophisticated masterwork. What resulted from Blancpain’s taking on the gentlemanly competition was the 1735 Grande Complication. There were only 30 ever made, and one watch maker spent an entire year to create just one.
Each watch movement was made with 740 parts assembled by hand. The automatic caliber movement is visible through the sapphire crystal back, and includes 18-karat gold bridges. These, and the solid white gold automatic rotor are both engraved with decoration known as the Clous de Paris style. This fervent dedication to the historical techniques used in traditional watch making preserves the heritage of Swiss time pieces.
The 1735 is a classic, almost simple exterior design, with a dial that is easily readable. The hour indicators are petite, yet legible Roman numerals. It is an instrument primary designed to include its list of significant complications. These include a tourbillon escapement, a perpetual calendar which displays date, day of the week, month, and even leap year; a quarter repeater, a minute repeater, a moon phase indicator, a split second rattrapante chronograph and the time.
The case is solid platinum and 42mm wide. It is 16.5mm thin, with the interior movement only 11mm thin. The strap is crocodile, in black. The watch was first made with a silver dial, but one only was made with a black dial. This one, out of the limited edition of 30 made, was offered for sale in 2010 for a price of $1,026,500.
8. Villeret Shakudo Ganesh
Blancpain incorporated the Japanese shakudo, an alloy comprised of gold and copper, to create four unique watches in a collection. The Ganesh was awarded the top honors in the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Geneve for 2015. The timepiece uses elements of art traditional to both India and Japan. The dial has a depiction of Ganesh, the Hindu god, surrounded by exquisitely detailed ornamentation. Fine gold threads were hammered into the surface design and the entirety was engraved by hand. The case is red gold and is 45 mm diameter. The caliber contains 117 pieces, with 20 jewels. The strap is alligator leather.
9. Villeret Grande Décoration Only Watch 2011
This distinguished watch, created for the Only Watch 2011 charity auction, features a completely unique, hand-engraved case back which depicts ta scene typical of Monegasque, the Rock and the hinterland. The case is red gold in 18K with a diameter o f45mm. The engraving on the case back includes the inscriptions “Only Watch 2011” and “Pièce Unique”. Red gold feuille minute and second hands grace the black painted enamel Roman numeral hours situated on the white enamel dial. The dial is created in “Grand Feu” style of enameling. Its movement includes 20 jewels, is plated with rhodium, and is 15B caliber. The movement is signed, as are the case and dial. A fitted box with a certificate accompanied the time piece. The wish price was listed at 45,000 to 65,000 euros.
Only Watch seeks to support efforts against Duchenne Musical Dystrophy. The event features unique timepieces, with one each, created only for the event, by the world’s luxury time piece manufacturers.
10. Villeret Grand Date
In 2015, the Villeret Grande Date was displayed at WatchTime New York in the Gotham Hall in Manhattan. The watch was introduced in Baselworld in 2015. Twelve and more luxury brands exhibited their newest watches. BlancPain showcased this big-date watch, the first in its historic Villeret line. The watch was built using an automatic movement, the Caliber 6950, which is 32 mm wide. The watch features a 72-hour power reserve base on the two mainspring barrels its contains. There are 285 components in the movement, and 35 jewels. Each midnight, the mechanism shifts the big dates instantly. The balance wheel is a Glucydur free-sprung with gold screws to allow for minute adjustments. Silicon is used for the balance wheel.
Rose gold are used for the hands, which sit above an opaline, silvered dial. The bezel is a double pomme graduated style. It is water resistant up to approximately 30 meters. The rose gold case is complemented by a brown strap in alligator, which completes the elegance of this watch. The Villeret Grand Date in rose gold is priced at $21,300. The stainless steel variation costs $11,660.
Written by Garrett Parker
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