Inspired by a piece from the 1950s, this diver has been updated with a modern silicon balance-spring making it more shock-resistant and more impervious to magnetic fields. In a year full of reissues, the classic black dial, lume and water-tightness indicator also helped this watch stand out.
A look at Blancpain's 2017 releases and the delights of simplicity
Whether it’s diving watches or pieces celebrating the skills of the most basic watchmaking complications, Blancpain never ceases to amaze us. Let’s look at the best new pieces introduced at this year’s Baselworld fair.
By Vincent Daveau
Managing Editor France
Translated from the original French text
Some aficionados respect Blancpain for its diving watches while others admire its dedication to creating sublimely complicated timepieces. The new pieces we’re looking at today cater to both tastes.
A Fifty Fathoms that pays tribute to the ultimate requirement
It would be pointless to go over the history of the diving watch developed by Jean-Jacques Fiechter, who was Blancpain’s director from 1950 to 1980, since many of the brand's fans already know this line by heart. What’s been forgotten is that when the first diving watches were delivered in 1953, the efforts to make diving a safer exercise for frogmen did not stop. So, around 1956-57, Jean-Jacques Fiechter designed a system that enabled the control of the watch’s water resistance, the innovation was a small circular chip, half white and half orange.
Blancpain Fifty Fathoms MIL-SPEC
Should water get into the case, the white half of the circle became red immediately. The device was embedded in the dial on two pieces, the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms MIL-SPEC 1, developed between 1957 and 1958, and the MIL-SPEC 2. The aim was to meet the requirements of US Navy divers. The soldiers wanted additional guarantees of water resistance for their underwater missions. For those unaware, “MIL-SPEC” is an acronym of "Military Specification". In March 1958, the US Navy started testing different diving watches in order to list all the necessary specifications needed in a watch for their underwater missions. That was how the Fifty Fathoms came to adorn the wrists of US Navy combat divers and became the reference for the later development of Blancpain’s military spec watches.
In the early 1960s, Blancpain won two consecutive contracts to arm the members of the elite UDT and Seals units: the Fifty Fathoms MIL-SPEC 1 was then followed up by the MIL-SPEC 2 – aka the Tornek-Rayville TR-900. The water-resistant chip had by then become a requirement of the US Navy and was found in all the pieces. The 40-mm steel Tribute to the Fifty Fathoms MIL-SPEC introduced this year re-introduces that part of the brand's history.
Blancpain Fifty Fathoms MIL-SPEC
The new piece is water resistant to approximately 300 meters and is driven by the self-winding 1151 caliber with silicon balance-spring. The movement features a 4-day power reserve. The effective and legible watch features a dial that’s similar to the original inspiration’s high readability and sports the humidity indicator we discussed earlier. It also has a sapphire-covered unidirectional bezel (introduced in 2003) and a sapphire case back that allows us to see the in-house caliber and the gold winding rotor with a NAC coating (a process based on a ruthenium by-product). Three straps are available for this piece – sporty NATO, sail cloth or powerful steel with a safety clasp. The new Tribute to Fifty Fathoms MIL-Spec is limited to 500 pieces worldwide.
A watchmaking premier: The Villeret Day-Date
Given its ability to produce its own calibers, Blancpain has introduced a watch complication displaying both day and date on the dials of the Villeret collection. A first of its kind in this line, I found this complication to be an asset because these indicators on the dial are highly useful for city dwellers who are often in a hurry, like me! The sophisticated mechanism developed in-house and integrated into the 40-mm steel case makes the dial perfectly legible.
Blancpain Villeret Jour Date
The current time is indicated in a traditional way by hands pointing towards Roman numerals on a white background. By contrast, the day and the semi-instantaneous jumping date information is read through thin, open-work apertures on the matte white dial at 3 o'clock. The classic piece is driven by the self-winding 1160DD caliber, which comprises 275 components (34 of which are rubies) and a regulating body with a silicon balance-spring and two barrels to guarantee a 72-hour power reserve. The wonderfully refined and effective piece features a sapphire crystal on the reverse to show a yellow gold winding rotor with an engraved honeycomb pattern.
Blancpain Villeret Jour Date caseback
Blancpain Villeret Calendar Large Date and Day of the Week
For years, Blancpain has been dedicated to the constant, subtle renovation of the iconic Villeret collection in order to preserve its timeless elegance. This year, the brand has introduced a highly sophisticated piece. The watch’s every detail has been taken care of, as happens with true luxury products. For the 42-mm red gold reference, the brand has chosen a grand-feu enamel dial that features an hour circle together with the Blancpain logo painted in enamel. The decoration technique obviously required a few sessions in the oven at over 800 degrees Celsius. However, the most complex task to carry out on the dial was undoubtedly carving the two thin apertures that indicate the numerals of the large date.
Blancpain Villeret Semainier Grande Date 8 Jours
Blancpain Villeret Semainier Grand Date 8 Jours caseback
The difficulty involved in doing this with enamel makes it an accomplishment that some may never fully appreciate, but Blancpain does it to underscore the excellence sought by the brand.
Blancpain’s traditional half-moon tipped serpentine hand indicates the numeral of the calendar. To ensure visual balance and perfect readability, the days of the week are indicated by another blued hand placed at 9 o'clock. The dates are set by using Blancpain's patented under-lug correctors, which are completely hidden from view when the watch is strapped to the wrist. This initiative goes to prove the Manufacture's determination to keep the case as simple as possible. The system was developed to allow the wearer to set indications easily with their nails. It should be noted that the large date is set with the help of the winding stem that moves on the self-winding caliber (reference 3738G2). Made of 378 components, it is equipped with three barrels that guarantee an 8-day power reserve, as well as a titanium variable-inertia balance with gold micrometric regulating screws and a silicon balance-spring. With a sapphire crystal caseback, the watch harmoniously blends traditions and new innovation. It also reveals the meticulously executed finishes of its movement and the white and red gold oscillating mass. The piece comes on a chocolate brown leather strap.
Villeret Semainier Grande Date 8 Jours
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Blancpain re-interprets one of its vintage pieces from the 1950s, the Fifty Fathoms with a water-tightness indicator.