Blancpain,one of the world’s oldest watch companies, was founded in the Swiss Jura Mountains by Jehan-Jacques Blancpain in 1735. Every day, more than two and half centuries later, Blancpain renews the ties with its past, creating its mechanical timepieces in workshops located in Le Brassus in the famed Vallée de Joux, the historical centre of traditional complicated mechanical watchmaking.
Le Brassus is situated at the south-western end of the Vallée de Joux. It is here that Blancpain has located its production in a lovingly restored centuries-old farmhouse workshop, today affectionately referred to within Blancpain as “la Ferme”.
La Ferme is nestled on a site surrounded by forest, pasture lands, and the Le Brassus ski slope. It is in this tranquil setting that Blancpain artisans pay homage to watchmaking art and practice the skills and crafts developed by their forebears.
Le Brassus Workshop
At Blancpain where a master watchmaker may work on a single watch for weeks at a time, and in some cases as long as a full year, it is vital that the surroundings sooth, cosset and comfort the watchmakers so that they may practice their craft at the highest level. The warm natural woods of the walls, windows and work benches form a symbolic link with Vallée de Joux watchmaking art as it has developed over the past three hundred years.
There is no trace of a modern production line at the Le Brassus Ferme. Blancpain is one of the few watch houses that still has watchmakers assemble a movement from beginning to end. Just as they were two centuries ago, these watches are personal creations and expressions of the watchmaker. There is hand craftsmanship in every Blancpain timepiece.
Finishing :While the excellence of a Blancpain watch is determined by its technical aspects and its reliability, it is also expressed by its level of finishing, a sure token of fine watchmaking expertise. The finishing and decorating techniques are some of the most fascinating specialities within the art of watchmaking and stem from a tradition of hand craftsmanship and enduring know-how, combined with cutting edge technologies. Working exclusively by hand, the Blancpain artisans lavish traditional finishes using stones, files, burnishers, buffs or sandpaper, even on parts that will remain hidden from sight. This type of work, like all tasks relating to watchmaking, calls for dexterity, expertise and an abundant measure of patience. The broad range of hand finishing and decoration methods practiced by Blancpain reflects a time-honoured watchmaking heritage. It arouses a natural emotional reaction to its message of aesthetic beauty and technical perfection.
CIRCULAR GRAINING or STIPPLING consists of applying a dense pattern of slightly overlapping small concentric circles to the plates and bridges. It is the craftsman, rather than a machine, who decides on the exact position of each circle. CÔTES DE GENÈVE is a motif composed of perfectly regular straight waves, made using a small grinding-wheel. This decoration is traditionally used on bridges and oscillating weights. The appearance of these so-called “Geneva stripes” must be impeccable and calls for great dexterity and know-how. ANGLAGE or BEVELLING is the breaking and polishing of angles known as chamfers. The authenticity of hand-made bevelling can be determined by the clear-cut intersection of the interior and external angles, which no machine is capable of achieving. MIRROR POLISHING or BLACK POLISHING is performed on a zinc block to which the craftsman applies a small layer of abrasive paste known as diamantine. The Blancpain decorative artisans delicately rub the part to be polished in a circular movement against the zinc in order to achieve a shiny mirror-like finish.
Engraving:Personalising timepieces by engravings is a Blancpain signature speciality. Master engravers, whose talent is expressed in noble metals the size of a coin, give vibrant life to automaton figures, case-backs and oscillating weights. This skilled task involves hand engravings performed under a microsope by incising the material with a small burin. In customising watches, the Blancpain master engravers work according to a motif chosen by the future owner and guarantee the uniqueness of the watch, which thereby becomes a genuine work of art and a limited edition of one.
Watchmaker-mechanic:Mechanical engineers play a decisive role in high-end watchmaking; they contribute to the various stages in the watchmaker’s work by meeting their specific requirements and finding technical solutions to the problems encountered. At Blancpain, the role of a “watchmaker-mechanic” calls for a range of expertise encompassing making customised tools, performing various adjustment and mechanical operations on movement parts, as well as crafting oscillating weights.
R&D: Innovation is a driving force within Blancpain and its research and development department is the nerve centre for these efforts. This team is the scene of animated and passionate debates and discussions, as new inventive paths are explored and new movements conceived. The results of these efforts are not only groundbreaking achievements of new complications such as the world’s first wristwatch running equation of time or the world’s first flying tourbillon, but also the smallest details of movement design such as the specification of springs, screws and other materials.
Blancpain’s movement designers are called upon to be masters of many disciplines. Not only must they be thoroughly grounded in all aspects of the watchmaking art (which explains why many of them are accomplished master watchmakers), but they must possess a deep grasp of micro-mechanical engineering. The power of the most modern computer CADCAM software is brought to bear on the inventions which emerge from the research and development department.
Although Blancpain’s movement designers can be justly proud of the world records which they have achieved in the past and the innovations reflected in the current collection, they look firmly to the future and are intent on planning new revelations destined to be progressively unveiled in the coming years. Of course a principal focal point for this research effort is the conception of new movements and complications. But Blancpain also has research specialists devoted to cases, dials and bracelets. The fruit of their labours includes a broad portfolio of awarded patents covering movements, cases and dials.
Case Making:The case is one of the most vital elements of a fine timepiece. Its proportions, form and shapes speak powerfully in defining the personality of the watch. Blancpain’s case designers passionately seek perfect harmony in these fine metal sculptures pursuing every detail. The degree of rounding in Blancpain’s signature double-stepped bezel used in most of its collection, the thickness of the case as it relates to the complication of the movement, the width and angle of the lugs, the shape of the crown, the design of the removable back, the exact degree of fineness of brushed finishes, these and much more become part of the exacting specifications for a Blancpain case. Using specialist suppliers who are able to satisfy Blancpain’s precise and demanding criteria, each case in all the metals offered by Blancpain – stainless steel; white, yellow and rose gold; platinum and titanium – is fashioned with a level of finish perfection to form a fitting home for the movement.
Blancpain has also produced pioneering innovations in case design, including its patented under-lug correctors, which allowed removal of calendar correctors from the visible sides of the watch; and its innovative system for water-resistant minute repeaters, giving this most precious complication an unprecedented level of security from the elements. Moreover, Blancpain’s research and development departmentconducts extensive research into case materials, including studying their sound conducting properties to enhance the sound of Alarm and Minute Repeater timepieces.
Dial Making:The production of fine dials is one of watchmaking’s grand specialties.The allure of Blancpain’s dials is the product of an uncompromising quest for just the right proportions, hue, texture,in some instances carving, reflective quality, engraving, and indexes. Countless trials, involving minute changes, go into the development of every new dial. For example, only by such trial and error can the refined glow of Blancpain’s unique opaline or Havana brown hues, that subtly change with lighting and the angle of viewing, be achieved. Just a handful of dial suppliers are able to work to the level of uncompromising quality and hand craftsmanship that Blancpain’s dial specifications require. Dial design has also been the object of Blancpain’s innovative exploration. Blancpain has advanced the art in this domain with its patented unique method for setting precious stones from beneath the dial.
Strap: No wristwatch would be complete without a fine strap or bracelet. The majority of Blancpain straps are fashioned in crocodile leather, and Blancpain insists upon using only the finest hides, which are individually coloured and tanned.However, achieving perfection for a strap goes far deeper. Blancpain precisely defines the size and shape of the scales for all crocodile straps; scales must be neither too small nor too large and the ribbing separating scales have to be tight so as to emphasize their beauty. Backings are similarly subjected to demanding criteria; the leather backings must be supple and produced avoiding materials that risk skin irritation; the rubber backings on sport straps are required to have comfortable flexibility.
Blancpain’s suppliers cut each crocodile strap by hand, taking care to select the most harmonious pattern of scales. Hand stitching follows, meeting precise Blancpain criteria. Particular patterns are specified to produce a backing resistant to separating at its edges. The perfectly matched metal bracelets and the sport straps fashioned entirely out of rubberized plastic or in such innovative materials as sail canvas are likewise subject to demanding standards.Flexibility for wearing comfort and robustness must be achieved before the strap will be found suitable for a Blancpain watch.
The presentation box: The overall appeal of a fine timepiece includes a luxurious presentation box. Blancpain boxes are handmade, fashioned out of rare Amboynas burl, Walnut burl, Elm burl, or Sycamore. Convinced that a watch box should have a useful purpose beyond the initial presentation of the watch, Blancpain has conceived its boxes to serve additional functions. The leather-clad watch cradle can be easily removed, allowing them to be used as elegant storage boxes, jewellery cases or cigar humidors. Unlike the precious wood generally used to make Blancpain boxes, those of the Sport Collection are made from perfectly watertight, shock-resistant materials and may be used even in extreme conditions and temperatures.
1735: Establishment of the first Blancpain manufacture as a cottage industry by Jehan-Jacques Blancpain.
EARLY 30S: Launch by Blancpain of Leon Hatotes rectangular “Rolls”, an automatic wristwatch using “roller winding”, whereby the movement could move back and forth in the case – a revolutionary idea at that time.
1953:Worn by Jacques-Yves Cousteau and his team during the shoot of “The World of Silence” (Palme d’Or at Cannes in 1956), Blancpain Fifty Fathoms was also selected for its technical superiority by several armies (among others: US, French, German and Italian).
1956: Launch of the Ladybird model, the smallest automatic movement in the world.
1983: A world first: the smallest movement indicating moon phase, day, month and date.
1987: Launch of The World’s Thinnest Automatic Chronograph. Launch of The world’s Smallest Minute repeater Wristwatch.
1988: Launch of The World’s Thinnest Split-Second Chronograph.
1989: Another world premiere: the first and only thinnest self-winding Tourbillon watch with date and one-week power reserve.
1991: Blancpain presents simultaneously all six masterpieces of the watchmaker’s art housed in identical cases. And finally, marking watchmaking history, the 1735 including all six masterpieces in a single watchcase the most complicated wristwatch ever made.
1993: To celebrate the 300th birthday of its founder, Jehan-Jacques Blancpain, the company in Le Brassus created the 7001 watch. Launch of The World’s First Wristwratch Repeater with Automata.
1994: Launch of the 2100 watch (Leman collection today) whose screw-locked case back and pushpieces ensure water-resistance to 100 meters, a perfect companion for the ceaseless drive and mobility of the women and men of today.
1995: An all-time record year: the watches of the 2100 sports line (Leman collection today) were named “Watches of the Year” for 1995-96.
1996: Blancpain develops the new 100-hours movement for adaptation on all models of the 2100 collection (Leman collection today) (moon phase, extra-slim, perpetual calendar). Launch of the flyback chronograph.
1997: Blancpain is the first brand to bring out a ladies chronograph with flyback hand. Creation of the new self-winding Ladybird watch, housing a tiny automatic movement, the smallest and the slimmest in the world.
1998: Launch of the Sea Earth Sky trilogy including the Fifty Fathoms, the GMT and the Air Command. Launch of The World’s First Automatic Tourbillon with 8 Days Power Reserve.
1999: A World’s First Combination of Tourbillon and Chronograph Complications.
2000: Launch of The World’s First Perpetual Calendar Tourbillon with 8 Days Power Reserve.
2001: The ladies watch prize of Geneva’s first Watchmaking Grand Prix was awarded to Blancpain’s flyback pastel chronograph (ref. 2385F-192GC-52).
2002: The ladies watch prize of La Revue des Montres was awarded to Blancpain’s self-winding flyback chronograph (ref. 2385-1127). The ultra-slim, Villeret, self-winding (ref. 4053-1540-55) was recognised “Watch of the Year” by the Swiss public. In Austria, the Luxus prize of the Chrono Awards and the men’s watch prize of the press were awarded to Blancpain’s ultra-slim, Villeret, self-winding (ref. 4063-3642-55).
2003: Revival of the Moon Phase and the World’s Smallest Calendar Moon Phase Plate.
2004: Launch of The World’s First Equation Marchante Wristwatch.
2005: The World’s First Hidden Calendar Correctors. Launch of the First Perpetual Calendar with correctors under the lugs. Launch of The World’s Thinnest Perpetual Calendar.
2007: Creation of Blancpain Calibre 13R0. The Dawn of a New Era.
2008: Launch of The World’s First Carrousel Volant Une Minute.