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Watches - Feature Article

Introducing Blancpain: The World’s Oldest Timepiece Brand

Measuring and marking the passage of time is part of what makes us human. Ever since our earliest ancestors watched the shadows lengthen and shorten across the day, we as a species have attempted to quantify the passing of one moment to the next. We’ve erected stone circles, marking the solstices and equinoxes which were replaced by rudimentary candle clocks, sundials, and pendulums. These, in turn, gave rise to mechanical timepieces of exquisite intricacy, before the electronic and digital ages brought about watches of ever-increasing accuracy and ease of use.

Since 1735, the Swiss timepiece company Blancpain has shown the world a dedication to the very utmost in watch creation, surviving the ages to become the oldest watchmakers in the world. Today, this unique Haute-Horlogerie company continues to capture the imagination, hopes, and dreams of fine watch fans and collectors across the globe, consistently producing watches which epitomise the finest points of the industry. For four centuries, Blancpain has shown mastery of innovation, experimentation and forethought. They have shown that tradition and a commitment to old-fashioned excellence can sit hand in hand with such values. As a result, they’ve consistently defined, and then redefined, the watchmaking industry as a whole, turning it on its head with every age they stride through.

Ever dedicated to the importance of the bespoke, the handmade, and the unique, Blancpain has never - and claims that it will never - produce either a digital or quartz timepiece. Despite this, the company has remained a reliable vanguard in the watchmaking world, and never stops setting the standard for others to aspire to.

To wear a Blancpain watch on a daily basis, or to add one to your collection of timepieces is a sure and unmistakable signifier of an individual of impeccable taste; one who recognises and appreciates the twin values of tradition and innovation, and keeps them close at all times. Indeed, purchasing a pre-owned Blancpain timepiece allows you to intimately connect with the long and fascinating history of this eminent watchmaking brand, and establishes a relationship between the company and the wearer which has been enriched across four centuries of expertise. Xupes is proud to have a number of pre-owned Blancpain timepieces for sale, each of which beautifully demonstrates and displays this timeless company’s unique sense of heritage, quality, and distinction.

Xupes pre-owned Blancpain Villeret 5-Jours Platinum watch

The Founding of a Legend: Jehan-Jacques Blancpain and the Beginning of Time

The origins of the Blancpain story are humble in nature. The founder of the company, Jehan-Jacques Blancpain, was a somewhat eccentric schoolteacher from a farming dynasty in Villeret, a municipality of Switzerland. His eclectic fascinations led him towards watchmaking, and at some point in the first half of the 18th century, he remade the top floor of his farmhouse and converted it into a horology workshop. It was there he began building and fixing mechanical watches, helped by his wife and son, while cows and horses bustled noisily downstairs.

In 1735, Jehan-Jacques Blancpain registered himself officially as a horloger on the property registry of Villeret, and it is this date that the company considers to be its founding year. Success quickly followed success, and Jehan-Jacques set about producing quality handmade timepieces for local merchants and public figures, setting an upward trajectory that would continue throughout the generations to come. Sadly, very few of the original Blancpain watches have survived the centuries, lost, stolen, and unmarked. Indeed, the only verified example of an 18th century Blancpain watch is a Louis XVI pocket watch, inscribed ‘Blancpain et Fils’; a rare find, as the company didn’t originally use any kind of branding on their products.

From those humble beginnings - which started with Jehan-Jacques speculating on the growth of the watch industry and tinkering in his farmhouse - through to the lofty and enviable reputation the brand upholds today, Blancpain have consistently been powerful pioneers in their industry. A company founded on passion, fascination, and a savvy insight into what the future would hold, Jehan-Jacques Blancpain laid a foundation in 1735 which led to some of the most significant horology inventions and innovations the industry has ever encountered.

Xupes pre-owned Blancpain Le Brassus 8 days Platinum watch

Times Change. Quality is Forever.

By the second decade of the 19th century, Jehan-Jacques’ grandson, Frederic-Louis Blancpain, was at the helm of a watchmaking firm which was growing from strength to strength, and which had the funds and backlog of orders required to make significant changes to the company. Frederic-Louis was a man of real foresight and ferocious ambition, and he transformed Blancpain from an atelier watchmakers into the first industrial producer of timepieces in the world. His new riverside factory used hydraulic and steam power, and he was keen to embrace new technologies, machinery, and methods in order to increase production and precision throughout his company. Frederic-Louis’ sense of innovation and adaptation to a new age was also focused on the creation of new timepiece components, too. Indeed, he created the first ever ultra-flat movements for Blancpain’s Lépine-style timepieces, and such movements remain a key strand in the House of Blancpain’s DNA to this day.

The 20th century, just like the one which preceded it, featured an even longer list of ‘firsts’ for Blancpain. 1926 saw Frederic-Emile Blancpain head the company, alongside his trusted co-manager Betty Fleichter, the first woman to hold such a position in a watchmaking firm. Frederic-Emile joined forces with British watch manufacturer John Harwood, and together, they pioneered the design and creation of the first ever wristwatch to be patented; a remarkable innovation, whose design involved a chunky winding rotor, a rotating bezel for setting the time, and a removable crown. The fruit of this collaboration was a truly beautiful item, and completely remarkable for the fact that its design clearly set the blueprint which every mechanical watch (and indeed other wrist watch types) would follow in the future.

The death of Frederic-Emile Blancpain was an unexpected one, and it left the company with no willing family heir to take his place. As such, Betty Fleichter stepped into her former boss’s shoes, and along with Andre Leal, a former sales manager, they decided to uphold the heritage of Blancpain despite it no longer being a family company as it once was. However, they were utterly committed to maintaining the company ethos of combining old-fashioned excellence with cutting-edge innovation, and of using complexity as a genuine driving force for broadening the horizons of horology.

By the early 1950s, this commitment started bringing about remarkable results. The world’s first modern diving watch (which we’ll discuss presently) was unveiled, as was the world’s smallest round watch, The Ladybird, alongside plenty of other record-breaking and industry-defining inventions and exciting releases. This momentum continued throughout the 1980s, with the world’s smallest automatic motion being patented by Blancpain, and then the world’s thinnest movement, the Calibre 23, being created in 1989.

Xupes pre-owned Blancpain Fifty Fathoms stainless steel watch

From the Ocean to the Moon: Innovation as the Heart of Savoir-Faire

If Blancpain are known for one thing, it is that this Haute-Horlogerie company balances the most beautiful and exquisite designs with the most visionary, complex, and unimaginably meticulous innovations. Few timepieces in the extensive, century-spanning history of the company exemplify this quite as remarkably as the Fifty Fathoms diving watch; a timepiece which opened new realms of possibility and style, and which was championed by those who shared the brand’s sense of wonder and passion for discovery.

The Fifty Fathoms wrist watch came from the depths of the imagination of Blancpain’s CEO from 1950 to 1980, Jean-Jacques Feichter. This was a man of two key passions: Haute-Horlogerie, and deep sea diving. He designed the Fifty Fathoms model with practical usage in mind, and he patented a double sealed crown and interior secondary seal after conducted research and focus groups with French military divers. It wasn’t until legendary filmmaker, Jacques Cousteau, wore this watch while filming his epic documentary La Monde du Silence, however, that the popularity and fame of this unique model exploded. Cousteau was a vocal fan, and frequently expressed his delight at finding a watch which not only looked utterly beautiful but could also be worn at depths of 200 metres, and it wasn’t long before the model was adopted by senior figures of the French and US Navy. Later versions of the Fifty Fathoms were made in collaboration with other world class divers, and the most recent Blancpain divers’ watches can withstand depths of one thousand metres.

Xupes pre-owned Blancpain Fifty Fathoms 500 fathoms titanium watch

While the Fifty Fathoms model was undoubtedly a high point for Blancpain, it was far from the only one to come about in the 20th century. Some forty years after the invention of the diver’s watch, Blancpain would exceed even their own impressive expectations and standards. In 1991, Blancpain released the most complex, most meticulously designed, and most complicated mechanical wristwatch made to that date: the 1735 Grande Complication. This incredible timepiece contained a lengthy list of complications, some of which had not been seen since prior to the 20th century, having been abandoned for being too time-consuming to produce. The watch featured a one-minute tourbillon regulator, a moon phase detail, a chiming minute repeater, perpetual calendars of multiple types… and plenty more besides. Ina ccuracy, attention to detail, and sheer scope of vision, this watch was about as close to miraculous as timepiece production gets, especially when one bears in mind that this model and all its components were produced by hand, by a single Swiss watchmaker.

From the beautiful and class Villeret series of Blancpain watches, to the sleeker, more modern Fifty Fathoms, and from the Grande Complication series to the innovative but relatively minimal Le Brassus timepieces, Blancpain never stop raising the bar when it comes to quality. Tradition and innovation can often seem to be opposites, but in reality, they are two sides of the same coin. Tradition leads to craftsmanship and establishment, which in turn opens the doors for inventiveness, and bold flights of technical fancy. By placing savoir-faire at the heart of the operation, and by cementing innovation as the core of this historic watchmakers, Blancpain have made themselves a truly timeless brand.