Revelling in complexity

A Swiss watchmaker plumbs the depths to reach new heights

It's been a good year for Blancpain, says Marc Junod, vice-president of the luxury watch firm, who is pleased that the brand has been able to maintain growth in a fast-changing market with the launch of its Carrousel, Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe and Chronograph Grande Date models.

The 60th-anniversary editions of the Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe, which are waterresistant to depths of around 300 metres.

Having been with Blancpain for the past 22 years, the Swiss executive been able to witness first-hand the evolution of a company whose watchmaking tradition dates back to 1735.

"Over the years, Blancpain has become more complete in its selection of complications [any feature in a timepiece beyond the simple display of hours, minutes, and seconds] and designs while remaining true to its values and tradition. Our manufacturers in the Joux Valley [in the Swiss canton of Vaud] have continued the tradition in making mechanical watches and the tradition is a not a barrier to new innovation, which drives the growth of the business," said Junod, who lived in the US for over three decades, spending a large portion of his time there boosting Blancpain's sales and brand presence.

In mid-2011 he was made the firm's head of global sales and is now based in Switzerland.

"Blancpain watches are distributed across the world, but faster growth is being seen in Asia where there is a stronger fascination with mechanical watches. The Asian market is changing and evolving much faster than other markets," said Junod who is also a qualified watchmaker and gemologist.

"I personally like Blancpain watches because of the very simple, understated look which has been our signature for many years."

Marc Junod, vice-president and head of global sales at Blancpain.

The aesthetics go hand-in-hand with technical achievements which are conceived at a facility in Le Brassus, a hamlet in the Joux Valley which has given its name to a collection of particularly complex timepieces aimed at collectors. With its centrepieces, grande complications (watches with several complications), discreet aesthetics and use of precious materials, the Le Brassus line reflects the brand's heritage while reinventing the Carrousel mechanism.

The first wristwatch with a one-minute "flying carrousel" was introduced in 2008. Blancpain watchmakers miniaturised the complex mechanism, placed its balance wheel in the centre of the carriage and controlled the rotation speed so that it made a complete turn in exactly one minute. The debut of this model was followed, in 2010, by the Carrousel Minute Repeater and, three years later, the Carrousel Repetition Minutes Chronographe Flyback and the Tourbillon Carrousel.

"Both the tourbillon and the carrousel are major devices aimed at reducing gravity-related effects on the running of the movement," Junod explained. "For the first time in horological history, we have introduced a wristwatch combining these two regulators."

The Tourbillon Carrousel's design presents the flying tourbillon at the 12 o'clock positions, a flying carrousel at 6 o'clock and a date display at 3 o'clock. The arrangement draws attention to the similarities and differences between the mechanisms as well as the beauty of the rotation. Fitted into a case with a diameter of 44.6mm, this model is equipped with the new hand-wound Calibre 2322 mechanism which is composed of 379 parts including two silicon balance-springs.

Blancpain also incorporated silicon balance-springs into its 60th-anniversary edition of the Fifty Fathoms timepiece. The original (1953) model of this was the first modern diver's watch, taking its name from the British unit of measurement which corresponds to 1.828 metres. Fifty fathoms (a little over 91m) was considered to be the deepest level that divers could reach with the compressed-air technology available at the time. Since its debut, with different models created for men and women, the Fifty Fathoms has been interpreted in different ways. The 2013 Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe watches feature elements that echo the past, such as their sharply defined contours, the traditional look of the hands and the luminescent dot on the bezel which allows diving times to be read more easily. The new models also boast a modern calibre with a non-magnetic silicon balance-spring visible from the sapphire crystal case-back.

"In addition to being corrosion-resistant, silicon is also extremely resistant to wear and natural ageing," said Junod. "This technical breakthrough marks another step in the longstanding pursuit of optimal isochronism for our timepieces."

The Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe for men comes with a "meteor grey" dial while the lady's version has a white dial and strap.

Blancpain, which has been creating watches for women since 1930, this year also rolled out the gem-set Chronographe Grande Date which boasts a mother-of-pearl dial and several complications. Its sapphire back reveals the self-winding Calibre mechanism (composed of 459 parts) and the attention to detail lavished on the finishing of all these components which include an elegant, petal-shaped oscillating weight.

"We produce a high proportion of the components of our movements in-house. The components are decorated and engraved to give them character and these refined finishes are the hallmark of fine watchmaking," Junod enthused. "The watch is then assembled by hand, by a single watchmaker. The fact that we make each and every timepiece internally [in-house], makes us not only one of the most independently run watch manufacturers, but also one that provide movements to a very selective list of brands."

The Tourbillon Carrousel has two ‘complications’ to reduce the effect of gravity on the running of its movement.

About the author

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Writer: Kanokporn Chanasongkram
Position: Reporter