The history of watchmaking owes a lot to Blancpain, so let's take a closer look at the oldest watch manufacture of all, founded in 1735.
In the heart of the Swiss Jura, in the Vallée-de-Joux, the greatest watchmakers work to the rhythm of the days, eyes fixed on the infinitely small. Blancpain is one, started by Jehan-Jacques Blancpain in 1735 at his family farm in Villeret and based in Le Brassus since 1984. Several generations of Blancpains devoted themselves to watchmaking, but retracing the oldest manufacture's history is no easy task as a local custom dictated that watches weren't inscribed with their maker's name. Consequently we can't identify the family's early creations, the only pre-1800 example being a watch that belonged to Louis XVI, bearing the inscription "Blancpain et fils".
The most prosperous watchmaker
In 1815, Frédéric-Louis Blancpain took a leap forward by beginning serial production of his watches and also launching a trend that still holds good today: ultra-thin watches in the Lépine style. His son took over the business in 1830 with tremendous success, turning the little watchmaking business into Villeret's most prosperous. The strokes of genius were to use a cylinder escapement and to develop ladies' watches. The year 1865 saw Blancpain move from artisanry to industry. In 1926 it commercialised its first automatic wristwatch and in 1930 the world's first ladies' automatic watch. The family's involvement in the business ended in 1932 when Frédéric-Emile Blancpain's daughter declined to take charge. The company was bought by two employees, Betty Fiechter and André Léal, and rechristened Rayville S.A., succ. de Blancpain, a change of name but not of identity! By the late Fifties the firm was producing more than 100,000 watches a year, with production topping 220,000 in 1971.
Spearheading the mechanical watch's rebirth
As quartz swept the world, belief in mechanical timepieces waned, but Jacques Piguet and Jean-Claude Biver put their faith in this venerable watchmaker and Blancpain S.A. started a new chapter in Le Brassus, no longer manufacturing movements for others but retaining its expertise for its own use. In the purest traditional style it made brilliant contribution to mechanical watchmaking's rebirth by focusing on advanced complications.
Appointed chairman in 2002, Marc A. Hayek decided to refocus the collections on excellence and brand heritage. Blancpain's leading lights? The Fifty Fathoms created in 1953 for the French navy's combat swimmers, the Villeret, the L-evolution and the Ladybird launched in 1956. There's no counting the world firsts, patents and unprecedented movements we owe to this watchmaker's R&D department! In 2010 Blancpain acquired watchmaker Frédéric Piguet and gained another site in the Vallée-de-Joux.
Happy Birthday, Ladybird!
Today Blancpain's watchmakers and craftworkers demonstrate immense talent and passion in upholding this 280-year-old tradition. Of the new watches in 2016, the Villeret has become an apposite backdrop for the applied arts, The Great Wave inspired by Hokusai's famous woodcut showcasing the rarely-seen Japanese technique of rokushō patination. The Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe has donned grey plasma ceramic, while the Ladybird celebrates its 60th year with a limited edition of 60 watches and two new models, one in white gold with a mother-of-pearl dial decorated with ruby hearts, the other in diamond-set red gold set with a precious ladybird charm.