Brand Directory: Blancpain

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Jehan-Jacques Blancpain, founded his watch business in 1735, utilising the upper floor of his farmhouse into a workshop. His son David-Louis Blancpain (1765-1816), was committed to growing his fathers business by traveling often through Europe, in particular to France and Germany, selling and delivering Blancpain watches. Due to his bad health, Frédéric-Louis handed the company to his son, Frédéric-Emile, when he was just 19 years old.

The company soon took the name of 'E. Blancpain’. Emile achieved remarkable success, building the business into the largest and most effective enterprise in Villeret. Frédéric-Emile the grandson continued heading the company until 1932. During his later years, he was joined in 1915 by Betty Fiechter who assisted him in running the business. She joined the company as an apprentice when she was just 16 and quickly her responsibilities at Blancpain grew to become head of manufacturing and commercial development. Frédéric-Emile was so confident in her skills and talent that he started training her for taking on responsibility for production and becoming the director of the company, which is an incredible achievement for a woman at that time. In 1926, the company entered into a partnership with John Harwood, a British watchmaker who had produced the first self-winding wristwatch obtaining a Swiss patent in 1924. With Betty Fiechter as the director, Blancpain had to survive the Great Depression of the 1930s. One such way was to open their movement supply to other brands. In this period, Blancpain became a supplier of Gruen, Elgin and Hamilton, among many others. She was joined in 1950 by her nephew Jean-Jacques Fiechter who had a key role in the development of the Fifty Fathoms, the world’s first modern diving watch which debuted in 1953. Collaborating with the French combat divers, Jean-Jacques promoted its widespread adoption by many navies around the world as well as being used by the famous explorer Jacques Cousteau and his team. In 1961 the company merged into the largest Swiss watch group the Société Suisse pour l’Industrie Horlogère (SSIH), where they joined Omega, Tissot and Lemania. Inside this Group, they saw huge growth even building new facilities and production soaring to more than 220,000 pieces by 1971.

This growth was not to last as a combination of events hit at once. First, we saw the fall of the dollar against the Swiss franc which reduced their transatlantic exports and secondly a serious oil crisis that triggered a worldwide recession but to top it all the entire Swiss watchmaking industry was severely hit by the huge growth in imports of quartz watches from Japan referred to as "the quartz crisis”.

A new strategy was seriously needed by the Société Suisse pour l’Industrie Horlogère (SSIH) who decided to build its own quartz watches rather than mechanical ones, 1993 they sold the Rayville-Blancpain name to a partnership of movement manufacturer Frédéric Piguet, led by Jacques Piguet, and Jean-Claude Biver, then an employee of SSIH.

The new company traded under the name of Blancpain SA and set up production in an old building belonging to the Piguet family at Le Brassus, in the Vallée de Joux, Switzerland. In 1991, Blancpain presented the most complicated wristwatch in the world at the time: the 1735 Grande Complication. This incredible timepiece featured a one-minute tourbillon regulator, a perpetual calendar with moon phases and moon age, a co-axial split-seconds chronograph and a minute repeater activated by the slide on the band.

It took over ten months of work by a watchmaker master, the Blancpain 1735 Grande Complication had a production run of just 30 pieces from 1991 to 2009. 

In 1992, the Société Suisse pour l’Industrie Horlogère (SSIH) purchased Blancpain SA back for 60 million Swiss Francs (more than a thousand times the amount that was paid in 1983 for the brand name).

It was during this time that SSIH and ASUAG - the two largest Swiss watch groups - merged in the Swiss Corporation for Microelectronics and Watchmaking Industries Ltd. (SMH). SMH was then renamed The Swatch Group in 1998. Jean-Claude Biver remained as CEO of the company until 2003