Jehan-Jacques Blancpain first started making timepieces in his home village of Villeret, Switzerland in 1735. From his home on the banks of the river Suze, he made components for watch movements that he made available to other watch makers. He then set about making complete pocket watch movements and cases for a growing market.
The company was kept in the same family for generations, and in 1926 they created a new breed of automatic watch movement, especially designed for the French market. Later around 1931 Blancpain began making fully automatic watch movements. Encased in an attractive rectangular case the "Rolls" line of wrist watches proved to be popular with sophisticated watch buyers of the time.
After the death of Frederic-Emile in 1932, there remained no family members who could take over the business. Run under the name of "Rayville" for the next fifty years, the company continued its innovative approach to watch making, introducing watches that were for specific purposes, including a popular and functional line of divers watches called the "Fifty Fathoms" range, in 1953.
As with other fine watch makers, Blancpain was also good at self-promotion; by arranging for the famous ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau to wear a Fifty Fathoms watch during his film making expeditions, all filmed and displayed to a wide audience, they ensured a large portion of the population knew about their watches.
In 1970 the company of Rayville was taken over by a Swiss company, SSIH. It would appear that SSIH did not fully utilize the brand and the Company name was largely absent from watch making for the next decade. SSIH hit financial troubles in 1982 and it sold off the Company name and business to a consortium run by Jacques Piguet and Jean-Claude Biver.
Luckily, the mechanical timepiece was beginning its resurgence at this time, and a new range of complicated watches brought the watch maker back into the limelight. In the mid 1980s they released a minute repeater wrist watch. This watch was a masterpiece of mechanical engineering, measuring only 20.3mm in diameter and a minute 3.2mm high; it is still one of the smallest complicated movements ever made.
In 1989, Blancpain again stunned the watch making world, with an automatic chronograph with split-seconds and date movement. An even more amazing watch followed, the reference model 1735, of which Blancpain only made thirty pieces. This masterpiece included several complications; moon-phase & perpetual calendar, split-seconds chronograph, a tourbillion, and a minute repeater. One of these is worth about US$100,000 if you want to go shopping!
The Swatch Group bought Blancpain in 1992 but has continued the Blancpain tradition of purely mechanical timepieces, and exceptional timepieces they are.
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