Blancpain is a brand with a rich and complicated history. Founded in 1735, it revolutionized the dive watch and reached sales of 100,000 watches per year by the late 1950s. The brand disappeared in the 70s to be revived in the 80s. The watches from that early revival era are now surprisingly affordable. Something we should probably have a closer look at…

I speak specifically of the 1990s, and 2000s neo-vintage watches from the fabled house. Let’s see how these watches fit in with the larger Blancpain story and what you may be able to find at unexpected prices.

The Fifty Fathoms—What Blancpain is best know for

The Blancpain revival

You may have heard of SSIH (Société Suisse pour l’Industrie Horlogére SA). This group of Swiss watch companies, founded in 1930, would become the Swatch Group in 1998. Blancpain joined SSIH in 1961, in an effort to scale up. At the time, the company made primarily dive watches and jewelry watches. Eventually, after reorganizations within the group, the brand disappeared in the mid-seventies. Operations were brought under the Omega brand, and Blancpain was no more.

Then, in 1981, Jean-Claude Biver and Jacques Piguet purchased the rights to the brand. They paid a fee of CHF21,500 for the right to use the Blancpain name. A few years later, the pair started to release new Blancpain watches housing proprietary Frederic Piguet calibers.

The first models were executed in gold and featured a moon-phase complication at six. In the following years, more luxurious and complicated new watches followed. Biver and Piguet sold the brand back to the SMH group, as SSIH was then called, in 1992 for CHF60,000,000. Biver would soon return to take charge of both Omega and Blancpain. Blancpain then started adding sports watches and re-editions of heritage models to the lineup throughout the nineties.

Bargain Blancpain watches

That doesn’t sound right, does it? Bargain Blancpain…

As it turns out, you can find watches from the 90s and 00s at unexpectedly affordable prices. Relatively speaking, of course, considering the brand’s standing and the watches’ horological weight. We are still speaking of vast amounts of money. But within the grand scheme of high-end watchmaking, there are some true gems waiting to be uncovered here.

Watches like the 100-hour power reserve Ref. 2100, the Villeret dress watch and the Léman chronograph are neo-vintage bargains. What if I told you that you could have any of those well under €5k? You can have your pick of steel, gold, and several dial options. All are readily available on the pre-owned market today. Let me share three watches currently on the market to illustrate my point.

Blancpain Léman Chronograph

Let me kick things off with a Léman chronograph, offered in Japan. This 38mm stainless steel chrono is priced at €4,564. The watch comes on a very distinct and complicated original steel bracelet. The original box is still present.

This is really a very interesting watch. We complain a lot nowadays that brands have forgotten how to make a subtly sized automatic chronograph. Well, look at this! 38mm And beautifully slender at about 12mm. It is even 100 meters water resistant, secured by screw-down pushers.

The three sub-dials on the white dial are perfectly positioned. The date at six could use a nice little frame, but at least it is neatly positioned. Inside, we find an automatic Frederic Piguet caliber. This is a seriously heavy-hitting chronograph, even to modern standards. And its classical styling ensures it will not go out of fashion any time soon.

Images courtesy of Eastend & Co, Japan.

Blancpain Villeret 18k Ultra-thin

Okay, let me knock this out of the park with a solid gold entry: the Villeret Ref. 0021-1418. This 18k yellow gold dress watch is on offer in Germany, at €3,240. I know that is a lot of money. But think of it like this: a new Longines Flagship Heritage in steel costs €3,300. A steel Longines with an ETA-based caliber or a solid gold ultra-thin Blancpain with a Piguet caliber and lunch money. Which would you pick? I’d have a great lunch, for sure.

Atypical for the era, this one comes with a glass case back. Through it, you can admire the Frederic Piguet caliber 21. This manually wound caliber debuted in 1925 and measured only 1.74mm in height. It allows the 18k yellow gold case to be only 5mm thick.

The dial is perhaps a bit 90s, although the modern Villeret still looks quite similar. The size, at 33.5mm, is not to everyone’s liking. But for an ultra-slim dress watch, I think it works very well.

Images courtesy of Zeitauktion

A Blancpain GADA watch

Last, I would like to show you the Ref. 2100 Léman Ultra-slim. This watch wouldn’t look out of place in any modern watch brand’s catalog. In fact, I think the specifications would put it high up on many aficionados’ wishlists.

Here we have a 38mm do-it-all style watch that measures under 10mm in height! You get a lovely, sporty stainless steel bracelet, a screw-down crown, and 100 meters of water resistance. You also get a whopping 100 hours of power reserve from the proprietary automatic caliber 2100. This watch is currently on offer here in the Netherlands at €4,750.

I think Blancpain should seriously consider re-introducing this line. Especially at this size, 38×9mm, it could be the perfect high-end GADA (Go Anywhere Do Anything) watch. I reckon there is serious hit potential there…what do you think? Let us know in the comments below.

Images courtesy of Juwelier Burger

Closing thoughts

Blancpain is obviously revered for its dive watch heritage. I feel the brand is underrated in its many other offerings. The three watches above illustrate that, particularly in the neo-vintage realm. As I already said before, there are some true gems just waiting to be uncovered. It may take some digging, but they’re there!

I also wonder if there isn’t space for a new Léman in this current collection. Between divers, old-school pilot’s watches, and dress watches, there aren’t currently any all-purpose Blancpain sports watches. Perhaps it would cannibalize the Omega Aqua Terra, although I would personally envision it as a more haute-horlogerie alternative at a higher price point.

What do you think of these neo-vintage Blancpain watches? Let us know in the comments below!