We are going to the maison’s workshop in Le Brassus and factory in Le Sentier for a visit. Travelling past lush, undulatings hills into picturesque Vallé de Joux, we arrive in Le Brassus, where some of today's most prominent watchmaking giants were born.
Blancpain has quite a history to tell. Founded by J.B. Blancpain in Villeret, 1735, it started out as a family company. By the 1950s, it was producing 100,000 watches per year, which increased to 200,000 by the 1960s. Though, like most mechanical watch brands, Blancpain was hard hit by the advent of quartz movements in the 1970s, it was eventually acquired and moved to Le Brassus in the 1980s. Finally, it became part of the Swatch Group in the 1990s.
The Swiss-style building houses the finishing, engraving, enamelling as well as the tourbillon and carousel departments. With our white coats and shoe covers on, we are ready to go!
In the finishing department, every bridge and the surface of components are hand-finished, polished and sanded - a task that can only be performed by skilled craftsmen after at least two years of training. Observing the watchmakers, we have to get a taste of what it is like to work with such tiny objects. We give the circular decoration machine a try. Every circle created - no more than three millimetres in diameter - has to overlap each other's radius with spot-on precision to create a harmonious and beautiful pattern worthy of haute horlogerie. For us, it was certainly no easy task!
In the engraving department, we admire the award-winning works by French engraver Marie-Laure Tabouriech. Every piece beckons a closer look. Under the lens, her incredible depiction of a mountain looms larger than life. We also got a glimpse of what Blancpain can achieve with enamelling: Napoleon Bonaparte in a victorious moment, cloisonée enamelled blossoms and much more. Fable and myth all came alive in an alchemy of sumptuous colours painted with precision brush strokes.
Above all, Blancpain prides itself with its own in-house movements. In fact, tourbillons and carrousels have their own department in Le Brassus workshop. While Blancpain tourbillons have an average of 60 components and weigh in at 0.2 gram, the maison also produces another type of regulator, the carrousel. With 80 parts that amount to approximately 0.4 gram, the carrousel has a sandwiched structure. During production, the weight of a movement never veers more than four microns – the weight of dust for those of us unfamiliar with the workings of a watch, but for an haute horlogerie creation like a Blancpain watch, precision makes a world of difference.
The maison takes its craftsmanship to the next level with personalization. Customers can submit ideas which the maison then transforms into drawings and designs, fine tuned with the customer until they are satisfactory. Depending on how complicated the personalization is, it takes about two months to complete a customized watch.
There is so much more to see, so we move on to Le Sentier where Blancpain’s watch factory is located. Parts and components are manufactured here in a streamlined production, where million-euro machines work around the clock. Plates, springs and other pieces are cut, heated, cleaned… Though most procedures are performed by machines, skilled workers rely on their naked, expert eyes to ensure the highest quality.
With the stunning backdrop of Vallée de Joux all around us, after our visit we admire Blancpain’s diverse collections – from Villeret to Léman, Fifty Fathoms and women’s complicated timepieces – with new appreciation, not only for the maison’s approach to haute horlogerie, but also for the very human, passionate touch that goes into every single component of its beautiful watches.