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Industry and brand history

July 30 2005 at 11:57 AM

ThomasM  (Premier Login thepurist178)
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Marcus Hanke
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Basel unplugged

January 30 2006, 6:14 AM 


 
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Marcus Hanke
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Production figures of Glashütte watches pre 1989

February 1 2006, 3:02 PM 


 
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ei8htohms
(Login ei8htohms)
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A question about Blancpain's history

February 5 2006, 12:11 PM 


A question about Blancpain's history
January 5 2002 at 9:05 PM ei8htohms (no login)

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Hi All,

Although I considered posting this question on TZ's BP forum, I thought that it might be seen as pointless troublemaking and I'm hoping I can get some more informed responses here without stirring up too much trouble.

My questions are these:

1. What are the true origins of Blancpain as a company? I don't mean the marketting story about Jean-Jaques Blancpain and 1735, nor do I mean the recent revival of BP by Jean Claude Biver in the '80s. I'm interested in knowing the history of the brand previous to Biver.

2. Has anyone ever seen an authentic historical BP pocket watch? Either made by Jean-Jaques Blancpain (I'm guessing such a watchmaker actually existed, regardless of the veracity of the supposed portrait of him used on BP's marketting material) or, particularly, made by the company during the 1800s.

I know these questions are probing into a sensitive area but I do not mean to condemn the brand, on the contrary, I am a fan of many or their fabulous watches. I am simply interested in understanding their true history with the marketting fictions stripped away. Thanks for any information you can provide.

_john


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Evitzee
(Login Evitzee)
AP Discussion Group I'll try to add a bit.... January 6 2002, 7:27 AM

since this is indeed a bit of a touchy subject to most BP-ophiles. I think I did see a post of a BP pocket watch on TZ that was posted as a challenge as to whether they actually existed. But I never kept a picture of it since I wasn't interested in it.

There is a reasonable sketch of the company in WRISTWATCHES by Brunner and Pfeiffer-Belli (blue cover) but alas no pocket watches! It says it made complete pocket watches but perhaps they were made under contract to other firms, hence, no Blancpain signature. They were somehow involved with the Harwood auto watch in 1926 and again in 1932 with the Rolls. Then the last Blancpain died in 1932 and the company was run for the next 50 years under the name 'Rayville' which is phonetic inversion of Villeret. It generally fell into disuse during this time. In 1970 Rayville was taken over by SSIH and then, in 1982, enter Mr. Biver stage left.

In my opinion Blancpain really has no history as it relates to their modern watches. It is fantasy and marketing fluff ala Walt Disney. I was told some years ago by a well respected vintage dealer in Zurich that the quality of the BP stuff in the 40's and 50's was very, very mediocre and was not considered good quality at all. I think that is one reason you don't see any vintage BP's from this era.....they were essentially throw away stuff. There are two pics of Blancpain signed movements in the book I referred to and finishing looks nonexistant, or crude at best.

Perhaps someone else has a picture of a pocket movement to share.



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John Price
(no login) A question for you.... January 6 2002, 7:57 AM

You make the comment about their watches in the 40s and 50s. What about their watches in the 60s and 70s ? It seems they bring ever higher prices on the various sales boards (pegging $2000 or more at times) yet when scans are posted of their movements and when I've actually handled them I've not seen much that impresses me. Am I missing something or are the prices a reflection of "riding on the coat-tails" of current model prices ?

John

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ei8htohms
(no login) I think they are "riding on the coat-tails" January 6 2002, 12:56 PM

Hi John and Frank,

Thanks Frank for the information. It doesn't sound like their history is nearly as fraudelent as I had feared (which is not to say it's still not embarrassingly padded).

I've serviced a Blancpain 50 Fathoms from the late '60s or early '70s and it was definitely nothing special. It had Rayville 566 movement which was an A. Schild ebauche (IIRC). It was not a throw away piece (I've never seen their pieces from the '40s and '50s) but was mid-grade at best. Possibly as good as a contemporary Mido or Minerva, definitely a significant step below Omega and several steps below JLC. I think the retroactive prestige of these watches is fascinating. While many collectors will pay a high premium for them with the full knowledge that they are paying for the name, this translates among less knowledgable collectors to an inflated sense of quality. A similar retroactive prestige seems to be assigned to Minerva's vintage pieces as well.

_john

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Lord Arran
(Login Lord__Arran)
Comm center I heard that Mr. Biver has bought the name and did Blancpain, a marketing wonder > January 6 2002, 2:26 PM

as far as I know, the name was taken out of a drawer and sold to Mr. Biver who had then started to produce the Blancpain (modern) watches.

Apart from having created excellent watches he is a marketing wonder and did a great job to box Blancpain into the limelight, so much so that Hayek bought Blancpain for a high price.

Congratulations to Mr. Biver, to be sure.

Cheers

Lord Arran


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Bill Stonehill
(Login wts) Blancpain and Minerva January 6 2002, 5:20 PM

Hi John,

The history of Blancpain and Minerva were somewhat interlinked. This is hardly supprising, as their factories were only 200 meters away from each other in Villeret. I have often walked by the old Blancpain factory--it is right across the street from where J.H.Frey, the former president of Minerva and I used to eat lunch.

Here is the history of Blancpain as Mr.Andre Frey , former Chairman of Minerva told it to me. He knew the Blancpain family well.

The founder of Minerva, Charles-Ivan Robert, married one of Blancpain daughters. The Blancpain factory was founded a few years after Minerva was. founded, which would put it roughly in the period 1870-1880. Minerva was always the leader, and Blancpain the poor relation. this may be seen in the size of their factories.

The present Minerva factory covers about six to eight time the space that Blancpain's old factory does . This represents fairly well the relation between the two factories..

One of the Blancpains achieved fame in a field unrelated to watchmaking. He gained recognition in France as a portrait painter, and is listed in the French directory of portrait painters.I understand that it is his self portrait that is often seen on Blancpain literature.

As for their production, Blancpain produced watches of average quality. Minerva produced watches that ranged from outstanding to average.

With the death of the last Blancpain in the late 1940s, the mistress of the last Blancpain took over and continued to run it successfully until her death sometime in the 1960s.The factory stopped production entirely in the 1970s, and only the name and the old factory buidling survived when Bivet purchased the name 18 years laters.

The quality of Blancpain watches on the whole is nothing special. However, you are mistaken about the quality of Minerva watches. Quite a few of their watches are of average quality. However, their chronographs are of outstanding quality. Their entire chronograph series can stand with the very best chronographs made.

Their stop watches also were of exceptional quality. Minerva was owned by the Pelot family during the 20s and 30s. Mr. Pelot was a horolgical inventor of great brilliance order, and in particular, his inventions in the field of stop watches assured that Minerva stop watches were very special.

If one is an antique collector, depending on the watch, Minerva watches, particularly chronogrpahs, are well worth the money. How ever, I think any money spent on "antique" Blancpains is a waste of money, and I consider Bivet's claims about Blancpain's "history" to be mainly fictitious and nothing more than marketing fluff.

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ei8htohms
(no login) Thanks Bill! January 6 2002, 5:39 PM

Hi Bill,

It's entirely coincidental that I brought up Minerva at all but it's interesting that their histories are interlinked. I also agree with what you said about Minerva's chonographs. I was mainly referring to the adoration of vintage Cal. 48s, 49s and 50s that modern collectors seem to have. From most brands, these pieces would fetch a couple hundred dollars at most but, because of Minerva's recent popularity among collectors, I've seen them sell for several times that (although I haven't checked out their prices recently). I've also seen a few Minerva stop-watches that were just average quality although the majority that I've seen are quite high grade. Their chronograph movements are another animal entirely and I'd love to get a close look at a Cal. 20 sometime.

That theory of the origins of the Blancpain portrait is new to me. I heard that JC Biver (or someone else in Blancpain) found the painting at a flea market. Regardless, I think it is largely agreed that it is not JJ Blanpain and that most of the supposed history is a stretch at best. I appreciate you filling in the gaps for me.

_john

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Bill Stonehill
(Login wts) Couldn't help myself--a word about Minerva stop watches January 7 2002, 5:43 PM

Although this thread is about Blancpain--incidentally, residents of both Villeret and nearby St. Imier ( a 20 minute walk, where there are also several watch factories) swear they remember a quartz Blancpain--I would like to say one thing about Minerva stop watches.

they look very ordinary, but look at their springs. This is where the genius of Mr. Pelot became apparent. The reason Minerva is considered the best stop watch made is because it uses coil springs, not flat springs.Mr. Pelot inevnted and patented this system.

The main problem with stop watches is that the flat springs are breaking all the time.Coil springs never break. Since 1945, Minerva claims not to have had one single stopwatch returned to their factory with a broken spring.

Interestingly enough, in the 60s, I think, Minerva made a wrist watch chronograph movement that used coil springs as an attempt at an economic chronograph movement. It was not successful, however.

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ei8htohms
(no login) I guess that is quite an innovation January 7 2002, 10:01 PM

Hi Bill,

That is quite an innovation now that I think about it. I think some will find these coiled springs to at least have the appearance of garden variety industrial design, as opposed to the sometimes elaborately shaped springs found in some chronographs (the coiled springs Bill is talking about look like tiny versions of the springs on a trampoline). Be that as it may, I can't think of a timepiece that is more purely functional than a stop-watch and their appropriateness in this context is hard to argue with in light of their reported service record. Do you know if these springs have a tendency to stretch or wear out in other ways? I wouldn't think so but . . .

Thanks sincerely for all the great information you've contributed to this thread Bill. I learned a lot about Minerva and Blancpain.

_john

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Bill Stonehill
(Login wts) How to make springs--a great website January 8 2002, 1:11 AM

http://home.earthlink.net/~bazillion/springs.html

This is a really good website on how to make springs--virtually every type under the sun, although it mainly focuses on coil springs.

I think the answer to your question is that coil springs like Mr. Pelot used in Minerva stop watches can be used almost indefinitely without fatiguing or wearing out.

You could click on a stop watch until doomsday and not even faze a coil spring, I understand.

It's too bad that Minerva's economical chronograph never caught on. It wasn't too pretty, but it was durable and accurate.

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Curtis
(no login) Great link! Thanks, Bill. -nt- January 8 2002, 8:24 AM

nt

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Tom Gillham
(Login TomGillham) This, to me, is what makes the Internet... January 8 2002, 2:37 PM

such a wonderful resource. You want to design and then make your own balance spring? Surf!

Tom

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Lord Arran
(Login Lord__Arran)
Comm center I can only say again dear Mr. Stonehill: you are a very valuable member of this forum indeed. Thank January 6 2002, 10:23 PM

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Bill Stonehill
(Login wts) Thank you for the very kind words (nt) January 7 2002, 5:45 PM

nt

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ThomasM
(Premier Login thepurist178)
Forum Owner Excellent info, Bill. Thank you very much. (nt) January 7 2002, 9:44 PM

.

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Curtis
(no login) Interesting thread. Thanks to all! -nt- January 7 2002, 5:50 AM

nt

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Mike Margolis
(no login) Just found this thread... January 7 2002, 9:25 AM

most interesting, as William Massena brought up a few weeks ago, there are NO pictures of old BP's.

I wish I knew more, but I really don't.

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Bill Stonehill
(Login wts) Old Blancpains January 7 2002, 5:52 PM

To me it seems the reason why there are no old Blancpain watches is because there never were any in the first place.



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BarryN
(no login) Thanks Bill, your Blancpain-Minerva info was... January 7 2002, 7:24 PM

Very enlightening...

I'd love to see one of the coil spring Minerva movements ~ Thanks!

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Lord Arran
(Login Lord__Arran)
Comm center How about their boast: Since 1735 there was never a Blancpain Quartz and there never will be one? nt January 8 2002, 12:22 AM

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Bill Stonehill
(Login wts) According to Villeret lore, there's not just one, but several January 8 2002, 1:19 AM

The story told around Villeret-St.Imier is that after Blancpain closed down, Omega bought the name, and would occasionally use it on private label watches that they didn't want their own name associated with. Among these were supposedly several quartz watches that bore the Blancpain name.

True??? All I can say is that I have never seen one myself, nor ever met anyone that has seen one. And it also seems that every time I hear this story I am in a bar somewhere....


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BarryN
(no login) LOL ~ (nt) January 8 2002, 10:02 PM







 
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Marcus Hanke
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