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Swatch Group 2019 Release: The Blancpain Air Command, a Legendary Vintage Pilots’ Watch, Rises Again


The Swatch Group decided to forgo Baselworld in 2019 and have its 12 exhibiting brands release their latest novelties on their own terms. While we’ve seen a number of releases slowly trickle out over the past six months, it’s all led up to this week for the Swiss conglomerate. WatchTime was one of the select few American publications invited to attend the inaugural “Time to Move” event that took place over the past four days in Switzerland. We spent that time meeting with six of the Swatch Group’s most prestigious marques — Breguet, Blancpain, Jaquet Droz, Glashütte Original, Harry Winston, and Omega — to view the watches that would be defining the rest of the year. Here are the highlights so far. 

Many watch aficionados are aware of the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms and its historical connection to the United States Navy. Fewer may be as knowledgeable about another historical military-targeted timepiece that followed it: the Blancpain Air Command, developed for the U.S. Air Force in the late 1950s but was very limited in serial production. Today’s Blancpain is looking to acquaint contemporary customers with that rare vintage chronograph with the release of a new, limited-edition version of the Air Command.

Blancpain Air Command - side
The Blancpain Air Command (above) is based on a rare military aviators’ watch from the 1950s (below).
Blancpain Air Command - reclining
The original watch was commissioned by the French Ministry of Defence.

The new version of the Air Command, which is limited to 500 pieces, takes its cues from a prototype made in the 1950s for the French Ministry of Defence, who requested a pilot’s watch with a black dial, luminous hour markers and hands, and a high-precision chronograph movement with a flyback function. A version was eventually made for the United States Air Force — suitably, as the groundbreaking Fifty Fathoms divers’ watch had previously won over the U.S. Navy — and offered to USAF pilots through distributor Allen V. Tornek. Blancpain calls the original Air Command “the most sought-after military chronographs of the late 1950s” due to its scarcity, and its retro spirit informs the design of its modern successor. Its ratcheted, bidirectionally rotating countdown bezel (with black ceramic insert) enables an aviator to gauge the remaining time of his or her fuel reserve in flight, while the numerals and markers on the bezel and dial, as well as the hands, are covered in “old radium”-type Super-LumiNova, which not only allows easy legibility in a darkened cockpit but also ape the orange hue of the original’s. Balancing out the black dial, encircled by a tachymeter scale for calculating air speeds based on a 1,000-meter distance, are two subdials at 3 o’clock and 9 o’clock, tallying 30 elapsed chronograph minutes and 12 chronograph hours, respectively.

Blancpain Air Command - dial CU
The vintage watch’s box-type sapphire crystal was notable for its time.

The box-type sapphire crystal over the wide dial opening, a notable element for watches of the 1950s, is true to the watch’s ancestor, and repeated in the back of the watch’s 42.5-mm steel case, revealing the self-winding F388B caliber and its on-theme propellor-shaped rotor made of solid gold. With its lightning-quick balance frequency of 5 Hz, the movement allows the integrated stopwatch function to measures elapsed times to 1/10-second intervals. The chronograph’s vertical clutch enables the central seconds hand to snap smoothly into action and seamlessly stop and start time measurements, the column wheel at the heart of the mechanism speaks to the movement’s classical architecture, and the flyback mechanism allows instantaneous stopping and re-starting of the chronograph. The movement is composed of 293 components, including 35 jewels, and holds a power reserve of 50 hours. The Blancpain Air Command completes its military look with a patented calf leather strap with contrast stitching. The price and availability at retail was unavailable at press time.

Blancpain Air Command - Caliber
Caliber F388B, with its gold propellor rotor, is visible through a box-shaped sapphire caseback.

 

2 Responses to “Swatch Group 2019 Release: The Blancpain Air Command, a Legendary Vintage Pilots’ Watch, Rises Again”

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  1. Craig McBride

    It’s not often you’ll hear this said, but Blancpain really could learn something from Bremont about aviation themed rotors…

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