Return of the French Skin Diver: Introducing the New Jacques Bianchi JB 200

Marseille-based master watchmaker Jacques Bianchi began providing models of the JB 200, a distinctively designed, quartz-powered divers’ watch that he developed for his eponymous brand, to the French Navy in the mid-1980s. Now 80 years old, Bianchi has partnered with a small team of French watch-industry players to resurrect the JB200 for a modern audience, combining period-appropriate details with a new mechanical movement.

The original JB 200 divers’ watch (above) designed by Marseille watchmaker and distributor Jacques Bianchi (below)

The original JB 200, launched in 1982, was very limited in production and distributed under mostly confidential circumstances to mine divers, combat swimmers, helicopter pilots, and other units operating within the French navy. Its stainless steel case contained an uncommonly robust quartz caliber made in France, the FE (France-Ebauche) 7121, and had its winding crown positioned on the left side. Most notably from an aesthetic standpoint was its black dial, emblazoned with the silhouette of a frogman. Bianchi, who began his career repairing Rolex Submariners and other iconic divers’ watches worn by Comex divers in the 1960s and ’70s at his workshop in Marseille’s Vieux Port, wanted to re-issue his 1980s timepiece in as historically accurate a fashion as possible while still taking it “upmarket” for a modern audience. To accomplish this, the veteran watchmaker and underwater enthusiast turned to Fabrice Pougez, head of Frane’s MATWatches brand, and Simo Tber, founder of fashion-oriented Paris creative agency Direct Lemon as partners. Together, the trio developed the contemporary descendant of the JB200, which houses a mechanical automatic movement from Japan’s Seiko, the robust NH35.

The hands and diver illustration on the dial are reminiscent of the original.

The stainless steel case of the new JB200 retains the 42-mm dimensions of the 1980s original “skin diver” model but is slightly thicker to accommodate the self-winding movement (13.3 mm). The dial, sized the same as the original, features the hallmark illustration of a diver checking his watch and has a grained texture that creates an intriguing combination of light and shadow. The hands and indexes, made of tritium in the vintage model, are coated with ivory-colored Super-LumiNova. And while the indexes on the contemporary watch have been slightly enlarged in the service of legibility, the hands have kept their disparate shapes: a stick hand for the hours, an arrow for the minutes, and a squared lollipop-style for the seconds.

The steel case is water-resistant to 200 meters.

In most other respects, the new JB 200 hews very closely to the aesthetics of its ancestor: the screw-down crown remains in its left-side position on the case (in a style dubbed “destro”), ensuring a water resistance of 200 meters; the unidirectional rotating bezel is gradated to 60 clicks in the same style as the 1980s’ model and also features the same mirror-polished, inclined design; the bezel scale’s numerals are in the same ivory-colored lume as the hands and hour markers to evoke an aged patina; and the Tropic-style rubber strap is reminiscent of those used in the original watch’s heyday. The most notable difference between the two models is at 6 o’clock, where an hour index replaces the earlier model’s date window.

Ivory-colored lume on the bezel and dial gives the watch a vintage look.

By all available indications, the relaunch of the Jacques Bianchi JB200 — and the renaissance of the “French Skin Diver” style that it represents — has thus far been a smashing success. The pre-financing campaign, launched on Kickstarter in June, reached its original target of 100,000 euros in just 9 minutes and continued to raise more than 580,000 euros in less than a week afterward.

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