The story behind certain watches remains something of a mystery. Their very rareness amplifies their appeal to collectors. We call them unicorns… We know they exist, we’ve seen some but scholarship is almost inexistent and no archives can help! The vintage Blancpain Air Command Chronograph is a unicorn watch, and this is one of the reasons to be excited today, as Blancpain is about to reissue this watch. Meet the Blancpain Air Command Chronograph Re-Edition.
The story behind the Blancpain Air Command can be traced to the creation of the Type 20 standard for the French Ministry of Defence, which was looking for a high-precision chronograph capable of meeting demanding specifications – black dial with luminous hour markers and hands to maximise legibility, movement with a flyback function, as well as a small seconds hand. Blancpain might have started to look into chronographs, even without being selected by the French army. A few years later, other armed forces began looking for a similar instrument. Blancpain, which had already won over the American Navy with its Fifty Fathoms diver’s watch, drew inspiration from it to develop a chronograph for the United States Air Force. This timepiece was offered to American military pilots through the distributor Allen V. Tornek, for whom Blancpain is thought to have created a dozen watches as prototypes. The total production of Air Command chronographs was probably very limited.
According to Phillips Watches, “there is no official documentation about this model and scholars are of the opinion that it was never commercialized or produced in series” and “no orders were placed and the Air Command project was not pursued”.
The few existing examples of vintage Blancpain Air Command can be described as a pilot-oriented chronograph version of the Fifty Fathoms, with which it shares similarities in the design. It was equipped with a 42mm steel case, a bi-directional bezel, a black dial with luminous Arabic numerals and hands, a tachymeter scale on the dial and a Valjoux 222 Flyback.
Renowned as the most sought-after military chronograph of the late 1950s, the Blancpain Air Command model has now been given a new lease of life.
The 2019 Blancpain Air Command Chronograph Re-Edition
For this 500-piece limited edition of the Air Command Chronograph, Blancpain wanted to remain as faithful as possible to the original 1950s watch, with, however, a few concessions to modernity – in this case, the combination of an ultra-vintage look with modern materials and a modern movement.
The resemblance between the old model and the re-edition is blatant. Before we move to the details concerning this watch, it has to be said that Blancpain has done a great job here, keeping the proportions and the details very relevant. The execution, as you can expect from the brand, is perfect and the movement is far from being an old tractor.
The case of this Blancpain Air Command Chronograph Re-Edition is made of steel and retains both the overall shape of the old model as well as the proportions. It measures 42.5mm in diameter (quite a reasonable dimensions and close to the original model) for a very acceptable 13.77mm height. The case comes with beautifully chamfered lugs and is topped by a ratcheted “countdown” bi-directional pilot’s bezel, with a black polished ceramic insert and luminous hour markers (imitating the bakelite bezel of the vintage watch). On top is a box-type sapphire crystal, again to resemble the old plexiglass. The final touch is given by a nice patinated brown calf leather strap.
The dial is a clear reference to the old model. Indeed, the Blancpain Air Command Chronograph Re-Edition is 99% faithful to the original; the inscriptions, the scales (seconds and base-1000 tachymeter), the Arabic numerals, the bi-compax layout or the pilot-style hands are all replicated to perfection. The only concession is the small seconds that has been replaced by a 12-hour counter at 9 o’clock, the 30-minute counter being located at 3 o’clock.
To enhance the vintage look, all the luminous areas of the dial and bezel are painted in “old radium” Super-LumiNova (hands, numerals, bezel markers). The dial has a slightly more modern and luxurious finishing and features a discreet sunburst pattern. The Flyback mention at 6 o’clock is also new to this re-edition. Compared to the vintage version, the new Air Command offers a larger dial opening, mainly due to the large movement running inside.
While the 1950s Blancpain Air Command was equipped with a hand-wound Valjoux 222, its 2019 re-edition features a prestigious and powerful calibre. it is powered by the calibre F388B, with a high frequency of 5Hz (or 36,000 vibrations/hour), ensuring greater accuracy. The movement is also automatic and shares its base with the one found in the Bathyscaphe Chronograph Flyback. The Calibre F388B is also modernly equipped, with a vertical clutch, column-wheel, flyback and anti-magnetic silicon parts for the regulating organ. The view through the caseback reveals a nicely decorated movement, with polished bevels, brushed bridges and mainly, a new propeller-shaped and gold-coloured rotor.
The Blancpain Air Command Chronograph Re-Edition (ref. AC01-1130-63A) will be limited to 500 pieces and priced at CHF 18,500. More details at blancpain.com.