For a large majority of watch enthusiasts, Blancpain is mostly known for two things; its high-end, elegant and complicated watches from the Villeret collection and, of course, its dive watches under the Fifty Fathoms range. And if the watchmaker is extremely good at both, there’s more to Blancpain than just that. And here, we mean pilot’s watches and a highly mysterious and rare model known as the Air Command. When presented back in 2019, the first re-edition of this elusive watch made quite an impression. Following this now sold-out steel version, the brand comes back with a new model, this time in a more modern look, with the Blancpain Air Command Flyback Chronograph in Titanium.
As explained in our first encounter with the stainless model, the Blancpain Air Command is quite complex and not necessarily well known. The story behind this pilot’s watch 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 Blancpain 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 one of the most sought-after military chronographs of the late 1950s, the Blancpain Air Command model was reissued in 2019 in a limited edition stainless steel version, with a clear retro style and patina-like markers. Now, a new, more technical-looking edition surfaces, in titanium with a blue dial.
The new Blancpain Air Command Titanium-Blue
When launched, the steel version of the Blancpain Air Command Flyback Chronograph was certainly a very faithful re-creation of the original model, at least when it comes to design since mechanics, materials and production methods were certainly not 1950s standards anymore. But still, one could only applaud the work done by the brand in terms of faithfulness. Very attractive, quickly sold-out and now collectable (understand, for sale on the second-hand market with a premium), this watch is now the base for a new edition that leaves the retro styling aside and opts for more a technical look.
Materials and colours apart, the new titanium edition Blancpain Air Command Flyback Chronograph is entirely identical to the steel model of 2019… but you know that a different colour can entirely change a watch! If the case retains its 1950s shape with a diameter of 42.5mm and a height of 13.7mm, it is now made in grade 23 titanium (which we explored in this article on the Bathyscaphe). It alternates between brushed surfaces and polished accents on the sides of the lugs, and the result is a watch with refinement yet a sportier attire – due to both the lighter case and the colder, slightly darker colour of titanium. True to the original, it is equipped with a bidirectional bezel with a countdown scale, executed in a more modern white colour (no more fauxtina here). The bezel is now made of blue, polished ceramic. The case also retains its configuration with two box-shaped sapphire crystals, enhancing the vintage look, and it’s still water-resistant to 30m.
Following the new materials and colours of the habillage, this new titanium edition of the Blancpain Air Command Flyback Chronograph also comes equipped with a new deep blue dial that distills a touch of modernity and technicality. The colour is reinforced by a finely sunray-brushed surface, while the chronograph counters are snailed. In the same vein, the painted Arabic numerals, typical of pilot’s watches, are now made with off-white-coloured Super-LumiNova, and so are the hands, which are now polished metal (and not painted white anymore) and filled with the same colour of SLN. The display is classic at first, with two sub-counters and a tachymeter scale on the outer edge, but note that due to the movement, this Blancpain Air Command doesn’t have a running second but instead features 30-minute and 12-hour counters.
Under the sapphire caseback is a movement that is, contrary to the look of the watch, anything but vintage-inspired. The in-house Calibre F388B is indeed one of the most technically-advanced movements of the brand. There’s a lot to say about this calibre, starting with its architecture, as we’re talking about an integrated automatic chronograph with column-wheel and vertical clutch – which ensures perfect starting and stopping without the jerks that occasionally occur with horizontal constructions. Second, it’s a flyback chronograph, a valuable element for pilots, as it enables them in a single press to reset the current timing operation and start a new one while the chronograph is running, instead of the three-step stop-reset-start operation.
Also important, the Calibre F388B is a hi-beat movement, with a 5Hz frequency that enables 1/10th of a second calculation and also improves accuracy. The regulating organ is equipped with a free-sprung balance wheel in silicon regulated by inertia screws – to facilitate fine adjustments and increase shock-resistance. Also, it features a silicon hairspring, which is insensitive to magnetic fields. The decoration of the movement has also evolved compared to the steel model, as it now features a more modern openworked gold oscillating weight. The bridges and the rotor are finished with a snailed pattern and feature polished bevels.
The Blancpain Air Command Flyback Chronograph in titanium (ref. AC02-12B40-63) is worn on a blue calfskin leather strap closed by a titanium pin buckle (a folding clasp is also available on request). It is released as part of the permanent collection and is priced at CHF 17,300 or USD 18,500.
The Blancpain Air Command Red Gold
In addition to the grade 23 titanium edition we were able to photograph, Blancpain is also releasing an 18k red gold edition of its Air Command Flyback Chronograph. Apart from the different material for the case, bezel and hands, this edition is entirely identical to the titanium model. The caseback reveals a rotor that is gold-coloured, matching the case. This edition (ref. AC02-36B40-63) will be priced at CHF 27,300.
More details to be found at blancpain.com.