When we think of Blancpain, the Fifty Fathoms comes to mind immediately, or maybe even the Aqualung (worn by Vladimir Putin). They have always been well known for producing amazing military watches and we are fully aware of their success. However, here is a timepiece that you probably never heard of before… the rare and mysterious Air Command. This should come as no surprise because only a dozen pieces were ever made, making it a true “Phantom,” as they say in collecting circles. In the 1950s, following the success of the Fifty Fathoms, which was adopted for use in the American Navy, Blancpain had hopes to continue their winning streak. They planned another model for the military, one that was specifically crafted for the US Airforce.
The Air Command was essentially based off the Fifty Fathoms watch, but with a few cool “add-ons.” These included a flyback chronograph, a tachymeter, and a “countdown” bezel. (Instead of the “countup” bezels found on typical dive watches). There were multiple uses for the countdown bezels, such as to synchronize strikes and bomb drops. It also allowed the user to make swift readings with regards to the time and rate of depletion of fuel reserves.
Despite its charming look and stunning functionality, the Air Command never made it for use in the US Airforce. Thus, only a small handful of prototypes/examples were ever made or issued. This makes the original Air Command exceedingly rare and highly coveted by collectors around the world. One example was sold at Phillips in 2016, in the “88 Epic Stainless Steel Chronograph” auction for a staggering CHF100,000.
Some may wonder why Blancpain chose to release this new Air Command. Maybe they decided that it was time to give a lovely watch another shot at success, this time for the general public who might be interested in aviation-themed watches. This also marks the first time that the brand has made a homage that mimics the original so closely, although there are key differences.
The new Air Command’s case diameter of 42.5mm is only fractionally larger than the 42mm of the 1950s original. The dial certainly gives off the “vintage” vibes with the clever use of Faux Patina on the Arabic hour markers as well as the hands. The faux patina gives off a yellowish hue which makes it look like it has been aged. It uses a “boxed” shaped sapphire crystal which recalls the look of the domed acrylic crystals of the past while being distinctly different. The glossy ceramic bezel insert adds a whole new dimension to the aesthetics while paying tribute to the original bakelite bezel.
The watch features a symmetric two register chronograph, powered by the Blancpain calibre F388B – a whole new movement, remarkably different from the Valjoux Calibre 222 in the original. The new calibre is based off the Frederic Piguet 1185, and has a flyback chronograph with a vertical clutch column wheel. It beats at a high frequency of 5 hertz, or 36,000 vph, allowing 1/10th of a second precision. (Just like the Zenith El Primero calibres). It has a sapphire caseback (certainly not present in the original) that allows you to gaze in wonder at the intricate craftsmanship and detailed finishing of the movement (this is a Bancpain movement after all). It also boasts a funky propeller-shaped oscillating rotor crafted out of 18k gold.
Movement Automatic calibre F388B; 50-hour power reserve
Case 42mm stainless steel; water-resistant to 100m