What’s the difference between Blancpain, Jaeger-LeCoultre and Audemars Piguet, all of three being distant of only a couple of blocks ? There’s one brand out of them, just one, which is located in a very small and humble building, just large enough to welcome 40 watchmakers : Blancpain. These people aren’t in charge of three-hands watches. They make, they literally give birth to grandes complications and artistic craft watches – what the industry calls « Métiers d’Arts ».
Blancpain Manufacture Factory Visit – Welcome to the Farm
Of course, Blancpain also has its own plant a few miles away, in order to produce the biggest part of the watch collections, which will probably reach in 2014 a total of 25 000 pieces, according to its CEO himself, M. Marc Hayek. But this little building, now called La Ferme, is a true specificity of Blancpain. It’s the heart of haute horlogerie, where all high-end pieces such as the Tourbillon Carrousel come from. Oh, by the way, even if we call it « the farm », the building was, centuries ago…a mill !
Actually, Blancpain kept its original structure from 1984 until 2007, when the Swatch Group decided to break each and every wall within the building and rebuild it from scratch, with the requirements for a team of watchmakers and craftsmen.
Blancpain Manufacture Factory Visit – A team of specialists
In « the farm », there’s only a few representatives of every profession : a couple of watchmakers, some other watchmakers but only dedicated to the Répétition Minute (cal. 33 and 233), engravers, and one – just one – enameller.
That’s a distinctive sign of a manufacture : every Grand Feu enamel piece, every painted dial on enamel, goes through the hands of this craftsman. He’s been trained in France, worked for several manufactures and joined Blancpain two years ago. The man works on collection pieces but also on bespoked pieces. And that’s also a specificity of Blancpain : the brand still accepts some unique pieces upon request of selected – and wealthy – clients. And, above all, patient : from the first idea, through the definition of the piece, of its finishing, to the approval from both the client and the manufacture (that can refuse some projects), the wait can go over one year. The reason to this is that such bespoke pieces can be considered as an additional work for all the Blancpain team…that is already working on the 2015 collections !
What is very unique to the Haute horlogerie atelier of Blancpain is the atmosphere of « la ferme ». The place is, actually, quite small, divided in three floors. As a traditional manufacture, all the watchmakers are working with the natural light of the sun, in front of large windows. The whole furniture is made of wood, which is quite rare these days as modern workbenches are usually made of plastic with a large white surface in plastic as well, in order for the watchmakers to have a better vision a every tiny component that could end out of their dedicated place, under the loupe.
Last but not least, this team of expert watchmakers is not (only) made of old veterans. Blancpain gives individual chance to every candidate, as long as (s)he proves his / her skills at the bench. That’s quite a serious bet considering that each of them is responsible for their own timepiece from the very beginning to the final delivery to the client. Usually, assembling a Répétition Minute takes five or six weeks. It’s a lot ? The cal. 1735, unveiled in 1992 and that standed as a Grande Complication, took one year to one single watchmaker to make !