Elegance Jewellers hosts a night with Blancpain Ambassador – Laurent Ballesta
What started as a single picture of a watch in a beautiful store in Melrose Arch turned into an evening I don’t think I will forget. Being a blogger in the watch market, who wants to cover watches, cars and other toys we love, is quite hard, especially with a loyal following of 100+. What we never imagined when recently invited to a talk by Oresti from Elegance Jewellers to listen to a diver who is a key ambassador of Blancpain internationally. Renowned marine biologist and photographer, Laurent Ballesta.
Meeting Mr. Ballesta he is completely unassuming. There are no aires and graces to him, and while meeting some of the other patrons of the Blancpain horological world, it became immediately clear what this brand represents to the customers invited. In not so many words, the Blancpain customer pushes beyond the boundaries of what seems possible. And while every single brand linked to diving will say the same, what truly stands out from Blancpain is that they are one of the oldest brands in the world. Oldest but also one of the most respected.
History – Blancpain and Diving
The history between diving and time is a simple one. The diving watch is a tool watch and required timing underwater to give an indication of when your air would run out. These were the days before all the intelligent dive computers we have today were around. Various forms of navy and marine teams worldwide, used a compass and knife and the watch with a unidirectional crown, to beat their enemies from the sea to land.
This drove various forms of commercial diving later, but also recreational diving, as you can see in every single Bond movie from the beginning, once the WW2 vets came back, and still wanted to dive for work and fun.
The watches that come to mind include Rolex, Tudor and Panerai, with a deep focus on their history in all branding showing off the ranges of diver`s watches in their stable. What is immediately clear when being in the presence of the Blancpain brand is that it is also unassuming. The watch that brings this name to the fore is the Fifty Fathoms addition of the Blancpain. A lot of the markings that you find today, and even ensuring that those watches sealed properly and survived massive amounts of dives by their owners, are part of the lore of this brand, and specifically this range in their stable.
The entire brand nearly didn’t make it. From the year of 1959 to the 11 November 1981, the entire brand of Blancpain had withered away and nearly died. Its rich history was started in the year 1735. How many companies do you know of today that you can guarantee to me will be around 200 years from now? Even 50 years from now? This brand was rescued from complete obsolescence by Mr Jacque Piquet and Mr Jean Claude Biver at the end of November 1981.
So celebrating year 37 from its kickstart in the week of November 2018 feels very special. The brand is very much alive and kicking. While it may not cover every single public event known to man like some Swiss brands, its quiet confidence in the brand is totally solidified every single someone buys a watch. The one we love for now is the 1503 Blancpain Fifty Fathoms in Steel, Automatic with date function. If you follow us on Instagram under sabgza, you would have seen the watch captured in a short video clip and as the watch glowing at night on the evening of the event a week ago.
Resurgence – coming up for air
Elegance Jewellers invited us to share in the experience of marine biologist and photographer Laurent Ballesta.
In the same way, as a diver goes through various stages in a dive, what was instantly clear to me was how comfortable Mr Ballesta is with pain. For his main mission sponsored by Blancpain in conjunction with a few other equipment sponsors and a scientific research team from various academic universities, his first major achievement as a photographer and diver was photographing a live version of the infamous Coelacanth fish. This fish was thought to be extinct until it washed up in a fishing boat in 1938, and since then no one else has sighted the beast. Thinking that he could capture a shot in 1 expedition, turned into 4, over the course of 4 different years capturing this image turned things around for the patient and calm Mr Ballesta.
Blancpain has made a significant commitment to ensuring that issues around Ocean preservation are highlighted in every major forum for environmental affairs worldwide. Even one of the bosses Mr Hayek of the infamous Swiss family the Hayek`s who own the Swatch Group, has contributed to the initiative of the World Ocean Initiative. Financial commitment beats all the social media posts companies post about caring for the planet
Right great. So Blancpain support conservation and Mr Ballesta took photos of the first coelacanth every spotted in its natural environment after years of pushing to find it. What does this mean for everyday people reading this? Some of you even that don’t really care about watches? Well, that is pretty simple!
It’s not about the Bike – a book written by Lance Armstrong before all the issues surrounding his doping came to the fore in the media a few years ago. Mr Armstrong with all his doping issues aside inspired me to cycle 100 km`s in November 2009 in one of the toughest years of my life. Mr Ballesta now has inspired me to become a great diver – including carrying lots and lots of camera equipment with me eventually when I decide to go down. For anyone that dives, 140 m and 150 m is a scary place to be in a submarine, never mind in nothing else but a wetsuit with a good plan for getting back up (hours spent in decompression, balancing the build-up of various inert gases in the blood, on the ascent back to zero).
Some of the stories that brands tell are not true. This makes us avoid them entirely or if we do engage them and find out they are not as good as their marketing says, we ensure we never go down that same road again. As mentioned before in other blogs, the work done to guarantee product integrity, quality and some link to Eternity is something key to the successful growth of any brand. If your work or your products are not as advertised, the numbers will speak for themselves. The term Fifty Fathoms on Instagram alone – shows nearly 5 million mentions on that must have social media application.
The dives that Mr Ballesta included the search for the Coelacanth in 2013, it also included a diver under ice in Antartica on a joint mission to continue work for master cinematographer Luc Jacquet working on the second part of March of the penguins. On the same ship was Mr Ballesta and his support team who attempt to photograph the bottom half of an iceberg, which most people have never seen. The drive to ensure this happened including the push for equipment manufacturers to provide the type of protection each of the divers would need was key. Planning and preparing for months in this cold dive – up to 50 metres below the ice was daunting at best.
After a few attempts, and by stitching together 147 photos, there was no way to capture the base of the iceberg, because as you know the top which is 10 metres, is ten times that below and so this took a lot of new equipment and process of photography in order to capture the bulbous ice mass.
What you find out when you dig deep into a brand, is the core. The essence of the thing. We have mentioned this before when talking about brands like Toyota and BMW. You could call it the “Levi 501” effect. Something that defines quality and long-lasting product substance. I don’t have to tell you to consider Ray Ban sunglasses, next time you need a pair that last a long time and does the job. Xerox had the same in the USA, when people say, “Xerox this for me”, instead of, “photocopy this for me…”. And now for the product.
The exact products that we saw and tried on at the evening will be covered in two separate articles. The point of this short blog now is to only dip into the world of Blancpain and understand what they are about. Incredible craftmanship in a watch is easy to see. What is intangible, is the guts that it takes to be a person that can become an ambassador under this unique Brand. In a world filled with fads and instantly changing fashions (moonbags are coming back), you find that the major thing that is key now is being authentic, more than ever before.
When a brand battles to be authentic, then you get sales in very low volume with no media coverage hype or interest. When a brand is authentic, then you have people banging down the door on the first sales day so they can get a new iPhone whatever. Blancpain is a brand with a heavyweight of history, but also a brand that you as a luxury watch wearer can count on for product quality, incredible backup and service and a firm that commits to environmental issues much more than your Bank or any supplier you may know.