Patina is fast becoming a meaningless word in watchmaking. This is because it has been highjacked by marketing and R&D departments. Patina is now shorthand for an off-white dial, yellowed lume or a distressed leather strap. Patina is a commodity. It sells watches. Like a ceramic bezel, a silicone escapement, a NATO strap; it’s an aesthetic trend, and a really good one, we can’t get enough and we hope it’s not over yet.
But this is not what patina means. This is pretend patina. When you see genuine patina, which is wear, tear and the effects of time on a watch, it stands out. In fact it makes you recoil a little bit, because real patina is a lot less visually attractive than the artificially aged. Case in point, this image.
If I could sum up the Blancpain event in one image it would be this one; of the saltwater and sweat bleached strap of Laurent Ballesta’s 500 Fathoms. Ballesta is a marine biologist and one of the world’s leading underwater photographers. He handed the watch to me to try on at a table on the rooftop of the Intercontinental in Double Bay. It was perfectly appropriate (not to mention pleasant, take that Monday) that the navy blue Sydney Harbour was in the background of the shot – this man lives a life aquatic, he seems a little lost out of sight of his second home.
I ignored the handsome face of the watch, I let my eyes flick up to the propeller rotor turning in the sapphire caseback (design brilliance) and focused on the business end – where it is strapped to the wrist. I could see proof of a hundred dives. I could see a couple of grooves impressed in the leather – one, presumably, for over the wetsuit and one without. I could see a whole underwater story here.
BLANCPAIN AND THE SEA
It’s appropriate because it set a tone of legitimacy to the connection between Blancpain and the sea that was maintained as day turned to night and we migrated en masse to Icebergs in Bondi. The Blancpain Ocean Commitment celebration had rolled into Sydney and we were all excited to deck the halls with seafaring stories and enviable dive watches.
Vice President of Blancpain Alain Delamuraz wanted to address one elephant in the room though with his opening remarks – why would a landlocked country like Switzerland care about the sea?
He mentioned the unimpeachable credentials of the Fifty Fathoms, the fact that when it was released in 1953 it was sold almost exclusively to dive clubs who would rent it out to divers with their oxygen tanks and regulators. It was a purely technical piece – with no thoughts of ever evolving into the dapper rose gold version of the Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe I wore on my wrist for the night.
During his speech, Alain Delamuraz also spoke of the links that unite Blancpain with the world of the sea and its long term activities based on three pillars: Raising public awareness of the underwater world, taking part in scientific research projects, contributing to the protection of the oceans through the creation of marine reserves.
It laid the way for some heartfelt comments by Australian brand manager Sandra Moser, who said “The sea is humanity’s support system. If we save the sea, we save ourselves. Our efforts in ocean conservation and the fact that 2.5-million square kilometres of the ocean have been accorded protection is one reason I am proud to work for this brand.”
“The sea is humanity’s support system. If we save the sea, we save ourselves. Our efforts in ocean conservation and the fact that 2.5-million square kilometres of the ocean have been accorded protection is one reason I am proud to work for this brand.” Sandra Moser, Australian Blancpain brand manager.
The place was fitted out as a dry-land Atlantis – an undersea city of shifting blue light, flickering candle-light like head torches of a team of divers and huge bezels installed above our heads in concentric circles, emulating (maybe) the holes cut in the ice that Ballesta often drops into with a team of support divers and a medic.
What followed, with his speech, was nothing short of extraordinary, and is afforded its own post here. If you are interested in a) handsome men, b) underwater exploration c) science fiction movies or d) cuisine involving frogs, this story is just unmissable. Congratulations Blancpain on an unforgettable evening of sincerity, inspiration and very little mention of watches.