In the esoteric world of military watches, Blancpain is perhaps best known for the Fifty Fathoms, though there is a lesser-known watch that seems to have never received a military contract and it equally worth of attention.
Following the creation of the Type 20 standard for the French military, Blancpain began exploring the creation of a similar chronograph for possible sale to the U.S. armed forces. On the heels of the U.S. military’s adoption of the Fifty Fathoms, it seemed at least likely that the Air Force would adopt this model for use by its air crews, but this never seems to have come to fruition. The watch, called the Air Command, was produced in very few pieces, and never in series, and vintage examples rare come to market today.
Thankfully, Blancpain has decided to reissue this model, though in a limited run of 500 units with a list price of ~$18,293. The original’s aesthetics, which featured a 42mm case powered by the Valjoux 222, were for the most part adhered to, though with several enhancements and upgrades (the new watch is 42.5mm wide). The original’s bi-directional countdown bezel is still present, though that of the reissue is ratcheting and features a black polished ceramic insert and with luminous hour markers, in place of the original’s Bakelite insert. A box-type sapphire crystal stands in for the original plexiglass version.
Much of the dial design and layout of the original has been adhered to, and features both seconds and base-1000 scales, Arabic numerals, a dual-register chronograph layout and a thin, pilot-style lumed handset. One of the sub-registers, however, is different, in that the original’s small seconds counter has been replaced by a 12-hour totalizer at 9 o’clock (the 30-minute totalizer is still present at 3 o’clock). “Old radium”-style lume has also been used on the dial to preserve the vintage aesthetic.
Beating inside the reissue is the automatic calibre F388B with a frequency of 36,000 vph and flyback functionality — a thoroughly modern calibre, it features a vertical clutch and anti-magnetic silicon parts. A transparent case back reveals the movement with its propeller-shaped rotor.
Shipping on a 22mm patinated brown calf leather strap, the Air Command Chronograph Re-Edition maintains a thoroughly vintage aesthetic while making concessions to modernity in movement and materials usage. Given the use of a flyback-equipped calibre and and its the execution of its design and manufacturing (those lugs!), it’s no surprise that Blancpain is asking a good chunk of change for this watch. It’s also admittedly a shame that this won’t be — for now, at least — a regular production model, as it’s a stunning piece, and a an awesome way to get your hands on a (modern interpretation of) a piece of military and horological history.
All you need is a spare $20k, first.