Revolution speaks to Alain Delamuraz of Blancpain, who tells us that the brand’s determined efforts to save the oceans — which include being the main sponsor of the 2017 World Ocean Summit in Bali — are not just talk-shop but actions that have tangible results.
Tell me about the story of Blancpain’s relationship with the sea?
The story of Blancpain’s dive watches began more than 60 years ago in 1953. Our president then, Mr. Jean-Jacques Fiechter, who was a diver himself, was embarking on a new era of diving — where humans could dive without coming up to the surface for air for a long time.
During that period of time, one was not able to buy diving equipment as one can today at a regular diving shop. When you wanted to dive, you would have to be a member of a diving club. From there, you could borrow the equipment you needed: mask, dive‑suit, fins, and so on. Among the things you would receive as well, were three technical instruments upon which your life would depend: a depth gauge, an underwater compass, and a diving watch. The last was especially crucial because you would use it to gauge the amount of oxygen you’d consumed and had left.
Such dive watches then were not sold in boutiques, but instead, rented out in the diving clubs only. However, slowly, people started wearing them out of water and that was when we started to sell the watches commercially. Fundamentally, the DNA of the watches then and today are still the same. These are ultimately still dive watches and the basic elements are the same.
Firstly, you must be able to read the timespan of your dive without having to adjust the crown, for humidity is a concern; which is why we have a unidirectional bezel. Then, you will need a running seconds hand that is working all the time, to indicate that the watch is running. Also, it must be ensured that the watch is tightly sealed to keep water out. Your life is connected to your watch when you dive and therefore these critical features must work reliably.
At Baselworld 2017, we introduced a new watch with yet another life-saving safety indication on the dial, the Blancpain Tribute To Fifty Fathoms Mil-Spec. This is a reissue of the original Fifty Fathoms Mil-Spec 1 watch from 1957, which had a circular indicator on the dial at six o’clock that would change color should water seep into the mechanism.
Why has Blancpain decided to participate in various ocean-related initiatives such as the World Ocean Summit?
Our mission has always been, with our Fifty Fathoms and Bathyscaphe watches, to allow people the freedom to dive technically. We would also like to educate people, to let them know as much as possible about the wonders of the ocean. Nowadays it is true, a dive watch is technically, not what we essentially need — we have dive computers for that! But at Blancpain, we invest a large sum of money in the education of people regarding the ocean. We want people to learn more, to respect, and grow to love the ocean-based projects that we support. Of course, we earn money by selling watches, and we use money to advertise the watches to sell. However, a part of that goes into the investment of a long-term vision. The results may not be instantaneous, but slowly and surely, we are educating the people.
We were the founding sponsor of National Geographic’s Pristine Seas expeditions. That partnership had extraordinary success having succeeded in doubling the protected ocean surface area (that is, more than 4 million square kilometers of ocean) during the five years that we supported it.
Currently, we are supporting another important ocean preservation initiative: the Gombessa Project with Laurent Ballesta. We sponsor and go along for expeditions with them! It’s a three-pronged approach to what we want to achieve: first, there is the technical aspect of research on how to dive longer and deeper; second, the scientific angle, where we gather information on ocean biology, on the different life forms and on how the health of the ocean affects the human race; lastly, we have the artistic approach, where we work with different photographers to create beautiful imagery that we hope will inspire people to feel what we feel when we are in contact with the ocean, and to pique their interest and lead them to support the cause of ocean preservation.
I find that it’s easy to be cynical about the situation regarding the environment — to think that what we do will not help. However, I like the way that Blancpain is taking proactive steps to do something. Are there any future developments which you can share with us that will have some tangible results?
We believe in the World Ocean Summit. It started six years ago in Singapore. There are other projects we have backed that we were not sure about in terms of their effectiveness and results — but our gut feeling has usually been good and we have almost always been certain that we will be happy with the outcome.
We are convinced, though, that we have tangible results. We want a very hands-on form of partnership, so we go down into the water with the divers, literally!