Some major watch brands seem to really think highly of ceramic as a case material and Blancpain is among them. Previously a closely guarded field of expertise of Rado and Chanel, ceramic technology and production techniques have only recently evolved to a point where more brands are entertaining the idea of a ZrO2 case, since a lot more control of things like colors and hardness is becoming possible. The new-for-2016 Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe Flyback Chronograph Ocean Commitment II watch case is all in blue ceramic – something the likes of which we haven’t seen before.
Why we haven’t seen it before? My understanding is that achieving color uniformity and maintaining sufficient hardness at the same time has been the major challenge of adding pigments to ceramic. That’s why we mostly see black and white (and gray) ceramic (like, say, this black ceramic Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe). The problem is that if the mixture does not clean up entirely and evenly after the heat treatment process, it will have discolorations and marks in it that will ruin the look – and the piece itself, since these imperfections cannot be removed.
It is true that we have been seeing more and more colors in ceramic bezels from Rolex, TAG Heuer and a few others, and so it was perhaps only a matter of time before colored ceramic cases came along. And it kind of also suggests a possible future of all kinds of colors for ceramic watch cases – Speedmaster Muave Side of the Moon, anyone? That might be kind of cool.
Back on point, Blancpain says they achieve this deep, rich blue of the Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe Flyback Chronograph by adding the pigment and a bonding agent during the production process, with the bonding agent burning off at a lower heat level before submitting the piece to the high-temperature (sintering) step for hardening. I’m not really sure why this apparently difficult technique succeeds where others had failed – and I suspect truly understanding the chemistry would be a much longer discussion – but Blancpain says it is the product of several years of trials. Anyhow, I believe them that getting it right, with a uniform color across all the parts was a challenge – otherwise, we would have seen it before.
The all-blue ceramic case of the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe Flyback Chronograph Ocean Commitment II is 43.60mm across by 15.25mm thick, and water-resistant to 300 meters. Lug width is an unconventional 23mm, putting a damper on your strap-changing zeal. We can all agree that ceramic’s non-scratching and non-fading properties are both very positive, but I, for one, am not totally convinced of its suitability as a case material. Something like the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe Flyback Chronograph Ocean Commitment II will probably last for a long time and keep looking good if you aren’t too hard on it – but I have seen a chipped ceramic watch case and bracelet, and it isn’t pretty, so do keep it safe from drops and bangs. Making a sport watch in ceramic, to me, just emphasizes that it is a luxury object made to be worn in day-to-day situations, shown off among rich friends… and that a Seiko or a Casio is what will likely accompany real adventurers who plan on moving large rocks underwater.
Introduced in 2014 (hands-on with that Bathyscaph Flyback Chronograph here), the automatic caliber F385 runs at 5Hz (that’s a “hi-beat” 36,000bph) with a 50-hour power reserve, and features a 12-hour flyback chronograph, small seconds, and the date. The sapphire crystal case-back offers a dang lovely view of the movement and the 18k gold rotor with the Ocean Commitment logo.
Price for each of the 250-piece limited-edition Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe Flyback Chronograph Ocean Commitment watches will be £14,000 (which is currently around US$17,000). For each piece sold, €1,000 (totaling €250,000 for the full run) will go to supporting scientific expeditions as part of Blancpain’s Ocean Commitment project. blancpain.com