The Mystery of a Blancpain Air Command

Today, we have a remarkable piece in our collection that will captivate your imagination – the Blancpain Air Command. This watch is more than just a timepiece; it's a riddle, an enigma, and a testament to the allure of vintage watches. Let's dive into the intriguing tale of the Blancpain Air Command.

By Gijs Blaas on November 3rd, 2023

A Timepiece Shrouded in Mystery

The Blancpain Air Command first graced the horological stage in the 1950s, designed with a singular purpose in mind – to serve the U.S. Air Force. While its sibling, the 50 Fathoms diver’s watch, found favor with the U.S. Navy, the Air Command was born as a flyback chronograph. We have come to the conclusion that a mere 12 of these extraordinary timepieces were ever created, each offered to American Air Force pilots through Blancpain’s U.S. distributor, Allen Tornek.

Today, the Blancpain Air Command is a legendary grail watch for vintage collectors and specifically Blancpain. These timepieces are exceedingly rare, making sporadic appearances in the world of auctions and fetch incredible interest. The watch’s journey from the past to the present remains shrouded in mystery. However, by analysing all the available data the afore mentioned mystery is quickly becoming a reality. The Aircommand sports a Valjoux 222 flyback movement. However, only some of those Valjoux calibers are Blancpain signed, therefore questions had risen about their assembly and origin. The allure of this watch is in its past mysteries, a rare treasure chest full of history.

Allen V. Tornek with his son Larry and, below, an advertisement of the Fifty Fathoms

A Dutch TV Appearance

We as Amsterdam Watch Company as are absolutely thrilled to offer this Blancpain Air Command at PAN 2023, an annual art fair held at the RAI Amsterdam. PAN Amsterdam was founded in 1987 by six prominent Dutch art enthusiasts. For 35 years, it has served as a platform for art dealers, antique experts, and gallery owners to showcase their finest pieces in the realm of art, antiques, and design. Quite fits the bill- right?

"It was given as a gift from the owner's father for her 8th birthday, and she has worn it almost ever since ..."

How did AWCO come into possession of this remarkable timepiece? Well, it all started with a video on “Van Onschatbare Waarde,” a Dutch TV show. In the program, sellers of unique and valuable items get the chance to sell their objects to one of four experts, each in their own room. Once an offer is accepted or rejected in one of the rooms, there’s no turning back. However, the original owner was not able to strike a deal, despite generous offers and a lot of praise. Ofcourse, we didn’t mind…. As were already knew of it is existence before the show. The original owner and tv experts already contacted us to appraise the watch beforehand.

This Blancpain Air Command was purchased from its original Dutch owner and carries a unique history – it was given as a gift from the owner’s father on her literal day of birth, and when she was able to has worn it almost ever since and on every occasion like horse-riding, with only a few exceptions when her father would wear it from time to time. She had no idea how rare and valuable this watch was until she was made aware of it by her curious husband who is intrigued in researching mechanical wonders like motors and zeppelins. As the Air Command did not find a new owner via the tv show we were the first in line to purchase this timepiece via some goodwill and appreciation.

This is the owner at young age with her father, who is wearing the Air Command he bought when she was born.
The Technical details of the Blancpain Air Command

Now, let’s explore the technical details that make the Blancpain Air Command a true military tool. It features a screw-down caseback, ensuring robust water resistance as utility was the most important thing because people actually used watches as tools, unlike we know watches today. With its 42mm steel case, this timepiece exudes robustness and timeless style. The acrylic crystal, a characteristic of its era, adds a vintage touch to the watch.

Originally designed for military use, the Air Command boasts antimagnetic properties and shock resistance, making it a reliable companion for the most demanding of tasks. Its bakelite bidirectional bezel allowed for precise timing during critical maneuvers. And then there’s the beautifully aged tritium on the dial, a testament to the watch’s journey through time.

The Air Command Origins

The story is that following Blancpain’s success in the world of diver’s watches and its supply of timepieces to entities like the US Navy, the company decided to venture into the market for pilot’s watches. The Air Command model was apparently proposed to the US Air Force. However, no official orders were ever placed, and the Air Command project didn’t progress beyond this point.

The quartz crisis of the early 1970s had a significant impact on many Swiss watch manufacturers, and Blancpain was no exception. To weather the storm, they had to sell off many of their assets, including some unfinished watches in later periods. This tumultuous period made it even more challenging to determine the exact numbers of the Air Command. Even when in 2020 Blancpain did a re-release of the Air Command, they were not able to fully disclose numbers and origin.

The question that still lingers is, how did this watch end up being purchased by the owners father at a local jeweler in Baarn, a small Dutch town? We logically conclude with acquired information that there is a strong possibility that it is connected to the U.S. military activities at Soesterberg airbase during that era. This could logically explain how the watch found its way through this connection, as the watch was originally intended for military use.

Intriguing and mysterious, the Blancpain Air Command remains a testament to the past, a testament to a legacy that was once shrouded in secrecy. Its journey to the present is a tale of intrigue, that will be passed on to the next owner

As we marvel at the Blancpain Air Command, we invite you to explore its past mysteries and appreciate the craft and history that it carries. It’s more than just a watch; it’s a time capsule of a bygone era. This remarkable timepiece will be the centerpiece at PAN 2023, an event that celebrates art, antiques, and design in the heart of Amsterdam.

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