This is an edition of the newsletter Box + Papers, Cam Wolf’s weekly deep dive into the world of watches. Sign up here.
This week, Swatch unveiled its big new collaboration with Blancpain. This was upsetting to many people with an internet connection, an Instagram account, and two thumbs. Beneath nearly every Instagram photo of the collection, you’ll find a torrent of criticism from folks who believe this marks the beginning of the end for Blancplain. To get a handle on how the watch community is reacting to the new partnerships, I spoke with several Blancpain lovers about the brand’s new affordable pieces.
In case you’ve somehow missed the news, here’s the download: Blancpain, the prestigious dive watch specialist, collaborated with Swatch on five colorful, affordable iterations of the former’s Fifty Fathoms. The Fifty Fathoms is a historic watch—the first modern dive watch, once worn by Jacques Cousteau himself. The resulting collaboration is fun as hell: brightly-hued watches inspired by the nudibranch, a delightful species of sea slug. Despite the quirkiness, the timepieces still nod to Blancpain’s heritage with iconic design details like a “no radiation” symbol and two-tone water indicator borrowed from coveted vintage models. All in good fun, right? Wrong, according to legions of anonymous commenters.
“I think the vitriol online so far is mostly unwarranted,” said Adam Golden, the owner of Menta Watches and a longtime Fifty Fathoms admirer (his favorite of the new bunch is the red-orange No Rad iteration). “I think people just love to complain.”
Will this diminish the Blancpain brand?
Golden summed up the main complaint about the collaboration with his signature snark. “Omg you’re devaluing our precious…Blancpain??” he said. Henrik Schwiening, who runs the website Blancplainblog.com and has been collecting the brand for 25 years, dismissed that idea, too. “Some will take this collaboration as an offense to the perceived exclusivity of their Blancpain watch,” he said. This is the line of thinking I’ve seen the most, too, and it truly boggles the mind.
For starters, we have extremely recent proof that this type of partnership has the ability to boost a brand’s profile and sales. Omega, with its Mission to the Moon model, made a Swatch piece that hewed dangerously close to the original—a SFFA (Speedmaster From Far Away), if you will—and yet the brand actually saw an increase in real-deal Moonwatches sold following the collab. The SwatchPain watches, meanwhile, come in such radiant hues it’s impossible to mistake them for the somber, all-black Fifty Fathoms.