Robb Reader: Marc A. Hayek

The Blancpain President and CEO talks to Nick Scott about constantly rejuvenating the world’s oldest watch manufacture’s creative yen - as well as its social conscience.

Everything we do is rooted in passion. Authentic Swiss watchmaking tradition gives sober elegance to our brand and perpetuating that means innovating. Over the last 12 years, our manufacture has launched 37 new calibres, including innovative Grandes Complications such as the Traditional Chinese Calendar.

Sixty-six years ago, passion and innovation also led to the launch of the Fifty Fathoms, the first modern diver’s watch developed by Jean-Jacques Fiechter, himself an outstanding diver and later CEO of Blancpain. More recently, in 2003, my own passion for the oceans, mechanics and Blancpain’s legacy gave birth to the new generation of Fifty Fathoms, which pays tribute to the design and specifications of the vintage watch while benefitting from Blancpain’s latest technical developments.

Manu San Felix filming as part of the Blancpain-sponsored Pristine Seas project 

Two main characteristics are evaluated for selection of materials: technicity and beauty. We are trying to put forward techniques that have rarely been seen in the world of watchmaking – as is the case with damascening and shakudō, for example – or master processes in-house that are usually handled by third party manufacturers. The artistic approach required for a new material or skill has to be interesting – and challenging! – and the pieces created must be beautiful. By introducing new Métiers d’Art techniques and skills, our aim is to show clients that Blancpain’s creativity and savoir-faire are limitless.

So far, we have backed 19 [marine conservation] expeditions. We have helped to create 11 marine protected areas and played a role in protecting more than 4 million km2, out of a worldwide total of eight million km2. Blancpain’s partnerships with leading organisations such as the Pristine Seas expeditions, Laurent Ballesta’s Gombessa project, The Economist’s World Ocean Initiative and the World Oceans Day have helped raise awareness about the importance of preserving the precious few remaining truly unspoiled, wild ocean areas on earth.

Laurent Ballesta’s Gombessa project 

We also continue to educate through our Blancpain Ocean Commitment website, dedicated exhibitions all around the world, in-depth articles in our corporate magazine Lettres du Brassus and our Edition Fifty Fathoms project, a collection of annual limited-edition publications presenting portfolios of the most stunning underwater photographs.

The next stages of the programme? We’re investigating ideas for a new Gombessa mission that could take place in French Polynesia next year as well as additional missions to Reunion Island, the Philippines and Polynesia led by Laurent Ballesta. In Rangiroa, French Polynesia, we have collaborated with the non-profit organisation Mokarran Protection Society in studying, for the very first time in these waters, the behaviours of the great hammerhead shark.

I have regularly gone to the Maldives over the past 25 years. Two years ago, I did one dive where I had tears in my mask because as far as you could swim and see, not one coral was still there. Everything was bleached, dead, destroyed. But there is still hope: environmental efforts can definitely make a difference. In the south of France, where there were recently no more sea urchins, cuttlefish or grouper, thanks to protection and awareness initiatives these fish species are coming back.

Recruiting skilled artisans is a difficult task. Some craftsmanship related to watchmaking is very rare nowadays, such as guillochage, a Breguet signature, paillonnage – practiced at Jaquet Droz – or damascening: a craftsmanship that Blancpain has been using for a couple of years now. Maintaining and developing this savoir-faire is essential. We make it a priority with our Breguet-Blancpain training centre to offer different curriculums to young people. In total, 30 Swatch Group companies in Switzerland train over 500 apprentices in almost 40 different professions every year. In addition, the Nicolas G. Hayek Watchmaking Schools are proactively addressing the need to educate a new generation of skilled watchmakers.

 

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