Blancpain Air Command Flyback
Common lore of the mythical Blancpain Air Command goes something like this: after Blancpain’s success with the US Navy Fifty Fathoms through Allen Tornek, the manufacture made just a few (estimates range from 8-12) flyback chronograph prototypes in the hopes of attracting Air Force contracts. Nothing really came of that effort aside from a just handful of gorgeous chronographs which survived in the Blancpain archives. In transition to the JCB era of Blancpain, the brand had to sell many of their assets to stay afloat. Many speculate that the handful of Air Commands we’ve seen in the secondary market were the result of private sales just after the quartz crisis to keep the doors open. The ambitious yet failed bid for military service, gorgeous aesthetic, shrouded history, and hyper rarity make this chronograph a collector’s dream.
Actual origins of the original Air Command are in fact not that clearly defined. Sure, it may have been a prototype run for military contract. But there is no public evidence of this. Others speculate it was a commercial failure which sold so poorly that production stopped after the first batch. Still others claim the result was never intended for the outside world, just an experiment for Blancpain to see what a chronograph would look like in the house style. The flyback Valjoux 222 architecture and three-minute totalizer subdivisions, along the lines of the Type 20, would point to the former. This hypothesis was bolstered by the narrative out of Blancpain with the 2019 reissue, which leaned into the military bid lore. Whatever the truth is, this is a beautiful take on the Type 20 aesthetic, seen through the Blancpain lens: Diamond-12 bakelite bezel, diminutive pushers, unobstructed dial, 42mm in steel.
I find it mildly amusing that this gorgeous chronograph seems to perplex absolutely everyone, with Phillips claiming in the 2016 Start-Stop-Reset auction that with such little information, ‘it is hard to determine what the exact specifications of the Air Command are.’ However, the lineage of this exact watch is not so opaque. The Air Command is so uncommon that this is the only watch to publicly trade hands in the last decade. Seriously. In fact, this is the exact watch from that 2016 Start-Stop-Reset auction (~100K USD hammer), which was then auctioned again at Hong Kong 2019 by Phillips (for ~143K USD), now presented on the secondary market. The Air Command is so uncommon that basically all sales results of the last decade are just this watch. Make of that what you will.
The watch itself is remarkably well-preserved. Unrestored dial, complete tritium applications unblemished in full cream glory, full case, correct pushers and crown (as far as we know). Its bezel, likewise, somehow totally together and matching in tone. The case back engraving is deep and clear. Said to be running well. It comes from a well-regarded retailer with a catalogue from its original 2016 auction.
Find this Air Command here from Romain Rea (on Chrono24) listed as POA.