The old adage about history repeating itself has never been more relevant in the luxury watch world, which has been in a years-long, industry-wide renaissance of making modern monster hits out of long-discontinued pieces from previous eras — some of them forgotten by all but the most fervent aficionados. Take the case of Blancpain's Fifty Fathoms, a history-making but relatively short-lived timepiece made for the U.S. Navy in the 1950s that is today an entire family and one of the pillars of the venerable watchmaker's collection.
It was, perhaps, only a matter of time before Blancpain would turn to its extensive archives to resurrect another rare model that it made for the U.S. military in this case, one created for Air Force pilots rather than Navy divers. Enter the Air Command Flyback Chronograph, which arrived to considerable fanfare – and to the surprise of many – in early 2019 as a one-off limited edition and whose monumental success has prompted Blancpain to add the model to its lineup, starting with the timepiece I recently had the opportunity to review, which boasts a robust yet lightweight titanium case and a deep blue livery adorning its dial, strap and bezel.
To start with a bit of history, the modern Air Command takes its cues specifically from a prototype made in the 1950s for the French Ministry of Defence, which requested a pilot's watch with a black dial, luminous hour markers and hands, and a high-precision chronograph movement with a flyback function. The model that was eventually made for the United States Air Force — shortly after the aforementioned Fifty Fathoms was adopted by the U.S. Navy -- was offered to USAF pilots through its distributor Allen V. Tornek and is today, according to Blancpain, “the most sought-after military chronograph of the late 1950s” due to its scarcity: only about a dozen prototypes were apparently made, and an indeterminate number were actually sold. The 2019 version of this rare watch — by any standard, a very faithful homage to it, with a case only a half-millimeter larger than the original, and with the same black dial — was limited to 500 pieces and made an instant splash when it debuted at the 2019 Time to Move event held in Switzerland by Blancpain's parent company, the Swatch Group. In somewhat of an echo back to the full relaunch of the Fifty Fathoms as a contemporary product family after the famous 50th anniversary “Trilogy of 2003 — there's that history-repeating theme again — Blancpain now brings the Air Command into its regular collection with this titanium-and-blue version as well as a rose-gold-cased edition announced alongside it.
The 42.5-mm titanium case is large but light on the wrist.
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