It is not lost on me that Jacques Bianchi, the legendary watchmaker who has presided over the Port of Marseille for over half a century, looks a lot like a mythical sea god. So much so that you expect him to show up to work astride a giant seahorse, massive trident in hand, commanding the sea to his indomitable will.
Bianchi opened his workshop overlooking the Mediterranean Sea back in the 1960s, in the rough and tumble Marseille docks and quickly carved out a reputation as the area’s finest watchmaker. In 1982, after decades working on dive watches by other brands, he decided to launch his own dive watch. It was characterized by an almost brazenly defiant originality that speaks of Bianchi’s complete reconceptualization of a dive watch’s basic form. Let’s face it — the vast majority of dive watches then followed a prescriptive mimetic repetition of the design forged by watches like Blancpain’s Fifty Fathoms and Rolex’s legendary Submariner. Which is to say, round case, round bezel, round luminous plots on the dial, etc. But what Bianchi created was altogether different.
It was almost as if Bianchi had taken inspiration from the devil fish, the rare species of giant manta ray that he saw gliding through the Mediterranean. The case was a masterwork of formed art that is roughly 42mm in diameter, in a tonneau shape that flows into stunning crown guards reminiscent of the ray’s tail. He selected to orientate the crown on the left side so it wouldn’t protrude against the diver’s wrist. The dial featured large luminous circular and rectangular luminous plots and, amusingly enough, a date window. Presiding over the vast expanse of the dial was the depiction of a scuba diver in vector format. The diver is clearly wearing a Jacques Bianchi JB 200 in a sort of self-referencing clin d’œil which could only be perpetuated by a badass Frenchman.
The bezel featured a full 60 minutes of hash marks and every one of these was treated with tritium so it could be viewed at depth. This is a remarkably intelligent design detail. At the time, almost no military or civilian dive watches featured luminous markers on their bezels, save the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms and Tornek-Rayville watches. The vast majority only featured a luminous pearl for the zero marker used for measuring elapsed dive time. Clearly, Bianchi’s time in the water had demonstrated to him the clear advantage of a luminous bezel with a full distinct array of all 60 minute markings.
Jacques Bianchi Returns
Released in 1982, the JB 200 powered by a reliable quartz movement made its way to dive shops throughout the South of France. Some 60 examples of these found their way into the French Navy and were used by their divers alongside the better known Tudor Marine Nationale Submariners. Then, as with many great watch designs, the JB 200 disappeared for several decades into obscurity — until a pair of uniquely talented individuals decided to approach Bianchi to revive the brand and the dive watch. Together with the master watchmaker, watch entrepreneur and founder of MAT Watches, Fabrice Pougez and Simo Tber, founder of leading consulting agency Direct Lemon, eventually created what is known today as Jacques Bianchi Marseille.
They decided to launch the new JB 200 on Kickstarter where they were massively inundated by orders for the watch, so much so that they now have a waiting list that stretches into the indefinite future. It was around the time they were launching their campaign that I started to see images of the JB 200 appear on social media. I was intrigued because of how utterly unique the design of the watch was.
Coincidentally, I received an IG message from famed journalist and Montre Heroes editor-in-chief, Paul Miquel, around this time. Paul and I go way back and enjoyed many adventures as journalists together, including firing multiple automatic weapons in a Las Vegas gun range. I will never forget Paul’s remark after discharging hundreds of rounds through an AK-47 — “Putain, le AK donne des coups!” (“Damn, the AK kicks hard!”). Although not officially part of the new Jacques Bianchi Marseilles, Paul was a friend of the brand and played no small part in helping to launch it. He sent across the prototype of the JB 200 to me. Upon receiving it, I paused to let the details of the watch sink in. And within a few moments, I got that jolt of excitement running up my spine when I am in the presence of a timepiece that is genuinely good. Considering the Kickstarter price was around 600 euros (the public price will be around 1,000 euros), I was immediately blown away by the quality of the watch that speaks of Pougez’s expertise. The integration of the enlarged crown guards with the crown was phenomenal with a fit so precise it would put many watches costing four times as much to shame. The circular brushing applied to the top surface of the amorphous case is perfectly executed. The mirror polishing along the case flanks that also features in the rehaut surrounding the dial is immaculate. The luminous hands, markers and all dive hash marks in the bezel glow so strong that I imagine they can be viewed by satellites orbiting the earth.
The finish of the dial, the pebble-like smoothness of the case, the nice sensation of screwing in or unscrewing the crown that ensures the watch’s 200 meters of water resistance is all perfectly done. Even the rotation of the 60-click bezel requires just the perfect amount of pressure to release each detent. Pougez elaborates, “If you compare the new JB 200 with the vintage watch, you’ll see that everything has been subtly improved, from the profile of the crown guards to the size of the luminous plots, to even the sharpness of the execution of the scuba diver image. We decided to remove the date window to enhance the purpose-built nature of the watch as a proper diving tool.”
Pougez brings up a good point with this statement. The vast majority of diving watches today which have their roots in the 1950s when scuba was popularized in the civilian market are anything but tool watches. They are — let’s face it — magnificent luxury watches with their roots in pragmatic functionality. Says Miquel, “In contrast, the JB 200 was created to fill the niche of a stunning designed timepiece that can also be used in a carefree way for diving, snorkeling or anything else with some amount of refreshing abandon.” When asked if this included firing automatic weapons, he laughed and replied, “Yes, even that is perfectly fine with this watch.”
While the original JB 200 was a quartz watch in deference to the popularity of these movements in the early ’80s, for Pougez and Tber, their watch had to be mechanical. Pougez says, “In order to keep the price of the new JB 200 accessible but to also be able to guarantee the reliability of the movement in all conditions, in the end we chose the Seiko NH35 caliber that beats at 3Hz and has 41 hours of power reserve. This is one of the most tried and tested movements in mechanical watchmaking history and we knew it would be the most robust and functional engine for our watch.”
I liked the JB 200 prototype so much that I eventually convinced Pougez and Tber to let me buy it. And then I wore it pretty much everywhere, including to the Maldives. Everywhere I went, the watch drew positive responses, so much so that an idea began to formulate in my mind.
One evening in Zurich, over schnitzel and beers, I asked Pougez and Tber if we could collaborate on a special edition. By this point, they had already donated a unique piece for my initiative The Pink Dial Project, which raised money for breast cancer charities around the world. The Jacques Bianchi Pink Dial Project edition featured a pink outline scuba diver and pink text on the dial. He asked what the idea for the special edition was and I replied, “What if we were to make the iconic scuba diver luminous, so that in ambient light, in the dark or even underwater you will see this famous symbol created by Bianchi?”
The entire trio, Bianchi, Pougez and Tber liked the idea enough that he added, “Well, it would be cool if we used contrasting colors of Luminova, so that in the day it looked like a normal white outline, but in the dark it glowed in blue to contrast with the green glow of the hands, indexes and bezel. In fact, we should take inspiration from the precise shade of blue emitted by luminous jellyfish such as the crystal jellyfish and moon jellyfish.”
We loved this so much that we immediately began pulling up images of the luminous blue jellyfish on our phones and soon arrived at precisely the right color of lume. With that, the Jacques Bianchi × Revolution Limited Edition JB 200 “Méduse” — the French name for jellyfish — was born. Because of the overwhelming demand for the regular production JB 200, the release of this timepiece was delayed and, in the end, we realized we would only be capable of creating a limited edition of 150 watches. We hope you will like it as much we do.
The Jacques Bianchi × Revolution JB 200 “Méduse” limited edition is available for sale on RevolutionWatch.com on 15 December 2022, 10pm SGT / 9am EST. It is priced at EURO 1,060.
Email [email protected] to register your interest.
Jacques Bianchi × Revolution Limited Edition JB 200 “Méduse”
Movement: Self-winding Seiko caliber NH35; 41-hour power reserve
Functions: Hours, minutes and seconds
Case: 42mm; stainless steel; water resistant to 200m
Dial: Black with luminescent coating on scuba diver silhouette (blue emission); hour markers with luminescent coating (green emission)
Strap: Black tropic-style rubber; steel pin buckle
Price: EURO 1,060
Availability: Limited edition of 150 pieces