Blancpain Marilyn, Betty and Blancpain’s women
The New York exhibition Timeless Elegance celebrates the Swiss watch manufacture’s ladies’ watch output, with two very special women as guest stars.
The special event taking place at Blancpain’s 5th Avenue store in New York is a first. It’s not a new Fifty Fathoms diving watch, or a new timepiece for the Villeret collection. It’s not even a unique artistic crafts watch. In fact, it’s not a new watch at all. It is the first public unveiling of a historic Blancpain watch. Compared with the watch manufacture, which was founded in 1735 in the Swiss village of Villeret, the watch is not particularly old. Indeed, “old” is not an adjective that anyone would associate with the celebrity to whom it belonged – America’s most glamorous and famous icon. Marilyn Monroe, who was born in 1926, would have been 93 this year. But she remains eternally youthful in the collective memory, her beautiful face forever frozen at the age of 36.
The watch presented in New York as part of the Timeless Elegance exhibition belonged to Marilyn Monroe. It may have been given to her by her third husband, writer Arthur Miller. All we know for certain is that it was not seen in public between 1962 – the year of her death – and 2016. That year, on 18 November, after a travelling exhibition, it was put up for auction in New York by Julien’s Auctions. This was a stroke of luck for Blancpain and its President and CEO, Marc A. Hayek, whose bid of 225,000 dollars secured the piece, and enabled the precious timepiece to be brought back to the country and factory where it was made.
La montre de cocktail Blancpain ayant appartenu à Marilyn Monroe © Blancpain
It is a rectangular Art Deco cocktail watch in platinum, dating back to the 1930s. It’s set with 70 round diamonds around the case and on the bracelet, and two marquise diamonds. The Blancpain inscription is visible across the white dial, which features gilt Arabic numerals and blued hands. The FHF 59 movement bears the legend “Rayville Watch Co. 17 Jewels”, referring to the company name chosen by Blancpain’s new owners, Betty Fiechter and André Léal, who bought the company after the death of the last member of the Blancpain family in 1932.
In addition to the cocktail watch, the Timeless Elegance exhibition also features dresses and personal items that belonged to Marilyn, along with a series of photos. They include portraits of the most famous blonde in Hollywood, taken in the 1960s by the young photographer Lawrence Schiller, who would later become a film director (and who was present at the opening of the exhibition).
Betty Fiechter © Blancpain
The exhibition also narrates the history of ladies’ watches at Blancpain through a series of exhibits. Here, the main character is not Marilyn Monroe but Betty Fiechter who, in 1933, was the first woman to become head of a watch manufacture. She pioneered the development of jewellery watches at Blancpain, and steered the company’s fortunes until 1950. Marilyn Monroe’s cocktail watch brings these two women together, with Blancpain as their shared reference.
Blancpain Ladybird and Rolls ladies' watches © Blancpain
Blancpain has never forgotten Marilyn Monroe, as all the ladies’ moon phase watch in the Villeret Women collection, launched in 2006, attest. If you look closely at the woman’s face depicted within the moon, the star-shaped beauty spot might well remind you of someone.
Villeret Women Quantième Phases de Lune © Blancpain
The Timeless Elegance exhibition is open to the public from 31 October to 23 November 2019 in the Blancpain Boutique at 697 Fifth Avenue, New York.
Blancpain is the archetypal Manufacture: with a watchmaking heritage dating back several centuries, it has successfully preserved its watchmaking tradition, whilst welcoming a spirit of innovation.Find out more >
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