With their durable construction, fascinating military history, and timeless good looks, dive watches are catnip for collectors—and fertile ground for watchmakers too. Watchmakers are always finding new ways to reinterpret tradition, but actually recreating a vintage watch is a difficult balancing act between old and new. That’s what makes the Jacques Bianchi JB200 so special: It’s a remake of a unique, limited-edition dive watch used by the French Navy, and it preserves the character and history of the original while adding some modern updates.
The story begins in 1982, when French watchmaker Jacques Bianchi released the original JB200. With its 42mm stainless-steel case, large indices, and French-made quartz movement, it was a rugged, dependable dive watch. It also had some unique features, including a winding crown at the 9 o’clock position and a large image of a diver that dominated its sleek black dial. Initially, only 100 models were produced.
A few years passed, and the watch attracted the attention of the French Navy. The government agency responsible for purchasing military equipment bought around 60 watches for military use. Information about exactly who wore them is limited, but thanks to some sleuthing and extensive reviews of repair records, it appears these early JB200s were put to use on the wrists of divers aboard helicopters and patrol ships.
The new watch carries over many of the hallmarks of its predecessor. It retains the 42mm stainless steel case with the left-side crown (and the water resistance—it’s rated to 200 meters). The design of the hands—stick for hours, arrow for minutes, and “square lollipop” for seconds—remains the same, and, of course, the iconic image of the diver on the dial returns as well. One glance at this watch tells you everything you need to know: It’s made for the water.
Still, the new JB200 isn’t an exact replica; it comes with some tasteful updates. Some of these changes make an already legible watch even easier to read. The date window from the original has been dropped, allowing for a clearer, more symmetric dial, and the circle and block indices have been enlarged slightly. They, along with the hands and bezel markers, have also been upgraded with Super-LumiNova for exceptional brightness and legibility in low-light conditions.
Interestingly, the designers opted for retro tech to power the new JB200. In place of the original timepiece’s quartz movement, they swapped in a Seiko NH35 mechanical movement with automatic winding. That gives this new watch a vintage feel that even the ’80s original didn’t quite have.
The JB200 is fully funded on Kickstarter, but you can back it for a discounted price on the watch. Completed watches are estimated to ship in December 2021, and you can get more info on the Jacques Bianchi website.
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