Like most sane and humane observers, I always knew that Vladimir Putin was a cruel dictator, but up and till now he had usually shown some semblance of rationale and control. – albeit for warped reasons. However, he has of course now plumbed the depths of depravity with his invasion of Ukraine. Not content with attempting to destroy a sovereign nation and its people, all under bogus and ludicrous pretexts and lies, it is his willingness to sacrifice countless of his own soldiers (and country) that is so breathtakingly egomaniacal and stupid. In this regard he is of course just the same as Napoleon, Stalin, Hitler and others of their ilk. Invariably it does not end well for such people and so I pray for a similar result. I would add that whilst I have some sympathy with the general Russian populous, they are not entirely blameless as, one way or another, they have kept Putin in power. But now, despite the propaganda they are fed, they must surely realise that Putin has gone way too far this time and change must come – and fast. Please wake up and smell the coffee!

Having got the above off my chest, I have to admit that not all Putin’s decisions are insane. This was brought home to me the other weekend whilst idly looking through my Saturday Telegraph newspaper. I turned over a page and was confronted by a double-spread article on Ukraine, and which included an image of Putin. Needless to say I was not interested in the man per se, but the somewhat grainy image of his watch. After studying for a while under a magnifying glass, I determined that the make was in fact a Blancpain. Now I know that to more seasoned watchontistas, this nugget of information is not fresh news – but it was to me! Until this point I had simply assumed that as Putin is such a loyal nationalist, his watch choice would have been home-grown. I appreciate of course that Russia does not have any real high end watch industry – a fact that I have always found rather peculiar, bearing in mind the available numbers of potential watchmakers to hand (from such a large population), plus the history of luxury jewellery manufacturing by the likes of Carl Faberge. Anyway, it is clear that hypocrisy is still alive and well, as Putin and his cronies are much more capitalist-like than they care to admit; we all know they hoover up all manner of luxury Western goods like so many crumbs, and, watches are no exception.

Mmm, well let’s just focus on the watch. (Image credit: The Telegraph)
Enlarged from first image. Grainy for sure, but one can make out enough detail.

So, back to the watch. I had to first try and identify the model as frankly I did not recognise it. Some folks criticise the internet on occasions but for research purposes it is simply invaluable. Sure enough, within pretty short order I had discovered the identity of the model – a Leman Aqua Lung Grande Date. The general model name was interesting as a few years ago I was offered a gold Leman chronograph, but it was too expensive at the time. Anyway, I then had a peek on Chrono 24 which led to some sale items, and then some reviews of the watch. Bingo, I have enough to write a short article!

An attractive and business-like sports watch. A rubber strap was supplied from new but this watch now has a crocodile strap. Crown guards are flush with the case. (Image credit: PawnDeLuxe)

In terms of history, the name Aqua Lung can be traced back to the 50s/60s, along with the famous oceanographer Jacque Cousteau. He in fact developed and marketed a range of diving equipment under that name. As he clearly needed an appropriate watch for his exploits, he turned to Blancpain and their 50 Fathoms model. It would seem that early versions sported both names indicating, presumably, a more formal tie-up with the Frenchman.

In terms of the genesis of the watch under review here, I am a little unclear really. However, it forms part of the Leman range which back in the day included models with; time only, or with a date, plus a chronograph. In more recent times I have also seen a tourbillon – I think. At this point I would just mention that during my investigations I have discovered a slightly earlier version of the watch under scrutiny here – from around 1999 in fact. This is noted as the Leman Aqua Lung Ultra Slim – 38 x 8.9mm (so ref 2100-1130A-71), with a a 1151 movement and a small date at 3 o’clock. All that said, what we do know is that Blancpain seemingly revised the watch a little later, as Putin’s watch came out in around 2005 and was limited to 2005 pieces. Aside from 280 years in business, 2005 significance is a bit illusive, but there you go! Anyway, these were in stainless steel with a black dial, and sported a rubber strap (ref 2850B-1130A-64B). In addition – and in some ways more attractive, are a smaller number in rose gold (ref 2850B-3630A-64B), which sport a canvas/leather strap. I also note (on Chrono 24), there is a  special version for sale which was apparently offered to commemorate the Monaco Yacht Show. This has the Monegasque shield in red on the dial and interestingly has a solid case back with an engraving of, one assumes, a local landmark building.

I cannot fault at all – a real honey! (Image credit: Watch in Time)

So, what are the details? I will be brief; the case is 40mm, stepped, with fairly plain and modest lugs attaching. A chunky and knurled screw-down crown nestles between two modest guards. Everything is brushed with no polishing in sight. The dial – in this case black, has only three Arabic numbers – heavily lumed, interspersed with gold lume-filled baton markers. The hands are an attractive sword shape with a distinctive triangular end segment (one thing that aided my identification actually. Ed) infilled too with lume. The second hand is also attractive, with a lumed spear end with red tip.  At 6 o’clock there is the oversized date window, with white Arabic numerals on a black background.  All this is protected by a sapphire non-reflective crystal.

Turning the watch over, there is a decent sized exhibition window. This reveals the inhouse calibre 6950 (based on a Piguet movement – Blancpain having acquired the business via InvestCorp. Ed) which boasts 35 jewels, two mainspring barrels, a 3hz beat and power up to 70 hours. Water proofing is noted at 100m.

Nice view of case back and movement. This one, unusually seems in yellow gold – but may just be the light. Note modest crown guards. (Image credit: Chronoexpert)

So, there we have it! I am pleased to have acquainted myself with this watch as I really like it – particularly in gold. It is a very aesthetically attractive watch, with good proportions and legibility, along with a good movement and all from a historic quality maison. I am a sucker for black on gold, and that big date too, as proven by my Lange Saxonia Outsized Date (written about previously. Ed) acquired a year or so ago. I reckon if the opportunity presents itself I could be very tempted. Sadly, as far as I can see, they go for pretty decent money. The S/S versions seem to hover around the £12k level, with the gold from £15k. That said, my probing revealed that in 2018 Christies sold one of the latter with full accompaniments for a mere US$9,375. Even then – and if net of charges too, it was a good deal!

In conclusion, Putin at least appears to have retained some taste over this watch choice! However, I would assume and hope that Blancpain must be none too happy about his ownership, as it rather puts a dubious slant on the term “brand ambassador”!

Rating: 4.5/5

Words: The Writer

Images: The Writer – unless noted otherwise.