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Watches from the Eastern Bloc: The Mera-Błonie Watch Factory, Poland


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Since the end of communist rule in Poland in 1991, there has been a surge in the number of small-scale Polish watch brands/firms. Prior to this, and while the country was under a Soviet-dominated communist regime, Poland was something of a desert as far as the commercial production of watches is concerned. The only real light in the firmament over this period was the Mera-Błonie works at Błonie, which operated as a watch factory for something approaching a decade and is the subject of this topic. Before moving on to the topic itself, I will just pause here to make a memorial note for the Polish watchmaker Antoni Patek, a founding father of the famous Patek Philippe watch company, although his contribution to the history of watches was made well before the advent of Soviet communism and the Eastern Bloc.

 

 

 

 

A Mera-Błonie wristwatch branded Błonie and powered by a hand-wind First 1MWF 16 J caliber 2408 movement, c.1960  (pic from netgraphik.ch) and a slightly later Błonie wristwatch, c.1963-64 (pic from i.pinimg.com/originals):

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Zakładów Mechaniczno-Precyzyjnych (ZMP), generally written out in full as Zakłady Mechaniczno-Precyzyjne (Eng. Trans. Department of Precision Mechanics/Precision Mechanics Plant) commenced production in 1953, at the Mera-Błonie plant in the town of Błonie, which is situated in West Warsaw County, Poland. In 1952 the Mera-Błonie factory closed after a long period of producing matches, and in 1953 it was taken over by ZMP which then engaged in arms production at the factory, intended for the army. As early as 1953, the production of watches at Mera-Błonie was proposed but it wasn’t until 1956 that a political decision was finally taken to introduce this product at ZMP as part of the Polish RWPG Group in Comecon. This involved the establishment of a joint enterprise between the USSR and Poland for the creation of a new line of watches under the name, “Błonie”, the agreement being that ZMP would assemble these watches at Mera-Błonie under license from the First Moscow Watch Factory (often abbreviated to 1MWF and the home of Poljot watches from 1964). After more delay, ZMP ceased military production at Mera-Błonie and switched to the production of wristwatches, beginning on 4 April 1959. The first watches left the Mera-Błonie factory on 24 October 1959, and the Błonie brand name was first exhibited and sold at the Poznań International Fair in 1960.

For some time, watches from Mera-Błonie were assembled entirely from Soviet-made parts, but at some difficult to place date, wristwatches from the Mera-Błonie factory began to include in-house components on the assembly line, starting with watch cases and dials and progressing to include in-house production of movement parts, notably some scarce plates and bridges bearing Błonie’s own trademark logo, and finally even some complete movements (essentially copies of the imported 1MWF calibers). Although 1961 has been given for the year marking the manufacture of the first 1,000 in-house movements at Błonie, Wikipedia states that movement plates and bridges were not manufactured in-house at Mera-Błonie until the late 1960s - an impossible date to reconcile with the generally accepted history of ZMP Mera-Błonie. What can be said is that examples of watches where all the components, including the movement, were manufactured in Poland at the Mera-Błonie works are rare. Indeed, a decision was apparently taken at governmental level in 1962 to discontinue the manufacture of in-house components and to assemble the watches solely from Soviet-made components, but this was either not enacted or went unheeded at the works, where although in-house manufacture of movements may have ceased, in-house production continued of cases, dials and hands. During the years in which these Soviet-Polish hybrid watches were produced, they appeared under 16 different brand/model names: Alfa, Arras, Atlas, Bałtyk, Blonex, Blonex-Antymagnetyczny, Blonex Super, Błonie, Delfin, Dukat, Jantar, Kurant, Lech, Polan, Wars, and Zodiak.

 

 

 

A 1960-63 Mera-Blonie Zodiak wristwatch powered by a 1MWF 16J hand-wind caliber 2408 movement (pics from Smoking Joe, posted on Watchuseek on 18 November 2019):

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Production at the Mera-Błonie watch factory slowed down in the mid-1960s but it is not clear why. Although political factors may have been involved in the demise of ZMP watch production at Mera-Błonie, it is most likely that the main cause was the socio-economic situation at the time (particularly difficulties in importing components) which resulted in delays to the manufacturing process, ultimately causing production to be completely and permanently halted at the end of 1966. Although the manufacturing processes for watches had ceased at Błonie at the end of 1966 or perhaps just into 1967, it has been postulated that the First Moscow Watch Factory continued to feed discontinued inventory through the Błonie concern perhaps as late as the early 1970s. It should be noted that the Mera-Błonie factory apparently made at least one mechanical car clock, for the Warsazwa - a licensed copy of the Soviet GAZ M20 Pobeda.

In 1970, ZMP formally took the suffix “Mera-Błonie”, although sources tend to use the term “ZMP Mera-Błonie” when discussing the company production at the Mera-Błonie plant right through the 1950s and 1960s. After watch production had ceased, Mera-Błonie was home to the manufacture of peripheral devices for digital machines, notably printers. It was not until 2003 that the Mera-Blonie plant was closed and the company declared bankrupt by the District Court for the Capital City Warsaw. Over its rather short lifetime of watch production, approximately 1.2 million watches were produced at the Mera-Błonie factory. One movement frequently used to power the Błonie watches was the First Moscow Watch Factory “Kirovskie” 16J caliber 2408/2409 - a hand-wind caliber with centre seconds which first appeared in the mid-1950s, as a redesign of the original caliber 2608 in order to produce a much thinner movement; the 2048 was originally designated the yH-44M. The 2409 is similar to the 2408 but includes shock protection and has 17 jewels; it seems that there can be some inconsistency in the marking of watches and movements when it comes to the number of jewels.

 

 

 

Four pictures from Mark Gordon's collection (see references below) posted on Watchuseek. First two pics:  A Błonie Super wristwatch below, with the picture above showing its 1MWF caliber 2409 hand-wind movement Third picture down: Caseback from a Mera-Błonie watch stamped with the ZMP "Błonie" name and logo. Bottom picture: A ZMP Mera-Błonie logo stamped on a movement - a rare sight and either the stamped component or the complete movement was manufactured in-house at the Mera-Błonie works.

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Watches from the Mera-Błonie factory have been described as being rather “rough and ready” but as I have not handled any of the watches myself, I can only express some agreement with that assessment based on illustrations. What I can say is that the watches were known all over Poland where they were evidently popular, and have a certain charm today that makes them collectible. In Poland at the time, there was even a promotional and somewhat satirical slogan for these watches, “Sprzedaj pług, sprzedaj konie, kup zegarek marki Błonie” (Eng. trans. Sell the plough, sell the horses, buy a Blonie watch). By far the majority of the watches seem to be simple timekeepers with no date feature or additional complications, and although stainless steel does appear, mainly for casebacks on certain watches, there is much plated alloy in evidence; I do not know if any dive watches or chronographs were produced at the Mera-Błonie factory. The question also arises as to how many watches from Błonie were exported; I have no figures for this but it has been stated that watches branded “Blonex” were designated for export.

In 2012, Michal Dunin and his partner Maciej Maslak decided to resurrect the Błonie watch brand, effective from 2014. Their initial product, named appropriately the “First Edition” watch, by young designer Krzysztof Kossak, preserved some of the aesthetics of the original Błonie watches - in particular the Zodiak (which was produced at Błonie up to 1963). The modern Błonie firm, which has no concrete links to the earlier Błonie concern, continues to produce mechanical watches (along with quartz models) and a number of them preserve some aspects of the vintage Błonie watch designs, while integrating a contemporary feel and modern technology. 

 

 

 

The 2015 Błonie First Edition wristwatch (pics from medium.com)

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Two 1960s Mera-Błonie wristwatches from Mark Gordon's collection, posted on Watchuseek (see references below). The first is an Arras branded watch while the bottom picture shows a Polan example. Note that the dial of the Polan reads 16 jewels whereas the actual movement is a 17 jewel 1MWF caliber 2409:

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References and sources for the text of this topic

 

Gordon, Mark, Post dated 19 April 2012 on a Watchuseek thread entitled, Błonie and Błonie Super Watches", started on 17 April, 2012.

Gordon, Mark, “Polish Poljots (poetically speaking)” Watchuseek, 20 June 2006. Online at watchuseek.com/threads/polish-poljots-poetically-speaking.17130/

Krzysiek_W, post dated 28 March 2009 on the thread, “A Blonie found its way to me” by ill-phill on Watchuseek, 27 March 2009.

Lichwa, Michal, “Wars from Błonie”, Watch Case, 25 January 2021. Online at watchcase.app/wars-from-blonie

Meller,Władisłaz (2013): See below in Further Reading. Although I did not translate this substantial work, it did prove useful to this topic.

mroatman, “1MWF Alfa from Poland”, Watchuseek, 11 August 2016 (Edited). Online at watchuseek.com/threads/1mwf-alfa-from-poland.3474649/#post-32346297

mroatman. “Another Polish Pleasure”, Watchuseek, 25 October 2016 (Edited). Online at watchuseek.com/threads/another-polish-pleasure.3701498/

mroatman, “Watches of the USSR: Blonie (Poland)”. Online at mroatman.wixsite.com/watches-of-the-ussr/blonie

mroatman, “Watches of the USSR: Kirovskie”, Online at mroatman.wixsite.com/watches-of-the-ussr/kirovskie

MyBaze.com, “The Legendary Polish Wristwatch Blonie Reactivated”, 28 May 2015. Online at medium.com/@MyBaze/the-legendary-polish-wristwatch-blonie-reactivated-156dee7c360a

Watch Ranker, “Polish Watch Brands - Watches Made & Designed in Poland”: Online at watchranker.com/polish-watch-brands

Wikipedia article, “Błonie”, online at pl.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/błonie

Wikipedia article, “Historia Błonia”, Online at pl.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/historia_blonia

Zegarkiblonie, “Błonie watches: Timeless watchmaking”, Online at zegarkiblonie.com

 

 

Further Reading

 

For those who wish to pursue the history of Błonie watches more deeply, and who are prepared to translate from the Polish, the following three sources provide a wealth of information about the watches, their movements, and the Mera-Blonie factory:

A 2017 article available as a pdf download of a work by Oliwia Piechaczek entitled “Design zegarkóv naręcznych produkowanych przez ZMP “Błonie” (Eng. The design of wristwatches produced by ZMP “Błonie”), edited by W, Bryl-Roman. This can be accessed online at pressto.amu.edu.pl/index.php/cis/article/view/22981

A comprehensive examination of the watches (and their movements) produced at Błonie in Polish, complete with a huge array of illustrations showing the different models and movements, is “Przystanek: zegarek. Zegarki i przystawki balansowe z Błonia” by Władisław Meller and dating to 2013. This document, from the Klub Mitośników Zegarów i Zegarków (zegarkiclub.pl), is available for purchase as a book, or can be accessed via a pdf download at zegarki.info.pl/dla_prasy/2013/Pryzystanek_zegarek/Przystanek%20Zegarek%2020130415.pdf

Finally, there is also a history of the Mera-Błonie factory in the form of a book in polish entitled, “Historia Zakłady Mechaniczno-Precyzyjnych Mera-Błonie 1953-2003” by Jerzy Bezpałko. Although this book tends towards the technical in its content and language, there are also anecdotal accounts of important incidents and events from everyday life. For more details of this book, including access via pdf download, go online at historiainformatyki.pl./historia/historia-zakladow-mechaniczno-precyzyjnych-mera-blonie-1953-2003.

 

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