Blancpain has just announced that their new Bathyscaphe tribute watch celebrating 60 years of the Fifty Fathoms and shown at Baselworld is going to retail, so lets take a look at it, but first lets discuss a little of the interesting watch history behind the iconic Fifty Fathoms.
The Fifty Fathoms story begins in 1952, when the French Ministry of Defense asked two of its naval officers, Commander Robert “Bob” Maloubier and Lieutenant Claude Riffaud, to establish an elite unit of “combat divers”. To assist them in their missions, they were asked to seek out a robust, reliable and totally waterproof watch.
After first approaching numerous watchmakers they were unable to find one fitting their needs, the French officers turned to Blancpain to see if they woud be able to provide a wristwatch that could meet their specifications. Fortunately the CEO Jean-Jacques Fiechter was an avid diver, and was inspired to develop a functional dive watch that he could also use while pursuing his hobby. Thus the engineers and watchmakers at Blancpain gave birth in 1953 to the first modern dive watch.
The Fifty Fathoms is often considered the first modern dive watch because it brought about a number of innovations, several of them patented. Most notably it was the first to have a uni-directional bezel, something which has since become a standard for watches in this category. Other firsts included dive markings on the bezel, a double O-ring seal for water-resistance to nearly 100 meters. To further protect it from water entering they also used an automatic movement reducing the number of times the crown needed to be unscrewed, added to this with anti-magnetic protection.
A little later in the 1950s and inspired by the underwater exploration of Swiss oceanographer Jacques Piccard, Blancpain’s Bathyscaphe watches were introduced as models for both men and women.They were named after the vessel used by Piccard, most famous for being one of the first to explore the Mariana Trench.
Since its inception there have been many variations within the Fifty Fathoms family, as an interesting side note some of the early models for the military were actually radioactive, these were also made for the general public too and had a “No Radiation” symbol on the dial -indicating that the watch is one aimed at civilians and intended to allay any worries a customer might have! A tribute model to this is still available.
Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe: Tribute Model
This new Bathyscaphe model recalls a number of features from these early models and combines them with modern advances in watchmaking. Indeed as many brands enjoy doing lately its a fusion of vintage and modern. The smaller ladies’ model comes in striking white making it a nice set of his and her vintage inspired dive watches.
Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe: Case
Lets begin with the overall shape and size, the first thing that is noticeable is that it is a lot more angular than modern Fifty Fathoms divers, and although it is 2mm smaller in diameter than the current Fifty Fathoms standard model its is still quite a large watch even at 43mm and 13.5mm thick. The case has a vintage style brushed stainless steel finish rather than the more commonplace polished steel, but is also available in ceramised titanium. I like the bevelled lugs which catch the light nicely adding a more dynamic aspect to the watch’s profile. The ladies’ case is 38 mm in diameter and available only in satin-brushed stainless steel, both versions are water resistant to 300 meters.
Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe: Dial
Complimenting the brushed steel case is a radially brushed dial that you know will provide plenty of visual interest under different lighting conditions, with vintage-inspired hour markers that are oblong rectangles at 3, 6, 9, and 12, and this style harks back to the original Bathyscaphes. Faithful also to the original versions are the circular hour markers with metal (white gold) surrounds located in-between while further vintage homages are the broad chunky rectangular hands for readability under water and the luminescent dot located on the bezel to ensure the readability of dive time.
Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe: Bezel
One of the most crucial innovations of the original Fifty Fathoms was its imposing bezel so its slightly unusual to see such a slender one here, furthermore there are smaller fonts used than contemporary models, that said it does compliment nicely the overall style of this edition since Blancpain seem to be going for a more subtle or even more formal aesthetic here, the inclusion of a sapphire caseback – something you dont typically see on a ‘tool’ dive watches seems to confirm this. Incidentally the bezel uses the latest materials and is made from ceramic to enhance scratch-resistance and features a graduated scale made from Liquidmetal -a proprietry metal alloy developed by the Swatch group.
Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe: Movement
The movement in this vintage tribute though is most definitely modern, it is Blancpain’s in-house automatic Calibre 1315 with a silicon balance wheel and a 120 hour power reserve, it has minimal decoration which does make you wonder how necessary the caseback really is in this instance. The smaller ladies model uses Caliber 1150.
Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe: Strap
Finally the triple-loop NATO strap is another vintage touch since it was originally developed by the British Ministry of Defence when they were in search of a rugged strap for their military watches and recalls the Fifty Fathoms military legacy.
Priced at $10,500 for the satin-brushed stainless steel version and $12,000 for the ceramized titanium model, the ladies model being $9500. Similarly priced vintage styled divers would be the Rolex Submariner, the Jaeger-LeCoultre Deep Sea Vintage Chronograph and also the Vulcain X-Treme Diver.
From its use by combat divers to descending to the depths of oceans on the wrists of legendary explorers such as Jacques Cousteau the Fifty Fathoms has an amazing legacy and is an important and influential dive watch that has played a pivotal role in the shaping of dive watch history with its ground breaking design.
This new addition to the Fifty Fathoms family is a descendant of this legacy that subtly combines vintage styling from the early Bathyscaphes with modern technological advancements. The result is a luxury sports watch that will appeal to both collectors and people looking for a more sleeker and formal modern version that retains the Fifty Fathoms heritage and essence of the original vintage but has modern features. Its nice to see brands coming out with these retro models reinterpreting classic vintage models, it can only be good for collectors.
Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe: Technical Data
- One-way rotating bezel
- Silicon balance spring
- Ceramised titanium, ceramic bezel
- Case thickness 13.40 mm
- Case diameter 43.00 mm
- Water resistance 30.00 bar
- Between horns 23.00 mm
- Sapphire back
- Reference 1315
- Calibre thickness 5.65 mm
- Calibre diameter 30.60 mm
- Power reserve in hours 120
- Jewels 35
- Components 227
Official Press Release about the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphes on Official Blancpain Website.