Reviewing Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe
At Baselworld 2013, two iconic sport watches — the Rolex Daytona and TAG Heuer Carrera — celebrated their 50th birthdays with new models, while another historic watch brand, one with “50” in its name, celebrated its 60th. Blancpain’s influential Fifty Fathoms divers’ watch, now an entire collection, went back to the basics of its 1953 creation with the release of the vintage-inspired Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe.
The first Fifty Fathoms watch — named for the British measurement corresponding to approximately 91 meters, believed at the time to be the maximum depth to which a diver could descend — was the brainchild of former Blancpain CEO Jean-Jacques Fiechter, who took the reins of the long-established Swiss brand in 1950. Fiechter, an avid diver, was determined to develop a functional instrument that he could use while pursuing his hobby, and in 1953, his efforts bore fruit. The Blancpain Fifty Fathoms made history with a number of innovations, several of them patented, that had not before been incorporated into divers watches. Among these were the first lockable bezel, with markings to check dive times and remaining air supply; a double O-ring seal that ensured water-resistance to nearly 100 meters; automatic winding to reduce the number of times the screwed crown needed to be operated; a black dial with luminous markers for enhanced undersea legibility; and an antimagnetic case to protect the movement.
The Blancpain Fifty Fathoms would become a major success, eventually adopted by the French military elite combat divers unit and famously worn by Jacques-Yves Cousteau in his Oscar-winning documentary film, The Silent World, in 1956. Along with the Rolex Submariner and Omega Seamaster, the Fifty Fathoms is regarded as one of the most important and influential models in the diving watch genre. The Fifty Fathoms, like many Blancpain watches, largely went dormant in the wake of the 1970s quartz crisis, but the model was revived as a limited edition in 1997 and resurrected as a full-blown collection in 2007. Blancpain CEO Marc Hayek, another aficionado of diving, has positioned the Fifty Fathoms as a pillar of the revitalized Blancpain brand.
It should have come as no surprise, then, that the anniversary of the Fifty Fathoms took center stage at Blancpain’s presentation at the 2013 Baselworld watch fair, and has inspired a timepiece created specifically to evoke the model’s 1950s origins. The Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe derives its name and design from an older model introduced in the late 1950s and inspired by the exploits of Swiss oceanographer Jacques Piccard, known for developing underwater vehicles in his study of ocean currents and for exploring the deepest parts of the world’s oceans. The modern Bathyscaphe, like the original, is available in a men’s and ladies’ version.
The sharply defined case contours mirror those of the original, as do the shape and style of the hands and the placement of the date window. Another element from the original Bathyscaphe is the luminescent dot on the bezel, which aids in the legibility when reading dive times. Another vintage touch is the watch’s triple-loop NATO strap, which was developed by the British Ministry of Defence, which was seeking a sturdy strap for its military watches, in the 1960s.
The watch’s movement, however, is decidedly modern: Blancpain’s automatic Caliber 1315 (Caliber 1150 in the smaller ladies’ model), with a frequency of 28,800 vph and a non-magnetic silicon balance spring. The movement, made up of 227 components and 35 jewels, and carrying a lengthy 120-hour power reserve, can be seen through a sapphire caseback crystal. Another nod to modern technology is the graduated scale made of Liquidmetal, an amorphous metal alloy that Blancpain and other brands owned by the Swatch Group have used for various purposes in the past. The Liquidmetal bonds neatly with the ceramic bezel insert and helps to enhance its scratch-resistance.
Blancpain Calibre 1150
As professional-grade divers’ watches, both Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe watches are equipped with unidirectional rotating bezels that turn counter-clockwise in one-minute increments. During a dive, the seconds hand serves as an indicator that the watch is running, while the luminescent gold hour markers contrast well with the dial to provide legibility in the depths.
The men’s model has a 43-mm-diameter case in either satin-brushed stainless steel ($10,500) or ceramized titanium ($12,000); the ladies’ case is 38 mm in diameter and available only in satin-brushed stainless steel ($9,500). The men’s Bathyscaphe has a “meteor gray” dial and the ladies’ version has a white dial and strap. Both models are water-resistant to 300 meters — much more than the 50 fathoms that gave the watch its moniker and another indication of how this groundbreaking divers’ watch has evolved with the times, even in an emphatically retro version. At Baselworld 2014, Blancpain added to the Bathyscaphe collection with the introduction of the Blancpain Bathyscaphe Flyback Chronograph, a watch with an all-new in-house movement with a column wheel and super-fast 36,000 vph frequency. You can read more about that watch here.