Renowned as the blueprint for modern dive watches, Blancpain’s archetypal Fifty Fathoms of 1953 is coming up for its grand 70th birthday. As an essential player in the development of scuba diving and the watch chosen by elite diving corps worldwide, the heyday of the Fifty Fathoms spanned from the mid-1950s to the early 1980s. Following a period of dormancy, Marc A. Hayek, Blancpain’s CEO, decided to revive the Fifty Fathoms in 2003, coinciding with its 50th anniversary. Three series of 50 watches were unveiled in 2003, marking the definitive return of this icon. Today, 70 years after the debut of the Fifty Fathoms and 20 years after its rebirth, Blancpain kicks off a year of celebrations with a new 42mm model offered in three series of 70 pieces each, available for pre-order on Blancpain’s website in January 2023.
It might seem a bit confusing that there are three series of one watch (a total of 210 watches). However, each series is reserved for a specific region of the world: Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA), Asia-Pacific and the Americas. Another issue that might raise some confusion is the profusion of dates and anniversary models. To understand the evolution of the Fifty Fathoms, we have provided a box (below) with a brief history; to distinguish the differences between the 50th-anniversary models of the Fifty Fathoms in 2003 and the 70th-anniversary models of the Fifty Fathoms in 2023, we have divided them into two separate paragraphs.
The Birth of a Legend
Blancpain’s 1953 Fifty Fathoms was by no means the world’s first water-resistant watch; the Rolex Oyster of 1926 took that prize, paving the way for models like Panerai’s Radiomir of 1936 and Omega’s 1948 Seamaster watch. However, the Fifty Fathoms laid down a set of features that would become a blueprint for modern dive watches. Spearheaded by Jean-Jacques Fiechter, an amateur diver and CEO of Blancpain in 1950, the Fifty Fathoms was born – as so many inventions are – out of necessity. As a member of the Club Alpin Sous-Marin in the south of France, Fiechter experimented the dangers of a depleted scuba tank first hand and realised the vital importance of having a watch that could track elapsed time underwater. Guided by his personal experience, Fiecther’s mandates included water-resistance, a robust double-sealed crown, a self-winding movement (to minimise wear on the crown), a contrasting dark dial with luminescent indications, a secured unidirectional rotating bezel and anti-magnetic protection. By 1954, Fiechter had filed patents for the innovative locking rotating bezel, which had to be pushed down before it could be turned, for the double caseback and the double “O” ring crown.
Capable of diving to depths of 100 meters, the watch caught the eye of the French Combat Swimmers unit, headed by Captain Robert Maloubier and Lt. Claude Riffaud. In 1953, Blancpain delivered watches to the Naguers du Combat and the Fifty Fathoms soon became an essential part of their equipment. Adopted by the US Navy Seals (MIL-SPEC 1) and other elite diving corps, the Fifty Fathoms achieved cinematic fame on board Jacques-Yves Cousteau’s wrist in the award-winning film The Silent World in 1956.
Between the 1980s to the 2000s, the Fifty Fathoms was taken out of mainstream production until Marc A. Hayek took over the helm at Blancpain. Also a passionate diver, Hayek resuscitated the Fifty Fathoms in 2003 with the 50th Anniversary Fifty Fathoms (limited to three series of 50 models) with faithfully enacted vintage elements of the original but with a scratch-resistant curved sapphire insert on the bezel and increased water-resistance of 300 metres. In addition to its status as the first modern diver’s watch, the Fifty Fathoms is an ambassador for Blancpain’s commitment to the preservation of the ocean.
The 50th-Anniversary Fifty Fathoms, 2003
Masterminded by Hayek, the Fifty Fathoms was given a second lease of life in 2003. Coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the diver, the 2003 model delighted fans by preserving key vintage traits of the diver, reflected in the black dial with large luminescent numerals, markers and hands and the unidirectional bezel with its lozenge at noon. Naturally, there were upgrades: the vintage epoxy bezel inlay was replaced with a domed black scratch-resistant sapphire crystal insert; crown guards protected the screw-down crown, and the water-resistance of the case was beefed up to 300 metres. Other alterations included the incorporation of a date window between 4 and 5 o’clock and the provision of a special stand to help exchange the metal bracelet for a rubber strap. The 40mm Fifty Fathoms 50th Anniversary, reference 2200A-1130-71, was powered by the automatic Frédéric Piguet calibre 1151 with unidirectional winding and a 100-hour power reserve thanks to twin mainspring barrels.
The 70th-Anniversary Fifty Fathoms, 2023
Marking a first for the Fifty Fathoms family, the new 70th-anniversary pieces debut a 42.30mm diameter (regular models share 45mm cases and limited editions 40mm). This is not a move to cover the missing 42mm segment in the collection but a historically significant gesture that reflects the diameter of the original 1953 Fifty Fathoms.
The 42mm stainless steel case is polished and features an engraved Blancpain logo on the left side of the case. Like the 2003 edition, the stainless steel bezel has a domed sapphire crystal inlay with luminous markings and the lozenge at noon. The black dial has a sunray-brushed finishing, vintage-style hands,s and block-type (raised and in 3D) hour markers treated with cream-coloured Supoer-LumiNova. Marked by an arrow-shaped tip, the small seconds hand has a touch of lume and a red tip. The dial is inscribed with the JB 1735 logo, brand name, Fifty Fathoms, 300m/1000ft and just above the 6 o’clock marker, the words 70th Anniversary and Series I (or II or III, depending on the region).
Another reason for increasing the case size to 42mm is mechanical and responds to the incorporation of Blancpain’s in-house automatic calibre 1315. Compared to the 40mm editions of 2003 fitted with the smaller FP 1151 calibre measuring 27.40 x 3.25mm, Blancpain’s 1315 calibre is larger and measures 30.60mm x 5.65mm. Introduced in 2007, this automatic movement has a 4Hz frequency and is renowned for its extreme robustness, while its three-barrel architecture delivers a five-day power reserve. Anti-magnetism is an essential element for a dive watch, and the silicon balance spring ensures resistance to magnetic fields and eliminates the need for a soft iron cage, allowing for a view of the movement. Marking it as an anniversary piece, the platinum rotor is engraved with Fifty Fathoms 70th. The overall finishing is clean, simple and consistent with this precision workhorse movement used across the board at Blancpain.
The watch is fitted with a black NATO strap made from recycled fishing nets recovered from the sea, and closed by a stainless steel pin buckle.
Availability & Price
The Blancpain Fifty Fathoms 70th Anniversary Limited Edition Act 1 (reference 5010A/B/C depending on the series) is presented in three series of 70 watches and reserved for EMEA, Asia-Pacific and the Americas via pre-orders on Blancpain’s website later in January 2023. The price remains to be confirmed (expect somewhere around EUR 15,000). For more information, please visit Blancpain.com.