Blancpain releases a special edition of 300 pieces of its iconic Fifty Fathoms diver, this time in honour of the French Combat Swimmers Unit. The case size and movement of the 45mm Fifty Fathoms have not been altered but the watch is emblazoned with official French Army insignia on the caseback and other telltale signs that earmark it as a special edition dedicated to the commando frogmen.
From civilian to military waters
What started out as Jean-Jacques Fiechter’s (CEO of Blancpain in 1950) personal quest to create a reliable underwater companion for his recreational diving adventures ended up becoming one of the most significant dive watch of the 20th century. In parallel, the founders of the newly formed French Combat Swimmers unit were also on the hunt for a robust tool watch. Many watches were put to the test but none met their stringent requirements until, in 1953, they got their hands on Blancpain’s Fifty Fathoms (named after its depth rating of fifty fathoms a British measurement equivalent to 300 feet/91m). With its luminescent hands and hour markers, dark contrasting dial, secured rotating bezel, automatic movement, water-resistance and anti-magnetic case, the Fifty Fathoms of 1953 became an essential piece of equipment for the French Combat Swimmers corps and was later adopted by naval forces around the world.
Insignia of the “nageurs de combat”
The classic case of the Fifty Fathoms, measuring 45mm diameter and 15.70mm height, is made from satin-brushed stainless steel and is water-resistant to depths of 300m. The stamped relief on the caseback represents the official French Combat Diver Qualification Badge and depicts two winged seahorses flanking an anchor along with the special edition number x/300. A curved sapphire insert to avoid shocks and scratches protects the black ratcheted unidirectional rotating bezel with its luminescent time scale.
The matte black dial with its contrasting hands and hour markers is hallmark Fifty Fathoms. However, there are no Arabic numerals on this model and the bold geometric shapes are designed to evoke the generation of 1950s Blancpain military dive watches. Another nod to the past is the reinstatement of the triangular marker at 12 o’clock that appeared on the first Fifty Fathom models. Even the lume on the hands is white, just as it was on period watches.
However, the least visible, but perhaps most symbolic, allusion to the French underwater commandos is featured on the dial just above the 6 o’clock hour marker. The black number 7 printed on the dial is a direct reference to the maximum depth (7 metres) that frogmen can fathom when using pure oxygen. After 7 metres, the oxygen becomes toxic.
automatic Calibre 1315
Below the sealed caseback is Blancpain’s automatic calibre 1315. It operates at 4Hz/28,800 vibrations per hour and its three-barrels, coupled in series, can store a robust power reserve of 120 hours or 5 days. This movement also features a free-sprung balance wheel and its hairspring is in non-magnetic, shock-resistant silicon. It displays the hours, minutes, seconds and the date at 4 o’clock.
Availability and Price
The Blancpain Fifty Fathoms French Combat Swimmers is a limited edition of 300 watches. Price is expected around CHF 14,000. For more information, please visit www.blancpain.com.