Blancpain Issues Fifty Fathoms Limited Editions
In 1950, Jean-Jacques Fiechter took over the reins at Blancpain. An outstanding diver, and guided by his own experience, he began developing a reliable and robust timing instrument capable of accompanying him in his underwater adventures. The fundamental specifications were luminescent hands and hour-markers contrasting with a dark dial, a secured rotating bezel, a self-winding movement, perfect water resistance and an antimagnetic case.
In parallel, Captain Robert “Bob” Maloubier and Lieutenant Claude Riffaud, founders of the newly formed French Combat Swimmers unit, began a quest for a watch suited for their missions. Having heard that Fiechter was testing a new model of watch when diving in the south of France, they decided to contact him. As a result, in 1953, Blancpain was able to deliver to the French team watches for testing that fully met their criteria – the Fifty Fathoms. The watches performed brilliantly in all the tests and it immediately became one of the essential pieces of equipment for the French Combat Swimmers corps, and later, for naval forces around the world. Blancpain wanted to unveil a special edition of its Fifty Fathoms diver’s watch, paying tribute to its close collaboration with the founders of the French Combat Swimmers unit. Supporting this initiative, the French army authorized Blancpain to engrave the Combat Diver Qualification Badge – featuring a central anchor, dedicated to sailors, and flanked by two winged seahorses representing the underwater world as well as parachutists – on the caseback of the new model. The watch face discreetly displays a second emblem – the number 7. As oxygen becomes toxic when its partial pressure reaches 1.7 bar, the maximum depth that commando frogmen can reach when using pure oxygen is seven metres, a number that has thus become a symbolic figure in this milieu.
Faithful to the reputation of its ancestor, the special “Nageurs de combat” new model ensures robustness and reliability thanks to the 1315 self-winding movement. Equipped with a date window, it features a silicon hairspring serving as an antimagnetic shield, while three seriescoupled barrels provide a five-day power reserve. The 45 mm diameter satin-brushed steel case is water-resistant to 30 bar (approx. 300 metres). Like the original model, the hands and hour-markers of the “Nageurs de combat” watch are covered with luminescent material, contrasting with the matt black dial. The hands are painted white. The black unidirectional rotating bezel highlights a luminescent time scale protected by a curved sapphire insert that is extremely resistant to shocks and scratches
The German Bundesmarine, in the 1960s and 1970s, were supplied with Fifty Fathoms models via Barakuda, a company specialising in the production and marketing of diving equipment. Alongside the watches intended for the military, the company introduced a civilian model adopting a distinctive style, featuring the use of two-tone rectangular hour-markers, white-painted fluorescent hands, as well as a highly visible date display at 3 o’clock. Some timepieces in this series were fitted with a tropical-type rubber strap that was very popular with divers. The new Fifty Fathoms Barakuda reinterprets the aesthetic codes of the original timepiece. Its black dial is punctuated by large red and white hour-markers coated with “old radium” type SuperLumiNova. The luminescent pencil-shaped hands are whitelacquered, while the date returns to its favourite position in a prominent window. The watch has a unidirectional bezel featuring a scratch-resistant domed sapphire insert. The satin-brushed steel case, water-resistant to 300 m, has a diameter of 40 mm, a size reserved for Fifty Fathoms timepieces in limited series. It is paired with a tropical rubber strap identical to that of the historical models.