he Fifty Fathoms was born in 1953 from the meeting between Jean-Jacques Fiechter, Blancpain’s boss since 1950 and an outstanding diver, and Captain “Bob” Maloubier, founder of the French Army’s combat swimming unit, who was looking for a dive watch worthy of the name.
In fact, Jean-Jacques Fiechter was working on precisely such a watch. It met all the criteria: luminescent hands and hour markers, a secure rotating bezel, an automatic movement, perfect waterproofing and an antimagnetic case. This was the beginning of the Fifty Fathoms saga.
- The original Fifty Fathoms from 1953
60 years of evolution
During its more than 60 years of evolution, the Fifty Fathoms has never left the scene. It has, however, undergone many alterations and developments, with numerous special editions and commemorative models.
It has sometimes adapted to its time, moving away from its original style, as shown, for example, by this photo of a Fifty Fathoms published in 1972 in Europa Star, when Blancpain still belonged to Rayville SA.
You will notice that its large bezel is in keeping with the fashion of the time, that its rotating bezel is internal, that it has a day/date of perhaps limited usefulness to a diver... From being a “professional” instrument, the Fifty Fathoms had become a sports fashion watch, even though it was water-resistant to 300 m.
- Fifty Fathoms, Rayville SA, Montres Blancpain. Europa Star 1/1972.
- © Europa Star Archives
After being picked up by Jean-Claude Biver, who devoted most of his efforts to making Blancpain the main actor of the revival of classical mechanical watchmaking, the brand fell into the hands of Nicolas Hayek, who then entrusted it to his nephew Marc Hayek.
A great sportsman and skilled diver, he tried to put the Fifty Fathoms back in the spotlight, as evidenced by the underwater celebration of the 50th anniversary of the watch in 2003, together with Captain “Bob” Maloubier himself.
- The Fifty Fathoms commemorative 50th anniversary watch, as it appeared in Europa Star in early 2004.
- © Europa Star Archives
Gaining weight at 60
In 2012, on the eve of its 60th anniversary, the Fifty Fathoms became the X Fathoms, for “extreme”, in accordance with the tastes of the time. But in doing so, it was becoming even more professional, offering a mechanical gauge capable of measuring depths up to 90 metres, more than any other watch, with an accuracy of 30 centimetres between 0 and 15 metres deep.
Marc Hayek took the opportunity to dive again, but this time to the bottom of Dubai’s giant aquarium, with free diver Gianluca Genoni, who remained 18 minutes and three seconds without breathing, leaning against the watchmaker’s bench where the watch was presented, as can be seen in Europa Star 1/2012.
The X Fathoms launched in 2012, as it appeared in Europa Star 1/2012. It was equipped with a modified calibre in order to incorporate a new silicon balance spring and a triple barrel, which provided a power reserve of five days. As we wrote at the time, Blancpain was hoping to sell some 40 to 50 models per year, at the then announced price of CHF 30,000.
The irresistible rise of vintage
The following year, in 2013, the vintage trend was already on the rise and, on the occasion of its 60th anniversary, Blancpain presented a special vintage-inspired Fifty Fathoms. It was the Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe, named after the exploratory submarine designed by Jacques Piccard, and derived from models of the same name from the 1950s.
- Europa Star 3/2013
- © Europa Star Archives
The vintage trend continues in 2019
This year, this vintage trend still overshadows everything else, as we can see from the new products presented not at Baselworld, which the Swatch Group has deserted, but during a tour of Switzerland organised for the international press (without Europa Star, alas, despite our longstanding coverage of the brand!).
The first example is the reissue, in a 300-piece special edition, of the Fifty Fathoms dedicated to French combat swimmers. With the agreement of the French army, Blancpain was authorised to reproduce the qualification badge for combat swimmers on the back of the watch. On the dial we find a second emblem, a symbolic “7” referring to 7 metres, which is the maximum depth that can be reached using only pure oxygen.
- The limited edition of the Fifty Fathoms “Nageurs de Combat” (Combat Swimmers), in steel with a diameter of 45 mm, is equipped with the 1315 automatic movement and its three barrels.
A second example is the Fifty Fathoms Barakuda, named after the diving equipment manufacturer with whom Blancpain worked in the 1960s to deliver its watches to the German Bundesmarine. Back then, Barakuda also distributed a “civilian” version of the watch. The 2019 model incorporates the original aesthetic codes, going so far as to coat its large indexes with red Superluminova tips, imitating the old radium that is now banned, and equipping it with a rubber strap that is very similar to the original.
- The Fifty Fathoms Barakuda, limited to 500 pieces in steel, combines a vintage look and a contemporary calibre with a 1151 double barrel automatic movement. With this model, Blancpain hopes to convince “experienced divers, collectors, history buffs or lovers of fine mechanics”.
A third model is the Fifty Fathoms with ceramic dial. The combination of a blue ceramic dial with a satin-brushed red gold case is a first for the collection. It makes it wearable in environments more chic than the seabed alone. Elsewhere, the watch stick to its tried-and-tested formula: luminescent indexes, numbers and hands, unidirectional rotating bezel, water-resistant to 300m.
- The Fifty Fathoms in ceramic and pink gold is equipped with the 1315 automatic movement, with pink gold oscillating weight and blue leather strap.
Finally, the Fifty Fathoms Automatic Titanium introduces this modern material to the Blancpain family of diver’s watches. Water-resistant to 300 metres, with an imposing 45 mm diameter, it displays all the iconic features, is equipped with a 1315 automatic movement that ensures a 5-day power reserve thanks to its 3 barrels.
- Fifty Fathoms Automatic in titanium. Since 2007, the Fifty Fathoms has displayed a date between 5 o’clock and 7 o’clock, without affecting its historical appearance. This version is intended for daily wearers, not just divers.
We had forgotten (although collectors had not) that Blancpain had made a Fifty Fathoms with LIP. And with many others. It’s a rich history that will one day be told... So many models that even “Bob” doesn’t know which one to choose. He’s got his head underwater!
- Captain “Bob” Maloubier hesitates between the original model of the Fifty Fathoms and its new edition.