When Blancpain presented the Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe Day Date 70s at Baselworld 2018, it followed a very long tradition of Fifty Fathoms timepieces. The first Bathyscaphe was introduced in 2013, and it was an intriguing combination of modern tech savvy and inspiration from vintage elements. Fifty Fathoms was and remains a luxury watch line filled with clean design, finely finished movements, intriguing bevels, and attractive finishes.
The new 2018 Seventies Day Date is inspired by the tonneau shaping of the early 1970s Fifty Fathoms, with modern case and bezel angles. It is supported by a 120-hour power reserve and a first for Blancpain because it has introduced a complication to the 3-hand Bathyscaphe. In fact, three Bathyscaphes with complications were debuted including a calendar moonphase and an annual calendar to complement the flyback chronograph previously introduced. The newest vintage style Bathyscaphe features a graduated grayish taupe dial, which is warm and retro, but decidedly different from the standard Bathyscaphe gray and modern dials. The newest trio in the Bathyscaphe collection take their heritage from Blancpain history, and it is fascinating.
Only a remarkable timepiece could have defined the requirements for all diving timepieces to follow it. The Blancpain Fifty Fathoms did so- for the entire diving industry. It has remained an icon in the diving world since the first model was introduced in 1953. The Fifty Fathoms marks its 65th anniversary in 2018. It came to be due to the inspired thinking of Blancpain’s CEO Jean-Jacques Fiechter. Fiechter ws an avid diver and his passion was to create a diving watch with the highest level of accuracy and functionality for critical military diving.
Two French military heroes approached Fiechter to create a reliable diving watch for the select group of combat divers who gathered intelligence and completed attacks against enemy ships. These frogmen were the elite military divers, and timing their operations accurately was essential. They had to be certain that their oxygen supply was accurately timed; and they needed accuracy to navigate and coordinate their operations. Free French Forces Captain Robert Maloubier and Lieutenant Claude Riffaud requested the ultimate watch for the Combat Diving School (Ecole des nageurs de combat); and Blancpain agreed to develop it.
The watch they envisioned had a black dial with large numbers and clear markings. They asked for simple circles, squares and triangles. They also wanted an exterior bezel which repeated the dial markings and rotated. It was important that the bezel would be set opposite of the large minute hand to mark the time beginning with each dive. It was also important that the markings would be easy to see underwater.
Fiechter refined the bezel so that it would rotate in one direction only. This would avoid any possibility that a diver might inadvertently turn it and not clearly indicate how much air supply was still available for the dive time. It was also important to make a water-resistant case and to incorporate automatic winding of the movement. Fiechter also added protection from magnetic fields because the watch would be used in harsh combat conditions. The first model set the standards for all the finest watches which would follow; with a wide array of mechanisms designed for easy reading and dependable use underwater.
The new timepiece was named for the British 50 fathoms measurement which was considered the maximum depth a diver could dive using the oxygen mixture available at the time. It is approximately 91.45 meters- the ultimate in both commercial and military diving depth. Fifty Fathoms was instantly recognized by divers and the perfect name for the new project.
Fifty Fathoms watches were first sold through Spirotechnique; which also sold the inventions of Jacques Cousteau, who ultimately used Fifty Fathoms in his Oscar winning film “Silent World”. The film would also win the Palme d’Or at the 1956 Cannes Film Festival.
After the French military adopted Fifty Fathoms, the navies of Germany, Israel, Spain and the United States followed. Due to the “Buy American Act” which existed at the time, the United States military had a required bidding process which caused some obstacles for Blancpain’s dealing with the military. Allen Tornek successfully navigated the bidding process and delivered the “Blancpain Tornek” and “Rayville Tornek” series to the United States. These two watches complied with the required military specifications and included “MIL-SPEC 1” on the watch dials. The United States required the use of Promethium 147 in the dial indications so that they could be seen during night dives. The material was radioactive, and the watch cases were inscribed with the warning, “DANGER. IF FOUND RETURN TO NEAREST MILITARY FACILITY”.
While the military watches used the radioactive material, civilian watches did not. Blancpain distinguished between the two models using the universal symbol for radioactivity. The military model included the three semi-triangles positioned around a circle. The civilian model added a red strike through the radioactivity symbol and positioned it above 6 o’clock on the watch dial so that it was easily seen. The civilian watches were primarily sold in diving supply shops. Blancpain produced a significant percentage of its Fifty Fathoms under the name of the shops selling diving equipment. One famous name was “Aqualung” which was Jacques Cousteau’s own line.
Fifty Fathoms watches were larger than the fashionable norm for men’s watches. The need for clear and easy to read indications made it necessary for larger watches, and this trend has remained fashionable today. From 1953 until 2003, the 50th Anniversary of Fifty Fathoms, there were many styling variations of the original watch. These included markers shaped like sticks rather than triangles, more pointed hands, and cases with cushion styling. But the original specifications guided the development of the watch models through the years.
Three limited series of 50 timepieces each were created for the 50th Anniversary and debuted at the 2003 Basel fair. These special edition pieces were designed for luxury. The bezel was made of sapphire, the caliber 1150 updated movement offered a 100-hour power reserve, and a new strap attachment system was added.
The styling variants offered a heritage of Fifty Fathoms watches with uncompromising inclusion of the original specifics along an ever-evolving timeline of classically crafted timepieces:
- 1953-First model with a 42mm diameter; LIP model released; Second LIP model with a 41mm diameter
- 1953 to 1955- LIP model with humidity indicator on dial; French military diving school model
- 1956- Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe was launched
- 1960-United States Navy model; SPEC Navy model with 41mm diameter
- 1960-Civilian model with 35mm diameter; Civilian model sold by LIP
- 1965 to 1970-Civilian models with 41mm diameter; and anti-radiation dial symbol
- 1965- German military model
- 1968-Civilian model in large size with date
- 1965 to 1970-Civilian model with internal shield case
- 1975-Model with caliber AS 2063 movement, model with caliber R 586 movement, model with monobloc case back in 42mm, model with caliber AS 1902/03 movement, Rayville large size model with CD 2873 Calibre and a crown at 4 o’clock.
- 1999-Fifty Fathoms Trilogy Editions in bracelet, strap and gold versions
- 2000-The Concept 2000 Fifty Fathoms
- 2003-50th Anniversary of Blancpain
- 2007-The Fifty Fathoms Automatique with self-winding caliber 1315
- 2007-The Fifty Fathoms Tourbillon in gold with automatic caliber and 8-day power reserve
- 2007-The Fifty Fathoms Chonographe Flyback with water-resistant push buttons
Today, there are four key Fifty Fathoms models within the collection. Each has numerous variants, but each design retains the seminal elements of the original models of finest diving watches. The latest additions to the Fifty Fathoms collection include technical advances and solutions, innovative materials and extraordinary design choices. The four key models include the Automatique, the X Fathoms, the 500 Fathoms GMT, and the Bathyscaphe.
The latest Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe Day Date 70s is a limited edition of 500 pieces. But, it undoubtedly takes its place in Blancpain history while offering a contemporary, yet vintage-inspired watch. It’s a new expression of Blancpain’s commitment to classic timepieces and a classic reminder of the company’s ongoing support of scientific ocean expeditions, underwater photography, and events designed to further preservation of the oceans and the seas.
Written by Garrett Parker
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