Discovering new Blancpain timepiece collections at Baselworld is like watching a film about adventurers and pioneers. The history of Blancpain’s iconic Fifty Fathoms reminds me of the French film L’Odyssée by Jérôme Salle featuring Lambert Wilson, Pierre Niney and Audrey Tautou.
Jean-Jacques Fiechter, a passionate diver who was Blancpain’s CEO for three decades (1950-1980), as well as Captain Robert “Bob” Maloubier and Lieutenant Claude Riffaud, founders of the French Navy’s combat swimmers corps, have inspired Blancpain’s master watchmakers to re-interpret one of its vintage pieces from the 1950s, the Fifty Fathoms with a water-tightness indicator.
In the early 1950s, Fiechter was a sport diving pioneer. Based on his personal underwater experiences, he knew that a diver’s life depended upon a reliable timekeeping instrument and he saw that none existed in the marketplace. As head of Blancpain, he challenged his team to create a water resistant timepiece conceiving a double sealed crown system and a special sealing system for the caseback.
He then addressed another problem: a secured rotating bezel that could be used to measure the time of a dive. His idea was to rotate the bezel so as to place its zero index opposite the minutes hand. In this way, the diver could read the passage of time while underwater using the minutes hand to read markings on the bezel. Any accidental movement of the bezel could induce a timing error with dramatic consequences. Fiechter therefore perfected a blocking mechanism which would prevent accidental rotation of the bezel. Later, Blancpain introduced a uni-directional rotating bezel, a world-first feature which also ensured safety during a dive.
In 1952, Bob Maloubier and Claude Riffaud began their quest to find a watch suited for their aquatic missions. The two officers envisaged finding a watch that would become an indispensable piece of equipment for their divers. They joined forces with Blancpain. In 1953, Blancpain delivered to the French team a watch that fully met their criteria. It performed brilliantly in all of the tests and it became one of the essential pieces of equipment for the French combat swimmers corps. Later, the same occurred for naval forces around the world. It was a unique timepiece: the Fifty Fathoms.
BLANCPAIN FIFTY FATHOMS AUTOMATIQUE
At Baselworld 2017, Blancpain unveiled its Tribute to Fifty Fathoms MIL-SPEC, fitted with Blancpain’s in-house automatic winding caliber 1151, comprising 210 components including two series-coupled mainspring barrels and offering a four-day power reserve. Nestled into its stainless steel 40mm case, the movement as well as its solid gold winding rotor with a NAC coating (a platinum alloy) and Blancpain logo, are visible through the clear sapphire case back. The balance-spring is in silicon, a material that makes it lighter and thus more shock-resistant.
This new model naturally features the entire set of technical characteristics of a watch dedicated to diving, established by the original 1953 Fifty Fathoms. Its black dial features indexes in Super-LuminNova and a water-tightness indicator recalling the designs of the 1950s MIL-SPEC 1. The unidirectional rotating bezel covered in scratch-resistant sapphire, protects the luminescent indications underneath
This timepiece is water resistant to 30 bar, which is equivalent to 300 meters. It is limited to 500 examples and is offered with a NATO strap, sail cloth strap, or steel bracelet with a secure buckle.
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