When you consider the quintessential dive watches, numerous different models probably come into mind. You might think of this Rolex Submariner, the OMEGA Seamaster, or even the Breitling Superocean. Still, the original dive watch optimized for professional sailors was the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms. In 1950, the new CEO of both Blancpain and enthusiastic diver Jean-Jacques Fiechter planned to create the best dive watch.
His impetus was a near-fatal diving encounter he’d off the coast of France. This made him understand a reliable timekeeping device was equally as vital to your diver as an air tank. In three short years, Fiechter left his dream a reality with the Fifty Fathoms in 1953. But he didn’t do it independently. He enlisted the help of some of the most elite divers on the planet: navy frogmen. Together, they developed among the very robust dive watches on the market. This is the story of this Blancpain Fifty Fathoms. Around Precisely the Same period Fiechter came to Blancpain as CEO, the French Ministry of Defense launched a new unit of commando frogmen, similar to the United States’ Navy Seals. Captain Robert Maloubier and Lieutenant Claude Jean Riffaud headed up the team. Soon, they started searching for a mechanical watches fit because of their squadron. Unknowingly, Fiechter, Maloubier, and Riffaud have been in search of a similar version. It had to be water resistant, antimagnetic, self-winding, and extremely legible in almost any conditions, from muddy waters to nighttime. Fiechter quickly began development and research. Soon, he’d patented a doubled sealed crown that ensured the watch’s water resistance even when obtained pulled out. He also patented a unique, notched, unidirectional rotating bezel that could help divers to monitor elapsed time during a dive. Additionally, he patented a locking mechanism for the bezel. This not only maintained the bezel out of rotating and providing incorrect elapsed time but also kept out sand and salt. Lastly, Fiechter patented a fresh screw-down caseback technologies by boosting the seal. It was not long before Maloubier and Riffaud learned of Fiechter’s patents and development of a brand new dive watch. They approached him and quickly understood that they shared the exact same vision for a model unlike any other made before. The watch should feature a black dial and large, bold, luminescent markers. A brief time afterwards, Feichter delivered twenty six prototypes to Maloubier and Riffaud for analyzing. The watches passed with flying colors.
Annually later in 1954, Blancpain surfaced the version to the world in the annual Baselworld fair. It came equipped with all the specialized features patented by Fiechter and the design specifications set by Maloubier and Riffaud.
The Fathoms quickly caught the attention of other divers and military forces. After a few more years, the Fifty Fathoms received attention within the civilian market. In 1956, famed diver Jacques-Yves Cousteau wore the version in an underwater documentary called The Quiet World. The film went on to win the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film festival and also an Oscar the following year. Despite its more widespread presence, the Fifty Fathoms continued to be considered a divers tool more than a normal wristwatch. Consequently, you would most often find the version at diving stores instead of traditional jewelers or watch boutiques.
Over the years, the design of the Fifty Fathoms continued to evolve. One of the most important updates to the group came in the 1960s with the release of radiation protected models. You might be familiar with Panerai’s shift from the Radiomir that utilized a radium-based material for its lume to the Luminor that used a safer luminescent material. Blancpain went through a similar shift with all the Fifty Fathoms. Into the 1970s, Blancpain went on to create dozens of unique versions for specific military powers and their specifications. Some of the most notable reflect a trend of the era: the cushion-shaped case.
By 1980, the Quartz Crisis had produced such an impact on Blancpain, the company was forced to shut its doors. Three decades later, the legendary Jean-Claude Biver bought the brand and revived it. However, Biver’s intention was to take the back to its roots, with models that proceeded the Fifty Fathoms. It was not until after the illustrious Swatch Group bought Blancpain in 1993 that the Fifty Fathoms would finally re-enter the new catalog. Following a nearly two years hiatus, the version made its massive yield in 1997. It did so as part of a trilogy of the new timepieces for soil, air, and sea. Nonetheless, it would not be until another decade afterwards in 2007 that the Fifty Fathoms was officially recognized as a set. The 2007 edition as well as also the models to follow closely capture the spirit of vintage Fifty Fathom designs. However, they feature modern upgrades, like greater water resistance up to 300 yards and fabricate movements.