Discover the Historical past of Dive Watches with Blancpain

Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Automatique

A one-sentence abstract will get us began right here. In 1953, Swiss watchmaker Blancpain launched the world’s first dive watch; the world of watches would by no means be the identical once more. Arguably the most well-liked sort of conventional mechanical wristwatch, the dive watch is a agency favorite amongst collectors and informal patrons alike. Nearly all the key gamers have one, with the notable exception of haute horlogerie stalwarts Patek Philippe and Vacheron Constantin. Even Audemars Piguet bowed to collector strain and launched the Offshore Diver some years again, although that watch is hardly a deeply vital a part of the assortment. Bucking this pattern decisively is Blancpain, which was way more well-known for its haute horlogerie items for many of its historical past, as you possibly can see by taking a look at its collections, however we’ll get to that in a bit.

Given the peculiar relationship the dive watch has to diving immediately — principally it’s not a necessity — this impression solely grows extra highly effective. As a species, we seem to need a image of our world’s oceans and seas near us always; we’re largely manufactured from water anyway. If aliens determined to introduce themselves, they could convey us a present of water from their dwelling world as a greeting! To be clear, that is solely an impression as nobody actually is aware of in regards to the true enchantment of the dive watch, or the explanations manufacturers introduce dive watches, which brings us to a different vital level.

What proof do we have now to supply on the recognition of dive watches anyway? Is it the largest vendor amongst all watch manufacturers, throughout the board, Swiss or in any other case? Does this clarify why we have now devoted at the least one cowl a 12 months to the dive watch since at the least 2016? Sadly, not one of the experiences we consulted for our Spring 2023 subject, from Morgan Stanley and Deloitte’s to the Swiss Federation of Watchmaking (FH) and Europastar, had any information on the abiding reputation of the look ahead to divers. It’s because the watch commerce doesn’t do breakdowns on this method, folding dive watches into three-handlers, at greatest; some experiences talk about the recognition of the sports activities watch, which clearly consists of the dive watch. However, altering the definition this fashion additionally tends to attract in different varieties of hardy device watches, in addition to numerous problems and all method of smartwatches.

The unique Fifty Fathoms

Whereas that is clearly not nice for basic data, these kinds of watches are essentially the most plentiful on the planet, since in addition they embody the hardest tickers. Dive watches might need been the primary purpose-built watches for a specific sporting exercise, making the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms the primary device look ahead to sports activities. Navigation, aviation and driving watches all arrived earlier than the dive watch, however all of those have been eclipsed by the timekeeper of the deep. Even the arrival of low-cost quartz watches couldn’t make the sports activities watch come up for air, so to talk. As for the smartwatch, most fashions and makes have solely lately gotten water-resistance proper, due to all of the detector capabilities.

Now, in case you are a long-time reader of World of Watches, you’ll most likely be sighing to your self, and questioning simply why we’re so obsessive about dive watches. A part of the reply lies within the story of the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms, and that leads us instantly into our common historical past lesson. So far as different key fashions go although, we will likely be addressing these extra absolutely later on this story, and later within the 12 months. The historic part additionally covers the salient traits of the Fifty Fathoms as they stand immediately, and features a sidebar on Blancpain’s conservation work.

We observe on the outset, for transparency, that we’re as soon as once more indebted to the wonderful work of Jeffrey Kingston, the long-time editor of Lettres du Brassus, the Blancpain journal, for a lot of the small print that went into this story.

Deep Dive

Jean-Jacques Fiechter

In some ways, Blancpain is a little bit of a stunning famous person in diving. Based in 1735 in Villeret, Switzerland, the manufacture had been largely centered on problems and superbly completed watches for many of its storied previous. This was strengthened by one other a part of the DNA of the modern Blancpain model, that of Louis Élisée Piguet, that is still famed to at the present time for its difficult actions. This stands in direct distinction with watchmakers who obtained off the blocks within the twentieth century, for instance, the place a sure diploma of utilitarianism was to be anticipated.

Blancpain, which had confirmed to be resilient to each disaster identified to man for the reason that 18th century, was an adaptable agency. It even survived its personal founding household’s choice to go away the enterprise, discovering a prepared purchaser for the Blancpain watchmaking concern within the trustworthy worker, Betty Fiechter, in 1932; the Piguet household’s involvement remained some methods away however that’s one other story. Certainly, Betty Fiechter’s story is a captivating one, however for the story of the Fifty Fathoms, issues start correctly together with her nephew, Jean-Jacques Fiechter. It needs to be famous although that Jean-Jacques was solely in a position to interact in his diving ardour due to the house Betty Fiechter owned on the Riviera. It was a location that will play a central position within the genesis of the Fifty Fathoms watch.

Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe

Whereas Jean-Jacques Fiechter was focussed on making the most effective dive watch he might within the unique Fifty Fathoms of 1953, he didn’t wish to pass over much less hardcore fans, and ladies in fact. He defined that this was why the Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe debuted in 1956 in a diameter as small as 38mm. It maintained all of the options of the Fifty Fathoms, however sacrificed a little bit little bit of legibility to achieve one thing by way of wearability. Launched with a date window from the beginning (one thing the Fifty Fathoms didn’t get at launch), the Bathyscaphe is immediately an ideal showcase of Blancpain’s extra advanced spirit — which means watches with conventional problems, as seen in these references reverse with full calendar and moon part indicator, and flyback chronograph, respectively.

Jean-Jacques grew to become the CEO of Blancpain in 1950, and he had fairly the yen for diving. In these days, leisure diving was not but the pressure it’s immediately, with the SCUBA equipment solely having been pioneered by Jacques Yves Cousteau in 1943. It was additionally a harmful and unpredictable exercise since divers on the time didn’t have the best gear, together with the best form of dive watch. Jean-Jacques realized this the arduous manner on a dive at Villefranche-sur-Mer, France. Some 50 metres under the waves (a considerably unbelievable depth, however that’s what the report exhibits), he found that he had run out of air. Not solely did Jean-Jacques not panic, he had the presence of thoughts to contemplate timing his emergency ascent, besides he didn’t have a watch to take action in fact! He later noticed that “ardour makes one neglect the time,” when wanting again on his near-fatal accident.

Fortunately, Jean-Jacques had one other ardour in addition to diving: making watches. He quickly set about discovering an answer to the issue that just about killed him as a result of he realised {that a} exact, dependable and difficult watch was the important thing. With the sources of a manufacture at his disposal, Jean-Jacques might develop precisely the form of watch that was wanted. This story is exactly what makes the Fifty Fathoms so particular and distinctive within the improvement of the dive watch.

With the best inspiration, Jean-Jacques mirrored on his accident and realised two issues: a diver wanted to maintain observe of time throughout a dive, and in addition wanted to account for time to decompress earlier than surfacing. In different phrases, it was not sufficient to understand how a lot air you had left, you additionally wanted to understand how a lot time you possibly can spend, in complete, relying in your SCUBA gear. Jean-Jacques started designing a watch that will do all that was required; he wanted a ticker that will hold you ticking, to place it one other manner. From the beginning, he knew it must be a easy and difficult timepiece, as a result of chronographs weren’t water resistant in any respect presently (for these of you who marvel why this resolution didn’t happen to Jean-Jacques or the esteemed watchmakers at Blancpain).

Making a easy timepiece from scratch isn’t any straightforward feat, notably when that timepiece additionally needed to be a lifesaving instrument for divers. Jean-Jacques needed to invent what we take with no consideration immediately, codified throughout the strictures of ISO 6425. Take, for instance, the problem of water-resistance, which was just about resolved by the Fifties…besides it was not. There have been weak factors in any watch, that are the identical immediately, the place water may penetrate the case: the crown and the caseback. For the crown, Jean-Jacques got here up with the double-sealed system. The crown may very well be completely secure, if it was not pulled out. If one forgets to push or screw the crown again in after adjusting the watch, then jumps off a ship into the water, then that’s one watch that simply drowned.

Jean-Jacques resolution meant that there was all the time a second seal conserving the worst from occurring. Blancpain obtained a patent for that. For the caseback, there was already an ‘O’ ring gasket conserving the skin, nicely, outdoors, but it surely often obtained twisted when the caseback was screwed on. Jean-Jacques obtained round this by putting the ‘O’ ring in a channel with its personal steel ring to carry it in place. Blancpain obtained a patent for this too. Lastly, to resolve the problem of divers forgetting how lengthy they have been underwater, Jean-Jacques developed a turning bezel with a marker that may very well be used to point begin instances for dives (by aligning the bezel with the minute hand, to be clear). That works nicely sufficient, however ought to the bezel be disturbed, the sport is up. Jean-Jacques got here up with a locking mechanism that stored the bezel from shifting. Blancpain obtained a patent for that too.

Past this, Jean-Jacques knew that the wristwatches of his time have been just too small to be used underwater, the place legibility is essential. He labored on bigger case sizes together with his aunt Fiechter’s neighbour, who occurred to be a casemaker; Jean-Jacques shared the identical dwelling as his aunt, who lived upstairs whereas he lived on the primary ground.

On the identical theme of legibility, Jean-Jacques selected a color scheme of white in opposition to black, and luminous palms, for visibility at midnight, which was really not new at the moment. Equally, for the motion, Jean-Jacques knew it needed to be automated, to cut back the chance of damage and tear on the crown. The ultimate bit got here all the way down to resisting magnetism, however this wants to attend, as a result of whereas Jean-Jacques was firming up his imaginative and prescient, the second foundational a part of the dive watch story was taking form.

The French navy was on the lookout for a dive watch, and the 2 males accountable for this have been Captain Robert ‘Bob’ Maloubier and Claude Riffaud, each veterans of World Struggle II. They have been those who noticed the necessity for a fight diving pressure, and the French navy left it to them to discovered what would turn out to be the French Forces Elite Diving Corp. When it got here to the timing devices, the late Maloubier preferred to inform a narrative of assembly a French watch govt from Besancon, and being furnished with small watches that have been touted as “marvels” of water-resistance; these all drowned. Quite than being discouraged although, Maloubier and Riffaud drew up sketches of what they thought a dive watch needs to be: waterproof, self-winding, anti-magnetic, and a dial that may very well be simply learn both in murky water or at night time. They discovered no takers on their daring designs although, with one watch govt telling them that “there isn’t a future in diving watches.”

Clearly, Maloubier and Riffaud discovered their approach to Jean-Jacques and Blancpain. Right here is how Maloubier described the assembly: “Lastly there was this small enterprise, Blancpain, that agreed to provide a watch that we imagined with a black dial, massive numbers, clear indexes within the type of triangles, circles and squares, in addition to a rotating exterior bezel with markings matching the dial. We had hoped to have the ability to begin a dive and place the bezel in order to have the ability to learn the time utilizing the massive minute hand. We wished every of the markers to be as outstanding as a pole star for a shepherd.” All events wished the identical factor, apart from the anti-magnetic requirement, which Blancpain solved with the introduction of the gentle iron interior case to guard the motion from magnetic fields.

Right here we race forward a bit, as a result of the subsequent parts lead us to the current and presumably way forward for the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms watch. One 12 months after the launch of the watch, in 1954, famed diver and marine biologist Jacques-Yves Cousteau chosen the Fifty Fathoms mannequin for his dive staff, whose filmed dives grew to become the premise of the Academy Award-winning movie, “The Silent World” in 1957. Thus, the skilled, leisure and conservationist traits of the Fifty Fathoms got here collectively in only a few years. By way of the world’s armed forces, the Fifty Fathoms rapidly grew to become the go-to possibility for the Israelis, West Germans, Danish, Norwegians, Swedish, Pakistanis and, most famously, the People, with the Navy SEALs.

The modern Fifty Fathoms that celebrates its seventieth anniversary this 12 months is not a device watch utilized by the world’s navies, but it surely stays very a lot part of the legend of the dive watch. It’s also nonetheless part of the conservation world, with Blancpain’s initiative referred to as Ocean Commitment having raised each consciousness of the necessity to defend the world’s oceans, in addition to having an actual impression in rising the share of protected areas of the oceans by greater than 20 per cent.

For the celebrations this 12 months, you possibly can see for your self how Blancpain is leaning into this ocean conservation future in its promoting visible within the subject. It’s also a really actual a part of the modern assortment, being mirrored in at the least one of many seventieth anniversary editions. However first, a tribute to the very first Blancpain Fifty Fathoms, and a completely new technical watch.

Fifty Fathoms Tech Gombessa

If the conservation angle is considerably hidden in Act 1, it takes centre stage right here, on condition that the title of the watch is the Fifty Fathoms Tech Gombessa, which is the seventieth Anniversary Restricted Version Act 2. Chances are you’ll recall that Gombessa right here is derived from Gombessa Expeditions, the initiative headed by marine biologist, photographer and diver Laurent Ballesta, and supported by Blancpain as a founding accomplice. The title just isn’t there simply to suggest an vital trigger — the Tech Gombessa was collectively developed by Blancpain and Ballesta. The Tech a part of the title can also be pivotal, as a result of it refers back to the count-up bezel with three-hour show, which is completely new in a dive watch (or certainly any watch).

In contrast to the Fifty Fathoms X Fathoms, the Tech Gombessa just isn’t mind-bogglingly difficult. It’s relatively easy by means of comparability, however that’s not the purpose. The unique Fifty Fathoms was a watch designed to satisfy the wants of divers, and the Tech Gombessa follows the identical narrative, besides right here, the heroes are Blancpain CEO Marc Hayek, himself an completed diver, and Ballesta. Ballesta wished a watch that would serve him on closed-circuit rebreather diving excursions, and that’s exactly what he obtained.

Now we don’t have the area to get into what precisely CCR diving is, however suffice to say, the equipment permits one to rebreathe the air one exhales. This implies one can keep underwater longer, which is essential for Ballesta’s work. How for much longer? Effectively, there’s the place these three hours come into play. To make all this work, the Tech Gombessa contains a helium escape valve (you realize the place it’s), on the lookout for all of the world like a second crown, and a brand new motion, the automated calibre 13P8, alongside the unidirectional bezel with three-hour scale. What appears like a GMT hand on the dial is the truth is a hand that makes one circuit in three hours. It’s meant to work in tandem with the 120-click bezel, about which we’ll say extra once we talk about the case under.

You can not actually inform from wanting on the watch right here, with none reference or context, however it is a huge boy, and it’s considerably totally different to the vanilla reference 5015. The case is 47mm and 14.81mm thick, making it the largest Fifty Fathoms reference for the reason that X Fathoms. Blancpain has made the watch simpler to put on although, with a case in grade 23 titanium and a lugless design. Sure, which means the black rubber strap (with extension) is absolutely built-in. The bezel has a great little bit of overhang, making it simpler to understand, and the insert is executed in black ceramic relatively than sapphire crystal, and slopes inward barely. As a watch that’s meant to be worn over a moist go well with, the width and thickness are fully fantastic, however you have to to contemplate the way it sits in your wrist. Fortunately, you’ll have loads of time to resolve as a result of the Tech Gombessa just isn’t a restricted version — it joins the common Fifty Fathoms assortment. For sure, if CCR diving is your factor, that is simply the best look ahead to you.

Lastly, the dial is in a brand new shade of black referred to as “absolute,” which apparently absorbs 97% of sunshine that hits it. This has the impact of constructing the orange luminescent markers, which glow blue, actually pop, as they are saying. The bezel markings and the three-hour hand glow inexperienced, by means of distinction.

Fifty Fathoms X Fathoms

A uncommon watch to expertise within the steel, the Fifty Fathoms X Fathoms demonstrates simply how far Blancpain goes — or ought to we are saying how deep. Whereas different manufacturers give attention to so-called excessive dive fashions, Blancpain actually leads the way in which with this 2011 titan of horology. A robust reminder that the Fifty Fathoms was initially bought in dive gear shops, the X Fathoms is sort of a dive pc, however in mechanical kind. The watch is ready to measure depths of as much as 90 metres; retailer most depth achieved; has a separate indication on the 0-15m scale with distinctive precision of +/- 30cm; and has a retrograde 5-minute counter for decompression stops. That final one lastly fulfilled Jean-Jacques Fiechter’s personal conundrum within the fateful accident that ultimately gave rise to the modern dive watch within the first place.

Fifty Fathoms seventieth Anniversary Restricted Version Act 1

For the seventieth anniversary of the Fifty Fathoms watch, Blancpain is pulling out all of the stops, with a three-act plan, actually. Act 1 is a now-sold-out smaller model of the Fifty Fathoms, hewing intently to the unique dimensions of the watch. We congratulate you in case you managed to get one of many 70 items of Fifty Fathoms seventieth Anniversary Restricted Version Act 1, to make use of its full title. To be clear, the 70 watches we’re particularly referring to are those meant for the Asia-Pacific; there are two extra restricted editions of the identical mannequin in the identical sequence, one for Europe, the Center East and Africa, and one for the Americas. Nonetheless, 210 items appears however a drop within the ocean, contemplating that Act 1 is essentially the most simply wearable Fifty Fathoms in years, clocking in at 42.3mm.

This isn’t a reissue although, by any means, as a result of Act 1 retains some traits from the modern common manufacturing mannequin, together with the engraved Blancpain emblem on the left facet of the case. It additionally nods in direction of the reintroduction of the Fifty Fathoms in 2003 with the stainless-steel bezel with domed sapphire crystal inlay over luminous markings and a lozenge at 12 o’clock. The crown guards are additionally a characteristic launched within the 2003 version, and you’ll recognise different salient options from this seminal version that introduced the Fifty Fathoms into the twenty first century. Water-resistance is, in fact, 300 metres.

The dial is black, with brushed sunray ending, so-called classic palms (an evolution of the sword palms on the unique), three-dimensional markers and Arabic numerals with cream-coloured SuperLuminova (the palms additionally sport the identical luminous materials). In terms of the textual content on the dial, that is the place you’ll discover your self a fan, or not. There are seven traces of textual content, together with the JB 1735 emblem, and the particular seventieth Anniversary phrases, with the sequence of the watch (I, II or III relying on area, as talked about above) ending issues off. Effectively, you may depend the Swiss Made indication too, at 6 o’clock under and flanking the numeral. Just like the modern Fifty Fathoms, the date window is between 4 and 5 o’clock (the so-called 4:30 place).

For the motion, that is additionally fully modern, with the automated calibre 1315 working the present, and displaying off its three-barrel structure by way of the sapphire exhibition window (itself a wholly modern contact). Calibre 1315 powers the present Fifty Fathoms reference 5015, so followers of the model can count on no surprises there. After all, the calibre does mark itself as one thing particular, contemplating that the oscillating weight is in platinum, with “Fifty Fathoms seventieth” engraved on it (platine can also be fortunately engraved there). No particular ending has been utilized right here, which is acceptable contemplating that that is nonetheless very a lot a device watch. One may go additional right here and say that the usual ending on calibre 1315 is already distinctive for what it’s, and beats most different dive watches on the market.

Ending issues off right here is a wholly modern contact that’s in-line with modern issues: the strap is of the black NATO selection, with pin buckle, however it’s made out of recycled fishing nets recovered from the ocean. Contemplating the sturdy conservation message that Blancpain adopts and advocates, that is fully acceptable.

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