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 kind of conventional mechanical wristwatch, the dive watch is a agency favorite amongst collectors and informal consumers 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 far more well-known for its haute horlogerie items for many of its historical past, as you possibly can see by its collections, however we’ll get to that in a bit.

Given the peculiar relationship the dive watch has to diving as we speak — principally it’s not a necessity — this impression solely grows extra highly effective. As a species, we seem to desire a image of our world’s oceans and seas near us always; we’re principally 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 attraction of the dive watch, or the explanations manufacturers introduce dive watches, which brings us to a different vital level.

What proof do we’ve got 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’ve got devoted at the least one cowl a yr to the dive watch since at the least 2016? Sadly, not one of the reviews we consulted for our Spring 2023 situation, 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 is because the watch commerce doesn’t do breakdowns on this method, folding dive watches into three-handlers, at finest; some reviews focus on the recognition of the sports activities watch, which clearly contains the dive watch. However, altering the definition this manner additionally tends to attract in different kinds of hardy device watches, in addition to varied issues and all method of smartwatches.

The unique Fifty Fathoms

Whereas that is clearly not nice for basic info, these kinds of watches are essentially the most plentiful on the earth, since in addition they embody the hardest tickers. Dive watches may 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 not too long ago 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 straight into our traditional historical past lesson. So far as different key fashions go although, we will probably be addressing these extra totally later on this story, and later within the yr. The historic part additionally covers the salient traits of the Fifty Fathoms as they stand as we speak, and features a sidebar on Blancpain’s conservation work.

We word 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 main points 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 issues and fantastically completed watches for many of its storied previous. This was bolstered by one other a part of the DNA of the modern Blancpain model, that of Louis Élisée Piguet, that is still famed to this present day for its difficult actions. This stands in direct distinction with watchmakers who acquired 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 recognized to man for the reason that 18th century, was an adaptable agency. It even survived its personal founding household’s resolution to depart the enterprise, discovering a prepared purchaser for the Blancpain watchmaking concern within the devoted 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 an enchanting one, however for the story of the Fifty Fathoms, issues start correctly together with her nephew, Jean-Jacques Fiechter. It must be famous although that Jean-Jacques was solely capable of interact in his diving ardour due to the house Betty Fiechter owned on the Riviera. It was a location that might play a central function within the genesis of the Fifty Fathoms watch.

Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe

Whereas Jean-Jacques Fiechter was focussed on making the very best dive watch he may within the authentic Fifty Fathoms of 1953, he didn’t wish to pass over much less hardcore fanatics, and ladies after all. 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 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 as we speak a fantastic showcase of Blancpain’s extra complicated spirit — which means watches with conventional issues, as seen in these references reverse with full calendar and moon section 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 power it’s as we speak, 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 appropriate tools, together with the appropriate type of dive watch. Jean-Jacques realized this the arduous method on a dive at Villefranche-sur-Mer, France. Some 50 metres under the waves (a considerably unbelievable depth, however that’s what the report reveals), 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 after all! He later noticed that “ardour makes one overlook the time,” when trying again on his near-fatal accident.

Fortunately, Jean-Jacques had one other ardour moreover 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 hard watch was the important thing. With the sources of a manufacture at his disposal, Jean-Jacques may develop precisely the type of watch that was wanted. This story is exactly what makes the Fifty Fathoms so particular and distinctive within the growth of the dive watch.

With the appropriate inspiration, Jean-Jacques mirrored on his accident and realised two issues: a diver wanted to maintain monitor 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 know the way a lot air you had left, you additionally wanted to know the way a lot time you can spend, in complete, relying in your SCUBA gear. Jean-Jacques started designing a watch that might do all that was required; he wanted a ticker that might maintain you ticking, to place it one other method. From the beginning, he knew it must be a easy and hard timepiece, as a result of chronographs weren’t water resistant in any respect right now (for these of you who surprise why this answer didn’t happen to Jean-Jacques or the esteemed watchmakers at Blancpain).

Making a easy timepiece from scratch is not any simple 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 as we speak, codified inside the strictures of ISO 6425. Take, for instance, the difficulty of water-resistance, which was just about resolved by the Nineteen Fifties…besides it was not. There have been weak factors in any watch, that are the identical as we speak, the place water would possibly penetrate the case: the crown and the caseback. For the crown, Jean-Jacques got here up with the double-sealed system. The crown might 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 answer meant that there was at all times a second seal holding the worst from occurring. Blancpain acquired a patent for that. For the caseback, there was already an ‘O’ ring gasket holding the surface, effectively, outdoors, nevertheless it incessantly acquired twisted when the caseback was screwed on. Jean-Jacques acquired round this by inserting the ‘O’ ring in a channel with its personal steel ring to carry it in place. Blancpain acquired a patent for this too. Lastly, to resolve the difficulty of divers forgetting how lengthy they have been underwater, Jean-Jacques developed a turning bezel with a marker that might be used to point begin occasions for dives (by aligning the bezel with the minute hand, to be clear). That works effectively sufficient, however ought to the bezel be disturbed, the sport is up. Jean-Jacques got here up with a locking mechanism that saved the bezel from transferring. Blancpain acquired 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 towards black, and luminous palms, for visibility in the dead of night, which was really not new at the moment. Equally, for the motion, Jean-Jacques knew it needed to be computerized, 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 in control of this have been Captain Robert ‘Bob’ Maloubier and Claude Riffaud, each veterans of World Battle II. They have been those who noticed the necessity for a fight diving power, and the French navy left it to them to discovered what would develop into the French Forces Elite Diving Corp. When it got here to the timing devices, the late Maloubier favored to inform a narrative of assembly a French watch government from Besancon, and being furnished with small watches that have been touted as “marvels” of water-resistance; these all drowned. Somewhat than being discouraged although, Maloubier and Riffaud drew up sketches of what they thought a dive watch must be: waterproof, self-winding, anti-magnetic, and a dial that might be simply learn both in murky water or at evening. They discovered no takers on their daring designs although, with one watch government telling them that “there is no such thing as 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 produce a watch that we imagined with a black dial, giant 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 start 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 inside case to guard the motion from magnetic fields.

Right here we race forward a bit, as a result of the subsequent components lead us to the current and probably way forward for the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms watch. One yr after the launch of the watch, in 1954, famed diver and marine biologist Jacques-Yves Cousteau chosen the Fifty Fathoms mannequin for his dive group, whose filmed dives grew to become the idea 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. When it comes to the world’s armed forces, the Fifty Fathoms shortly grew to become the go-to choice for the Israelis, West Germans, Danish, Norwegians, Swedish, Pakistanis and, most famously, the Individuals, with the Navy SEALs.

The modern Fifty Fathoms that celebrates its seventieth anniversary this yr is not a device watch utilized by the world’s navies, nevertheless it stays very a lot part of the legend of the dive watch. It is usually nonetheless part of the conservation world, with Blancpain’s initiative known as Ocean Dedication having raised each consciousness of the necessity to defend the world’s oceans, in addition to having an actual influence in growing the share of protected areas of the oceans by greater than 20 per cent.

For the celebrations this yr, you possibly can see for your self how Blancpain is leaning into this ocean conservation future in its promoting visible within the situation. It is usually 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, provided that the identify of the watch is the Fifty Fathoms Tech Gombessa, which is the seventieth Anniversary Restricted Version Act 2. It’s possible 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 associate. The identify isn’t there simply to indicate an vital trigger — the Tech Gombessa was collectively developed by Blancpain and Ballesta. The Tech a part of the identify can 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).

Not like the Fifty Fathoms X Fathoms, the Tech Gombessa isn’t mind-bogglingly difficult. It’s somewhat easy by the use of comparability, however that’s not the purpose. The unique Fifty Fathoms was a watch designed to fulfill 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 might serve him on closed-circuit rebreather diving excursions, and that’s exactly what he acquired.

Now we would not 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 includes a helium escape valve (you understand 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 seems to be like a GMT hand on the dial is in reality 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 focus on the case under.

You can not actually inform from trying on the watch right here, with none reference or context, however this can be a massive 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, meaning the black rubber strap (with extension) is totally built-in. The bezel has a great little bit of overhang, making it simpler to understand, and the insert is executed in black ceramic somewhat 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 completely nice, however you will want to contemplate the way it sits in your wrist. Fortunately, you should have loads of time to resolve as a result of the Tech Gombessa isn’t a restricted version — it joins the common Fifty Fathoms assortment. For sure, if CCR diving is your factor, that is simply the appropriate look ahead to you.

Lastly, the dial is in a brand new shade of black known as “absolute,” which apparently absorbs 97% of sunshine that hits it. This has the impact of creating the orange luminescent markers, which glow blue, actually pop, as they are saying. The bezel markings and the three-hour hand glow inexperienced, by the use 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 concentrate on 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 tools 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 finally 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 carefully to the unique dimensions of the watch. We congratulate you in the event you managed to get one of many 70 items of Fifty Fathoms seventieth Anniversary Restricted Version Act 1, to make use of its full identify. 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 chrome 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, after all, 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 the case of the textual content on the dial, that is the place one can find 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 would possibly 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 completely modern, with the automated calibre 1315 operating the present, and displaying off its three-barrel structure through the sapphire exhibition window (itself a wholly modern contact). Calibre 1315 powers the present Fifty Fathoms reference 5015, so followers of the model can anticipate 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 be fortunately engraved there). No particular ending has been utilized right here, which is suitable contemplating that that is nonetheless very a lot a device watch. One would possibly 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 considerations: 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 robust conservation message that Blancpain adopts and advocates, that is completely acceptable.

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