Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Review: What You Need to Know About this Iconic Dive Watch

Jun 22, 2020
Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Review: What You Need to Know About this Iconic Dive Watch

The Blancpain Fifty Fathoms is perhaps one of the most iconic — if not the most iconic — dive watches in the world. It was also among the pioneering best dive watches in the industry, along with the Rolex Oyster and a Panerai prototype.

In fact, there’s always some differences of opinion among watch enthusiasts as to what exactly is the first dive watch ever produced. Some say it was the Rolex Oyster (1926). Some argue it was a Panerai (1936). Others insist it was the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms (1953). But no matter the opinion, each of these icons deserves its rightful spot in the history of dive watches.

Rich in heritage and history, the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms’ exciting beginning involved a secret agent, strict diving requirements, and a French combat diving corps.

side view of First Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Watch
First Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Watch. Photo from Haute Time

Blancpain’s First Modern Dive Watch

In the 1950s, Capt. Robert ‘Bob’ Maloubier, a secret agent with the British Special Operations Executive during World War II and one of the founders of the French military combat diving corps, needed diving watches that would be able to keep up with their missions.

Unfortunately, at that time, none of the dive watches they tested made the cut, as they have strict requirements when it came to the watches that they needed. The watch had to have a black dial with large, bold numerals and clear markings. It had to have an outer rotating bezel aligned with a large minute hand to easily check the remaining oxygen time. And the markers had to be luminous, among others.

Capt. Robert ‘Bob’ Maloubier
Capt. Robert ‘Bob’ Maloubier. Photo from Blancpain

With these requirements, Capt. Maloubier had no choice but to look for a watch manufacturer that would create that specific watch for them. It took Captain Maloubier a while before he was able to get in contact with Jean-Jacques Fiechter, then CEO of Blancpain and an avid diver himself. Together, the two avid divers created what was to become the iconic Fifty Fathoms watch.

Blancpain Fifty Fathoms: A Suitable Name

“Fathoms” is a British unit of length which is equivalent to six feet or 1.8m. So, 50 Fathoms is about 300 feet or close to 100m — which was the watch’s water-resistance. And at that time, in the early 1950s, 100m was the maximum depth that a diver can safely go underwater.

French naval divers wearing the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms watches in the 1950s
French naval divers wearing Blancpain Fifty Fathoms watches in the 1950s. Photo from Watch Prozine

True to its word to Capt. Maloubier, Blancpain delivered a dive watch in accordance to his specifications. The first Fifty Fathoms watch had a black dial, featuring luminous numerals and indexes with a black unidirectional bezel. The stainless steel case was 42mm in diameter and powered by an automatic movement. It had a screwed caseback and a crown with a double O-ring gasket.

In 1956, the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms debuted at the Cannes Film Festival, where the famous French filmmaker, researcher, and oceanographer Jacques-Yves Cousteau wore the watch to receive his Palme d’Or Award for The Silent World — Cousteau’s documentary that featured underwater cinematography showing for the first time the ocean depths in colour.

A Reliable Tool Watch

After its launch, the Fifty Fathoms started carving its niche in the watch industry, proving to be a reliable dive watch. Not only was it used in the underwater film The Silent World, but it was also used by the Naval Special Forces. The US, France, Spain, Israel, and Germany were among those who equipped their naval divers with the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms dive watches.

The dive watch was so great that people regarded it more as a tool watch sold in dive shops rather than a proper watch!

Over the years, the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms collection has evolved not only in design and aesthetics but also in terms of functionality. Blancpain has collaborated with many designers, divers, and scientists to come up with innovative versions of the watch. From different case shapes to innovative dial designs and improved specifications, the Fifty Fathoms was on a roll!

side view of Blancpain Fifty Fathoms 3H Bund watch
Blancpain Fifty Fathoms 3H Bund. Photo from Pinterest

In the ‘70s, German Navy Combat divers collaborated with Blancpain to create the Blancpain 3H Bund Fifty Fathoms, a special-edition Fifty Fathoms with a “3H” printed on the dial — a military reference to the non-radioactive age tritium indexes and hands. It had a stainless steel case, thick mineral crystal, screw-down crown, and a water-resistance of up to 200 metres! Another feature that is worth noting about this version of the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms is its lack of numerals on the bezel. This watch was never made available for civilians which makes it even rarer collectible for watch enthusiasts.

Quartz Crisis & Other Challenges

Like most Swiss watch brands, Blancpain suffered a great deal when the Quartz crisis hit. The company almost went bankrupt, with only small operations of movement production for another Swiss brand keeping it afloat. With it, the future of the company was in jeopardy, and the Fifty Fathoms was, of course, discontinued. Most of the company’s records and documentation were destroyed, both by a fire and the lack of hope that the brand will ever recover.

In 1979, Blancpain was bought by Jean-Claude Biver (head of LMVH — a French multinational corporation and conglomerate specializing in luxury goods) and Jacques Piguet. Under Biver’s ownership, the company flourished once again, reviving its rich heritage of manufacturing top-notch mechanical watches. But during Biver’s helm, the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms was nowhere to be seen. It wasn’t until the company was purchased by the Swatch Group in 1992 that the iconic dive watch had a chance to be resurrected.

Finally, in 1997, Blancpain introduced its new Fifty Fathoms editions, which come in three models, later dubbed as the Fifty Fathoms Trilogy. The new watches feature a 40mm stainless steel casing with an upgraded 300m water-resistance. Powered by the Blancpain-Piguet calibre 1151, the watches had a robust 100-hour power reserve.

side view of Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Concept 2000 watch
Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Concept 2000. Photo from HQ Milton

In 1999, a follow-up to the Trilogy was introduced – the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Concept 2000. It had the same Calibre 1151 automatic movement, a 100-hour power reserve, and 300m water-resistance. However, it had a metallic bezel and numerals at 3, 6, 9, and 12 o’clock positions.

From then on, there have been a number of iterations of the collection, from vintage-inspired designs to flyback chronographs and tourbillons.

The Birth of the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe 

However, it was when Mark Hayek came in as Blancpain’s CEO in 2002 that the Fifty Fathoms truly shined. An avid diver himself, Hayek heard of the Fifty Fathoms and he decided to come up with limited-edition versions of the famous dive watches.

front view of Blancpain Fifty Fathoms X-Fathoms watch

Notable of which are the Fifty Fathoms Automatique Ref. 5015, introduced in 2007, and the Blancpain X-Fathoms, launched in 2012. The previous was introduced as a true diving watch, with the now-signature sailcloth strap and powered by the new automatic Calibre 1315 offering five days of power reserve! It has hacking seconds, sapphire caseback, and comes in a 45mm stainless steel case. The latter, on the other hand, is a limited-edition timepiece that boasts 55mm in diameter and 24mm thickness. It was huge as it was sensational!

A Smaller But More Powerful Dive Watch

But Hayek felt that these watches are on the bigger side and still look and feel like tool watches rather than proper timepieces that are at the same time dive instruments. Coincidentally, Blancpain’s former CEO and the man who developed the Fifty Fathoms, Jean-Jacques Fiechter, contacted Hayek and told him about some documents he had on the original Fifty Fathoms and Bathyscaphe — another dive watch that Fiechter developed in 1956.

Unlike the first models of the Fifty Fathoms which were large to accommodate the naval forces’ requirements, the Bathyscaphe was smaller to better suit daily wear. And so, with this, Hayek decided to put the two iconic watches together and came up with a new, hybrid version — the Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe, officially launched in 2013.

front view of Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe watch

The Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe is smaller in diameter (43mm), with a grey dial featuring a date window between 4 and 5 o’clock, and luminous hands and indexes. It can either come in a premium three-ring NATO or a two-piece sailcloth strap. Powered by the Blancpain Calibre 1315 automatic movement, the Bathyscaphe has a robust 120 hours of power reserve! Of course, it is water-resistant to 300 metres.

Suggested Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Watches Available Online 

Without further ado, let’s explore the modern versions of this legendary dive watch, which are available online. Designed with a contemporary aesthetic, these modern Fifty Fathoms watches retain the understated panache and sophistication of the classic originals.

1. Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe Chronograph Flyback

The Bathyscaphe Chronograph Flyback 5200-0130-B52A is not only cosmopolitan in aesthetics but it is also top-notch in functionality. Its all-black ensemble draws the fashion-forward watch enthusiasts, but it’s the watch’s range of capabilities that keep them interested. Housed in a 43.60mm satin-brushed black ceramic case, it features a flyback chronograph, date, small seconds, and a silicon balance spring. The black dial displays luminous dot and trapezoid indexes and hands, three chronograph sub-dials, and a date window between 4 and 5 o’clock.

front view of Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe Chronograph Flyback watch

Inside, the watch is just as exquisite. The automatic Calibre F385 movement powers the watch, with 37 jewels and a frequency of 5Hz. The watch can last up to 50 hours when fully wound. It boasts a sapphire caseback, unidirectional satin-brushed black ceramic bezel, and water-resistance of 300 metres! A rugged black sail-canvas strap completes its ultra-modern look.

2. Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe Meteor

A real classic, the Bathyscaphe Meteor (Ref. 5000-1110-B52A) is a handsome watch in a 43mm stainless steel case with a black sail-canvas strap and a grey meteor dial. The dial is almost minimalist with only the luminous hands and hour markers — dot and trapezoids — as well as a date window between 4 and 5 o’clock adorning it.

front view of Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe Meteor watch

It has a unidirectional satin-brushed steel bezel, a sapphire caseback, and a water-resistance of 300 metres. Powering it is the automatic Caliber 1315 movement with a power reserve of 120 hours — that’s equivalent to five days! Talk about being low maintenance.

3. Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Automatique (Brown Leather)

If you prefer your Fifty Fathoms to be on a more suave-rugged side, then check out the Fifty Fathoms Automatic Ref. 5015A-3630-63B. It comes in a 45mm 18K rose gold case, a black metallic dial, and a brown calfskin leather strap. The black dial features luminous, applied rose gold index and hour markers, as well as luminous sword-shaped hands.

front view of Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Automatique watch

Powering this robust dive watch is the Blancpain automatic calibre 1315, composed out of 227 parts and an impressive power reserve of 120 hours! The unidirectional bezel with luminous graduation markers makes sure the watch is safe for diving, with a 300m water-resistance to boot!

4. Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Automatique (Black Canvas)

Another version of the rugged Fifty Fathoms Automatique above is the Fifty Fathoms Automatique Ref. 5015-1130-52A in black canvas. For the sporty at heart, this dive watch has all the qualities of a sports and dive watch in one. Sturdy, reliable, and very suave-looking, the Ref. 5015-1130-52A first draws you in with its all-black beauty. It comes in a 45mm stainless steel case with a black dial and a matching black sail-canvas strap.

front view of Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Automatique Ref. 5015-1130-52A watch

Running on the Blancpain automatic Calibre 1315, this watch has a power reserve of 120 hours! To match its 300m water-resistance, it is equipped with a one-way rotating bezel for maximum diving security.

5. Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Complete Calendar Flyback 

If you need a professional dive watch that can give your wardrobe a pop of colour and a trendy vibe at the same time, the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Complete Calendar Flyback (Ref. 5066F-1140-52B) is your best choice. It comes in a 45mm stainless steel case with a metallic blue dial and dark-blue sail-canvas strap. It features a screw-down crown and screw-down chronograph pushers and a sapphire display caseback. The blue dial features sub-dials for 2-hour totaliser at 9 o’clock, 30-minute register at 3 o’clock, and a moon phase at 6 o’clock; luminous index and hour markers; as well as steel sword hands with luminous inserts. Meanwhile, the day and month aperture is seen at 12 o’clock.

front view of Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Complete Calendar Flyback watch

Powered by the automatic Blancpain calibre 66BF8 movement with 37 jewels, 448 components, an anti-shock device, the watch has a power reserve of 40 hours when fully wound. What’s more, like the rest of the watches in this selection, it is water-resistant to 300 metres!

6. Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe Automatique (Green Canvas)

The Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe Automatic (Ref. 5000-1110-K52A) is not only a powerful dive watch, but it also doubles as your reliable field watch. I mean, just look at its military-inspired design. From its black dial with luminous hands and index and hour markers to its green canvas strap, this dive watch looks at home in the jungle as it does underwater. What’s more, its movement is fitted with a nonmagnetic silicon balance-spring to make sure it is resistant not only to magnetic fields but also to wear and tear! And did we mention it boasts a water-resistance of 300 metres?

front view of Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe Automatic Ref. 5000-1110-K52A watch

It comes in a 43mm brushed stainless steel case with a unidirectional bezel featuring graduating luminous markers for maximum visibility even in the dark. At its heart beats the automatic Blancpain calibre 1315 movement composed out of 227 parts, and boasts a power reserve of 120 hours — truly a capable watch underwater and in the middle of the jungle!

7. Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe Ladies Watch

Immaculate in white, the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe Ladies Watch (Ref. 5100-1127-W52A)is a real beauty inside and out. But don’t let its delicate look fool you. This dive watch is every inch powerful and reliable as its men’s counterpart. Its stainless steel case houses a beautiful white dial with luminous index and dot hour markers and hands. A nice date window sits between 4 and 5 o’clock. At 38mm, this watch is just the perfect size for a woman’s sports watch.

front view of Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe Ladies Ref. 5100-1127-W52A Watch

It boasts a unidirectional bezel with graduating luminous markers. And, of course, it is water-resistant to 300 metres. Powered by the Blancpain automatic Calibre 1150, composed out of 210 parts with 28 jewels, it has a power reserve of 100 hours! Wear it to your next diving adventure with your man or to a weekend of shopping with the girlfriends. Either way, you won’t fall short on style and functionality.

8. Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Tourbillon

At first glance, you would know that the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Tourbillon (Ref. No: 5025-3630-52) is not just an ordinary watch. It comes in a huge 45mm 18K rose gold case with a black dial and a matching black canvas strap. The tourbillon is proudly displayed at 12 o’clock along with the power reserve indicator at 6 o’clock. The luminous index and hour markers and hands are in 18K rose gold as well to match its case.

front view of Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Tourbillon Ref. No: 5025-3630-52 watch

Powering this complex watch is the Blancpain automatic Calibre 25A movement with a robust eight days of power reserve! With its 300m water-resistance to boot, this watch is everything you need in a dive watch and more!

9. Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Grande Date

A dive watch that doubles as a dress watch? Count us in! Don this Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Grande Date (Ref. 5050-12B30-98) with a nice suit and tie or even a tux a’la James Bond! At 45mm, this could be a bit bulky compared to your regular dress watch, but its elegant demeanour certainly makes up for it. It has a black dial which is not too cluttered-looking for a dive watch. The luminous numeral and index markers and hands are only complimented by the ‘grande’ date at 6 o’clock. Besides those and the logos, the dial is kept minimal. But, of course, since this is first and foremost a dive watch, you have a unidirectional bezel and a 300m water-resistance to boot!

front view of Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Grande Date Ref. 5050-12B30-98 watch

Running on the Blancpain automatic Calibre 6918B movement, the watch also boasts an impressive 120 hours of power reserve. To complement the case, it has a matching titanium strap, which looks elegant at every angle — a perfect accessory to any suit for work and play. Now, if you want a more rugged option, this watch is also available in a black sail-canvas or NATO strap.

10. Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Automatique (Blue Leather)

Want a dive watch that’s professional but looks preppy and trendy at the same time? You might want to check out the Fifty Fathoms Automatique(Ref. 5015-3603C-63B). Elegant in its 45mm 18K rose gold case, it features a blue dial with a matching blue leather strap. Even the unidirectional bezel is blue! On the dial, you’ll see 18K rose gold numeral and index markers as well as hands, which are also luminous, of course, for maximum legibility even in the dark.

front view of Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Automatique Ref. 5015-3603C-63B watch

Inside, the watch is just as exquisite with the Blancpain automatic Calibre 1315 movement powering it. It boasts a silicon balance spring, beats at 28,800 vph, with 227 parts containing 35 jewels, and an impressive power reserve of 120 hours! What’s more, this watch has a water-resistance of 300 metres! Take it out with you on a deep-sea diving trip or a night out for painting the town red with your mates!

A Sophisticated Dive Watch

Besides being a professional and reliable dive watch, one thing everyone agrees on about the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms is how elegant and sophisticated it looks. Whether you get yourself a classic Bathyscaphe, a Tourbillon, or a Flyback, you’re always guaranteed to get a suave-looking dive watch! Talk about functionality, aesthetics, and versatility all in one iconic watch!

 

Interested in another watch icon? Why not check out our feature on the Bulova Moon Watch

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