The Blancpain Fifty Fathoms is without question one of the most iconic dive watches, and arguably the first. One of the things we love most at Analog/Shift is distinctive design, and the Fifty-Fathoms certainly has that in spades.
The mirror gloss dial, the luminous arabic indices, and of course its' signature luminous oversized bakelite bezel. There is no mistaking a Fifty-Fathoms for any other watch, and in a category of watches that can sometimes blend together it stands out in the crowd.
Of particular note is the co-branded Blancpain/LIP dial, indicating this piece originated in the French market, which of course is the land of its birth. Interestingly, the proposal for manufacturing the original Fifty Fathoms for the French Navy was denied by LIP (who did construct at least one prototype), claiming that the "oversized wrist clock" had no future! The story of how Blancpain got the contract is fairly well documented, and the rest, as they say, is history. These co-branded Fifty-Fathoms that were retailed through LIP are among the least common variants.
In addition to all of these beautiful details, the watch itself is in excellent condition. A real 'survivor' that has seen use - but was clearly cared for by its previous owners. That kind of loving wear accumulated throughout its life is what we love most in our watches.
Like Indiana Jones said, "its not the years, honey. It's the mileage'.
Blancpain, the esteemed Swiss manufacture that opened its doors in 1735, is known worldwide for crafting some of the most elegant pocket and dress wristwatches in history. Many of these pieces are brilliant works of horological art, and as a category are worth of in-depth study and analysis. But Blancpain's other genius - what has made their legacy - is their entrant into the world of purpose built tool watches, and the industry's prototypical modern diver's watch: the legendary Fifty Fathoms.
In 1952, the French Navy and Secret Services tasked two veterans with a formidable mission. These men—Lt. Claude Riffaud of the Navy and Captain Bob Maloubier of the Secret Services—were to create a specialized unit of combat divers, meant to act under the utmost secrecy. Some of the missions they were to enact included attacking ports and sabotage.
Riffaud and Maloubier had a general idea of what gear the divers needed—compasses, depth gauges, watches.
But as far as watches were concerned, there was no watch on the market specifically designed for the use to which these combat divers would put it.
So Maloubier, armed with a pencil and protractor, sketched a watch. Not just any watch, but a watch ideally suited for diving. It needed to have a robust, watertight case, and a dial that would be legible in the darkest of nights, at the deepest of depths. He then shopped his idea to several different manufacturers, but all were resistant of this new and esoteric design; all except Blancpain, that is, whose CEO, Fiechter, happened to be an amateur diver himself.
Fiechter relished the chance for his company to create a watch that no other manufacturer had dared to make. He relied on Maloubier’s expertise—and his own diving experience—to build a watch with a Bakelite bezel and rubber gaskets to seal the case. The movement that he used, rather than a manual wind, would be automatic in order to alleviate pressure on the crown from repeated winding.
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