Alongside the Rolex Submariner and DOXA Sub 300 Series, the Fifty Fathoms is without question one of the most important dive watch designs in history. Indeed, it's often credited with being the first purpose-built timepiece with sub-aquatic usage in mind. Designed by nagueur de combat (or combat swimmer) Captain Bob Maloubier, who sketched it with a pen and paper, the idea was first sent to retailer LIP.
But LIP dismissed the idea as a "portable clock without any future."
So it was Blancpain, then--under the influence of Jean-Jacques Fiechter, the brand's new Director--that ultimately believed in Maloubier's design and agreed to produce it. The first model of Fifty Fathoms debuted in 1953, unique among its contemporaries by its 42mm size and Bakelite bezel. Fiechter (himself an experienced diver) decreed that the bezel would only rotate one way, thus making it impossible for the diver to misread how much air he had left in his tank. In order to guarantee water-tightness, Fiechter devised a system using rubber gaskets to seal the case. He also chose an automatic winding system rather than a manual one for the movement, because of the undue stress a manual winding system can put on the crown.
Underwater explorer and oceanographer Jacques Cousteau was among the first to adopt the Fifty Fathoms, featuring it in his documentary Le monde du silence. Navies of France, Germany, and the United States (thanks to the influence of Allen Tornek) chose the Fifty Fathoms for their divers. These Fifty Fathoms were released in the U.S. under the moniker "Tornek-Rayville" or "Blancpain Tornek," and the case backs bore the ominous inscription: "DANGER. IF FOUND RETURN TO NEAREST MILITARY FACILITY."
Between the model's debut and the 1970s, Blancpain produced over 20 different versions. Of these, those marketed under Aqua Lung brand name prove a desirable (and more attainable) alternative to the elusive (and oftentimes unaffordable) Mil-Spec versions. This particular example is one of the earlier iterations with a Bakelite bezel.
Although the luminescent material of the dial has sadly been stripped from the hour markers, the watch is still in lovely condition. With classic styling cues including a sharply angled steel case and rotating bakelite bezel, there's no question that will prove sharp and stunning addition to the vintage collector's arsenal.
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