The List




The List


Blancpain Fifty Fathoms


The diving watch has proven to be one of the most popular variants of the sports watch, despite the fact that few owners use them for the purpose for which they are designed. Their popularity, perhaps, is due more to their potential, rather than their actual, capabilities; the notion that the watch is able to operate at depths far beyond which the human body can survive provides a comforting sense that it will easily withstand the knocks and bangs of prosaic everyday life.

But it was not always thus; in the early 1950s the diving watch was generally the preserve of the actual diver, whose choice was limited to two timepieces: the Rolex Submariner and the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms. And whilst the former has gone from being a purely functional item (witness how Bond uses, and we emphasise uses, a Submariner in Fleming’s novels) to being a ubiquitous symbol of wealth, the latter, perhaps by dint of it initially only being available to military personnel, has always had a lower profile, and, we believe, is far more desirable because of this.

Whilst it would be tempting to include a vintage Fifty Fathoms in The List, the truth is that the modern Fifty Fathoms Sport is, in our opinion, a better watch than the original, being water resistant to a greater depth, more accurate and, thanks to its low production quota, rare enough to make the task of seeking a vintage model largely unnecessary. It is these virtues, and the effortless melding of ruggedness with the hand-built ethos for which Blancpain is famous, that has earned this timepiece (in stainless steel form, of course) its place on The List.

The origins of the Fifty Fathoms can be traced back to the requirements of two French naval officers – Commander Robert Maloubier and Lieutenant Claude Riffaud – for a watch that was capable of operating accurately under the harsh conditions experienced in military diving missions. The pair approached Blancpain in Switzerland, which responded to their requests by producing the Fifty Fathoms; so-called due to its ability to function at up to the maximum depth that the autonomous diver was thought to be able to withstand – 50 fathoms, which is around 91 metres.

This watch went on to become standard issue for certain French military divers, before being made available to the general public in 1954. Due perhaps to its production in very limited numbers, the Fifty Fathoms has always been something of a connoisseur’s watch, though, never achieving (or desiring, some would argue) the kind of widespread recognition that its immediate competitor, the Rolex Submariner, has enjoyed.

The current range includes a tourbillon and a flyback chronograph, but the model in which we are interested is the plain date/time Sport, which closely replicates the clean lines and simplicity of the original. Powered by a Calibre 1315 movement, which has 35 jewels and a power reserve of an astonishing 120 hours, the Fifty Fathoms Sport is, like all current Blancpains, assembled by a single watchmaker rather than on a production line.

The joy of a diver’s watch is its rugged simplicity and go anywhere ethos, and the Fifty Fathoms Sport has this in spades. But it also has a depth of character, evident in such things as the exquisite finish of the movement, that sets it apart from other watches of this type. White bread it most certainly isn’t.