Baselworld 2017: Blancpain Tribute to Fifty Fathoms MIL-SPEC Watch

By Jovan Krstevski

Blancpain has something to show for the Baselworld 2017 and it’s something tributary, more like the reimagined Fifty Fathoms from the 1950s era. If there’s something Blancpain are famous for, it’ll be their unbeatable water-tightness indicator, something that we don’t see very often. The watch packs enough patent for all its glory.

A grain of history, the Fifty Fathoms is connected to Blancpain’s CEO of three decades (1950–1980) Jean-Jacques Fiechter who happened to be a diver too and of course Captain Robert “Bob” Maloubier and Lieutenant Claude Riffaud who were also the founders of the French Navy’s combat swimmers corps who found the Fifty Fathoms as the reliable watch for their underwater missions. These are nice beginnings indeed.

As Jean-Jacques Fiechter got fond of measuring time in the underwater environment in the 1950s, he challenged his watchmaking team to provide solutions. This led to the development of the Fifty Fathoms. The watch sports a patented double sealed crown system that prevented water penetration when one of the crown is accidentally pulled during the dive. As for me, I think divers know that they cannot alter time underwater especially if they’ve already timed their compression process, but of course there it is when you need it.

Then a second design for the caseback was conceived which was also patented, it involved a sealing system for the caseback that solved the recurring problem with other pre-existing systems when the “O” ring used to seal the caseback becomes twisted when the caseback is screwed back into the case. The Fifty Fathoms simply eliminated this risk by adding a metallic disk where the “O” ring is inserted and held in position.

Jean-Jacques Fiechter also received another patent for his ingenious secured rotating bezel design by using a blocking mechanism that prevented accidental rotation of the bezel. These are original solutions that made the Fifty Fathoms unbeatable when it comes to a diver’s watch tool. Later on a uni-directional rotating bezel was introduced which was a pioneering design that ensured diving safety.

Finally in 1953, Blancpain delivered his “solution” to the French team (Bob Maloubier and Claude Riffaud) who demanded a watch that met their strict requirements. The solution is of course the Fifty Fathoms which became the essential equipment for the French combat swimmers corps. The naval forces also demanded the Fifty Fathoms later on until the rest of the world followed.

As Fifty Fathoms came into production, Jean-Jacques Fiechter never stopped innovating. He soon added another feature called a circular water-tightness indicator in the form of a unique disk at the 6 o’clock that changes its color from white to red when there’s a problem. Originally this tech was present at the Fifty Fathoms MIL-SPEC 1 released in 1957–58.

Ok so much for history, let’s go to the revisited Fifty Fathoms MIL-SPEC. Of course the new watch includes the same entire set of technical characteristics that the original Fifty Fathoms MIL-SPEC innovated.

The watch sports a 40 mm stainless steel case all the way to the exhibition sapphire case back. The smooth edges are lovely from the lugs to the unidirectional bezel and of course the nice crown. The watch is a work of art, what can I say. We can only think of nicer upgrades to an already impressive design.

The black dial has indexes coated in Super-LuminNova. The unidirectional rotating bezel is also protected by a scratch-resistant sapphire which was inspired by the 50th Anniversary Fifty Fathoms, this protects the luminescent indications underneath.

Powering the new Fifty Fathoms MIL-SPEC is an in-house automatic winding caliber 1151. It sports an impressive four-day power reserve. Its tech includes a balance-spring in silicon which makes it lighter and more shock-resistant. Being resistant to magnetic fields, the watch is also incredibly accurate.

The new Blancpain Tribute to Fifty Fathoms MIL-SPEC has a 300 meters water resistance and is limited to 500 pieces. It comes in a NATO strap, sail cloth strap, or steel bracelet featuring a secure buckle. The price point as of this writing is Euro 13,400 with strap or Euro 14,400 with steel bracelet. For more info, please visit