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The Millennium Watch Book
Blancpain - Fifty Fathoms Act II

Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Act II

Dive watches for the new millennium

Reviewing two decades’ worth of watchmaking history and picking out just a few models is inevitably something of a minefield. The most striking pieces are not always those that sell the best. Others attracted little attention when they were released, before later becoming established as an obvious choice. The Blancpain Fifty Fathoms is no exception to this rule, yet is however a special case: its history has shaped the standards of the dive watch in general. Blancpain has also imposed a certain way of doing things — seeking the advice of professional divers to develop the watch, regularly reviewing the knowledge built up to date, and of course benefiting from the constant involvement of the brand’s CEO. Indeed, after what can virtually be described as Jean-Jacques Fiechter’s reign at the helm of the brand for a massive 30 years, Marc A. Hayek, himself a keen diver, has provided seamless continuity. Hayek has firmly established the Fifty Fathoms as a thoroughly modern watch, whilst also developing an environmental responsibility aspect, Blancpain Ocean Commitment, now a recognised authority thanks to its size and longevity. 

Fifty Fathoms Act II

Fifty Fathoms © Blancpain

2003: Testing the waters

In 2002, Marc A. Hayek became CEO of Blancpain. One of his first projects was to bring the Fifty Fathoms back to life, having discerned its potential. Until then, Blancpain had concentrated on classic watches, so the first thing to do was to test the waters and see how the new timepiece went down with the public. And so it was that things began with a jubilee limited edition, the Fifty Fathoms 50th Anniversary, in 2003 — an occasion that also offered an opportunity to introduce the first bezel featuring a convex sapphire insert.

2007: The Fifty Fathoms Returns to the Limelight

The market response to this ‘relaunch’ was positive, so Blancpain stayed the course, creating a full-blown contemporary Fifty Fathoms collection to which the brand decided to dedicate a new movement especially tailored to sports watches, the 1315 calibre. This stands out in terms of its performance and sturdiness. Beating at the high frequency of 4Hz, the movement also boasts an especially high five-day power reserve. At that time there was virtually no equivalent calibre for dive watches, and indeed this particularly well-designed movement is still in service today; it’s to be found on the first new-generation Fifty Fathoms Automatique. And so it was that the Fifty Fathoms entered the modern era, with a head start and resounding success to boot.

The brand continued in the same vein with the Fifty Fathoms Chronographe Flyback and the Fifty Fathoms Tourbillon, dive watches fitted for the first time with Fine Watchmaking complications. For some, this was heresy. Others welcomed the innovation and the celebration of Blancpain’s heritage, now extended to dive watches. One thing is certain: the two models brought together two different worlds and have been widely imitated in this respect ever since.

Going into the great depth

Once the legitimacy of the Fifty Fathoms had been restored, Blancpain unveiled two superlative models one after the other, in 2009 and 2011. First came the 500 Fathoms, water resistant to 1,000 metres, 48mm in diameter (unheard-of at Blancpain) and sporting a titanium case with a helium valve. Two years later it was the turn of the X Fathoms, a watershed watch fitted with a mechanical depth gauge displaying the depth on two scales, a maximum depth memory with a secure reset pusher, and a retrograde 5-minute counter. Today, it remains one of the most state-of-the-art dive watches. 

2013: From the Sea Bed To the Pontoon

Ten years after its flamboyant return, the Fifty (as it’s known to collectors) has nothing left to prove. Marc A. Hayek’s strategy has worked: make a big splash in the first ten years, then introduce everyday models built to last. This is where the Bathyscaphe, unveiled for the 60th anniversary of the Fifty Fathoms in 2013, comes in. The model has more measured proportions, comes fitted with complications for everyday use, and has won a place in the hearts of fine watch lovers as well as professional divers. That said, Blancpain has never forgotten where it came from: since 2007, it’s regularly brought out limited editions in tribute to its earlier models, such as the MIL-SPEC (2017) and the No Rad (2021).

This year GMT Magazine and WorldTempus have embarked on the ambitious project of summarising the divers watch since 2000 in The Millennium Watch Book - Divers watch, a big, beautifully laid out coffee table book. This article is an extract. The Millennium Watch Book - Divers watch is available in both French and English here:


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