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The Millennium Watch Book
Blancpain - Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe 5100

Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe 5100

Launched simultaneously in 38mm and 43mm versions, the Bathyscaphe illustrates the general direction — and the increasingly general scope — of dive watches: made for casual wear, but directly inspired by the professional world

A key challenge in the design of dive watches is the transition from professional to casual applications. While essential, such applications can be a delicate exercise, especially for a watch with a pedigree like the Fifty Fathoms. The launch of the Bathyscape subcollection in 2013 with the 38-millimetre 5100 model marked a major milestone in the history of a range that's one of the brand's pillars - and that comes under close scrutiny as a result.

Minimalism

In the 2000s, Fifty Fathoms watches looked very different: they had the familiar aspect of a 45mm-diameter watch with a large, convex, serrated sapphire crystal bezel. Launched in 2013, the Bathyscape marked a more radical style development. The model drew inspiration from the eponymous models created by JeanJacques Fichter from 1956 onwards to make his Fifty Fathoms smaller, more accessible, and more wearable — already more casual, in fact. The Bathyscaphe 5100 confirms Blancpain’s devotion to its in-house design principles: a relatively slim, simple, thin case with a modest diameter, a minimalist dial and the characteristic combination of short, rectangular hands with no lume on their ultra-thin tips, as well as high, round applique index markers encircled with polished white gold. The personality of this watch is best summed up by the fonts used on the dial: the words ‘Fifty Fathoms’ are inscribed in flowing cursive script, the hallmark of an expressive watch, while the word ‘Bathyscaphe’ is written in an understated, sans-serif font in line with the watch’s minimalistic ethos.

Proportions

The modern Bathyscaphe was released in 43mm and 38mm diameter versions. The dial, bezel, and fabric strap on the latter model are all in dazzling white. This seemingly uncontroversial version actually tells us quite a lot about the period and how it had a major impact on dive watches. The 38mm diameter is one usually reserved for ladies’ models. It’s very rare for ladies’ dive watches to be any smaller, mainly because beyond that limit, the dial becomes too small with respect to the bezel in the overall proportions of the timepiece, soon resulting in something that looks like a pea lost in the middle of a huge metal ring: not very elegant, to say the least. 

Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe 5100

Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe 5100 © Blancpain

Blue 

What’s more, subsequent 38mm versions enshrined the extension of the dive watch style to other sub-segments. In 2017, Blancpain released a version with a blue dial, bezel, and strap. A 38mm diameter suits male buyers seeking smaller watches — perhaps because they have small arms, are too short to carry off a watch measuring 43mm in diameter and 13mm thick (the dimensions of the Bathyscape from which the 5100 is derived). Or perhaps they simply like watches with the vintage feel that’s had such an influence on the dive watch style. And so it was that from the 2010s onwards, determining appropriate watch sizes began to be a bit like counting angels on the head of a pin, supported by arguments ranging from the mystical to the pragmatic, whether to have gendered watch collections or not, and at the end of the day, a sensible consideration: catering to all tastes.

A Question of Etiquette

In a telling sign of the times, dive watches — even those with such a legendary name as Fifty Fathoms — have become watches like any others. Having prospered on the grounds of their performance, radical styling and professional origins, they now run the risk of simply becoming another lifestyle accessory. That said, the Bathyscaphe is still very much a dive watch. In watchmaking, roots always inform technique, even if the latter is the only thing they do inform. The 5100s are therefore water-resistant to 300m, fitted with a unidirectional rotating bezel and a running indicator (in the form of a seconds hand). They are also equipped with an automatic caliber, the 1150. Small, slim, beating at 3Hz and with a 100-hour power reserve, the movement was long destined for the more traditional, elegant applications that comprise the other aspect of Blancpain’s offering. Fitting a 3.25mm-thick calibre from the Villeret collection to a 30-bar dive watch with a strap made from sail canvas is an original move to say the least.

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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