Blancpain Fifty Fathoms: The Making Of The Modern Dive Watch

First Blancpain Fifty Fathoms from 1953

The birth and constant evolution of Blancpain’s game-changing underwater tool watch.

Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe Day Date Desert editionBlancpain Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe Day Date Desert edition

One only needs to check out Blancpain’s 2020 Fifty Fathoms Bathyscape models to see how far the epochal dive watch collection has evolved. There is a luxurious variant in Sedna gold with gorgeous blue ceramic bezel and sunburst dial, as well as two colourful, eye-snapping versions – a flyback chronograph in marine green, and a retro-inspired day-date model in dusty ‘desert’ hue – all radiating sportive sass and a measure of showiness.

Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe Sedna GoldBlancpain Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe Sedna Gold

At a basic level, the watches’ chic and regal air will easily entice casual fans of sports watches. Dive watch aficionados, however, will tell you that, despite their dashing good looks, these timepieces are the latest in a long and storied line of pioneering underwater tool watches that have been built with an unwavering dedication to extreme professional performance.

Prior to the birth of the Fifty Fathoms, the post-WWII era saw the emergence of underwater tool watches with improved waterproofness. But even so, no brand had yet produced a standard-setting dive watch with features that went beyond the merits of water resistance.

Launched in 1953, the first Fifty Fathoms watch was conceived as a result of an open call from the French frogmen unit to the world’s best watch companies to create a professional, military-grade underwater tool watch. Led by then-CEO, Jean-Jacques Fietcher, an avid diver who constantly urged his staff to develop increasingly robust dive watches, Blancpain emerged as the only brand that not only met, but surpassed, the demands of the French diver unit.

Blancpain ex-CEO Jean-Jacques FietcherBlancpain ex-CEO Jean-Jacques Fietcher

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Setting Standards
The original Fifty Fathoms featured a high-contrast dial, a lockable rotating bezel to measure remaining dive times, and water resistance of 91.45 metres (equivalent to fifty fathoms, with fathoms being a unit of measurement for water depth, whereby one fathom is equal to 1.8288m), courtesy of a double-sealed, screw-down crown system. The performance specs established by the first Fifty Fathoms were so high, they mirrored the same characteristics set decades later in 1996 by the ISO 6425 standard for dive watches.

Patents for the original Fifty FathomsPatents for the original Fifty Fathoms

Garnering recognition from the get-go, the first Fifty Fathoms cemented Blancpain’s place in watchmaking history as the company to have made the first dive watch of the modern era. And with that reputation, came orders from military units the world over, which commissioned the company to make Mil-Spec (military specification) dive watches. Professional divers, too, were quick to the draw. Legends such as Jacques-Yves Cousteau and, more recently, the likes of Laurent Ballesta and Gianluca Genoni are among the acclaimed professionals who have given the Fifty Fathoms shouts of approval by wearing the watch on their deep sea expeditions.

Vintage Blancpain Fifty Fathoms advertisement
Vintage Blancpain advertisement for the Fifty Fathoms 'Mil-Spec'

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Always Stepping Up
Despite the acclaim, the Fifty Fathoms isn’t a collection to rest on its laurels. The collection has constantly evolved to meet the demands of both its professional clients, as well as discerning civilian watch lovers.

While the collection rigorously upholds that form should always follow function, the watches come in an array of styles to suit all personalities. They range from the forthright machismo of regular Fifty Fathoms line bearing plus-sized cases with all-sapphire crystal bezels, to the aforementioned Bathyscaphe models that vaunt a dressier disposition.

Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Automatique from 2019Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Automatique from 2019

Sporting slim bezels, spaced-out dial layouts, and slightly smaller cases, the Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe, introduced in 2013, took design cues from a made-for-civilian range of Fifty Fathoms released in 1956. Since its launch, the Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe has broadened the collection’s appeal, combining a dressy, urbane aesthetic with the Fifty Fathom’s no-nonsense dive watch features.

Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Bathyscape from 2013Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe from 2013

Today, all Fifty Fathoms watches are water resistant to at least 300m. Also, the latest models are all powered by in-house movements that not only promise greater energy efficiency and precision, but, in some instances, boast top-of-the-line complications spanning annual calendars to tourbillons.

Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Tourbillon 8 JoursBlancpain Fifty Fathoms Tourbillon 8 Jours

Among the more extreme models to have emerged from the collection is the Fifty Fathoms X Fathoms, a 55.65mm titanium-clad behemoth with a mechanical depth gauge, as well as the Fifty Fathoms Tourbillon 8 Jours, a technically sophisticated creation, which features a tourbillon movement with eight days of power reserve. More recently, Blancpain has introduced titanium cases into the Fifty Fathoms line-up, as well as a new in-house automatic flyback chronograph movement, the Calibre F385 with column wheel control, to extend its technical offerings.

Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe Chronographe Flyback
Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe Chronographe Flyback from 2020. Read our review HERE

Of course, being the first doesn’t necessarily mean being the best. But having set the bar right from the beginning, the Fifty Fathoms collection has been exemplary in leading the line for implementing new technologies and features to push the envelope on dive watches.

Blancpain Fifty Fathoms from 1953
Blancpain Fifty Fathoms from 1953

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Ex Editor-In Chief

Alvin promises not to be a douche when talking about watches. He may have scoured the Basel and Geneva watch fairs for the past 15 years, and played an instrumental role to the growth of Singapore's pioneering horological and men's lifestyle publications, but the intrepid scribe seeks to learn something new with each story he writes.


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