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INTRODUCING: Blancpain Fifty Fathoms 70th Anniversary Act III

The Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Act III.

The first Fifty Fathoms limited edition in bronze-gold brings back a much-beloved model with new improvements.

Since the beginning of the year, Blancpain has been celebrating the 70th anniversary of the Fifty Fathoms, the first modern diving watch with specced standards by professional divers of the era. Act I was a steel model celebrating the original timepiece in 210 pieces. Act II brought innovation with a patented bezel and indication hand, offering a three-hour diving readout for professionals using closed-circuit rebreathers. Last night in Cannes, the birthplace of diving and, in fact, where the Fifty Fathoms first began, the brand launched Act III: a 555-piece MIL-SPEC limited edition in 9K Bronze Gold that is faithful to the watch’s original 41.3mm size.

Then co-CEO of Blancpain, Jean-Jacques Fiechter.
Then co-CEO of Blancpain, Jean-Jacques Fiechter.

Quick summary of its beginnings: Jean-Jacques Fiechter, co-CEO of Blancpain and nephew of Betty Fiechter, who was the other co-CEO of Blancpain at the time, had an interest in diving and archaeology from his teens when he learnt about WWII divers protecting boats from mines. He began diving as a hobby while leading Blancpain when a diving incident led to him running out of air and making an emergency ascent.

The original Blancpain Fifty Fathoms from 1953.
The original Blancpain Fifty Fathoms from 1953.

He realised the need for a new standard of timekeeper that would be a diving instrument and began developing a watch with a diving scale that would not be accidentally turned during diving manoeuvres, water-resistant to fifty fathoms, self-winding, and with great legibility. (We’ll go into more detail in a future print edition of the magazine.)

Jean-Jacques Fiechter on a dive.
Jean-Jacques Fiechter on a dive.

Fiechter’s invention came at the birth of amateur diving, and the Fifty Fathoms has been the standard to which other diving watches have been compared. Its place among divers and watch collectors is well-established today. However, 20 years ago, the watch was all but forgotten as Blancpain was reviving from the Quartz Crisis and focusing on developing high complications in its classic models.

Marc A. Hayek, current President of Blancpain.
Marc A Hayek, current President of Blancpain.

When Marc A Hayek, current President of Blancpain, took over from Jean-Claude Biver in 2002, he saw an opportunity to renew the Fifty Fathoms as a full collection. An avid diver himself, Hayek professed in a press conference that he was waterlogged even as a child. His interest came at a perfect time: 2003 was the 50th anniversary of the Fifty Fathoms, and he swiftly drove the development of a jubilee edition. Now, 20 years later, he’s released three new limited editions for the Fifty Fathoms’ 70th anniversary.

The Blancpain Fifty Fathoms from 1953 (left) and the 2003 limited edition model (right).
The Blancpain Fifty Fathoms from 1953 (left) and the 2003 limited edition model (right).

Act III  

The Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Act III, a MIL-SPEC model in 9K Bronze Gold.
The Blancpain Fifty Fathoms 70th Anniversary Act III, a MIL-SPEC model in 9K Bronze Gold.

We’ve covered Acts I and II previously, and they were smaller releases, but Act III comes in a 555-piece limited edition for a particular reason. It’s inspired by the famous line from Shakespeare’s The Tempest, spoken by the spirit Ariel in Act I, Scene 2 as Ariel’s Song: “Full fathom five thy father lies.” It continues: “Of his bones are coral made; Those are pearls that were his eyes; Nothing of him that doth fade.” Poetic words that somehow fit the Fifty Fathoms perfectly.

The Blancpain Fifty Fathoms MIL-SPEC model from 1957.
The Blancpain Fifty Fathoms MIL-SPEC model from 1957.

The watch is based on an old favourite from 1957 – the MIL-SPEC or military specifications model used by the US Navy and made by Blancpain for its divers, featuring a large round moisture indicator that ensured the watch’s water protection was not compromised in previous use and therefore safe for the next dive. But Blancpain has made several improvements in the same spirit as its diving pioneer in Act III. For one, the ratcheting of the diving bezel has been further refined to ensure there’s no adjustment when it’s turned either way while keeping the bezel turn smooth.

A closeup of the Calibre 1154.P2 in the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Act III.
A closeup of the Calibre 1154.P2 in the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms 70th Anniversary Act III.

The watch is powered by the Calibre 1154.P2, which is a no-date version of the 1150 (this should further excite diving watch lovers). The 1154 movement has been used in past Blancpain limited editions and has a power reserve of 100 hours, powered by an oscillating weight following Blancpain’s historical rotor design but with a cut-out to improve shock resistance to the winding system. (It also kind of looks like an anchor.) What’s new is the silicon balance spring that now regulates the movement, which gives the watch a 1,000-gauss magnetic resistance.  

Finally, the watch comes in a 9K Bronze Gold alloy, the first ever in a Fifty Fathoms and Blancpain watch. You may recall it in Omega’s Seamaster 300 Bronze Gold, a mix of gold, copper (50%, so it can be called “bronze”), silver, palladium, and gallium. According to Hayek, the development of this material began simultaneously in both brands’ metallurgy departments, and the 37.5% gold (hallmarked 9K) is present as a stabiliser to the bronze material, preventing uneven oxidation and developing an aged patina over time, like old gold watches in the past. The light gold hue retains the warmth of the precious metal and is stunning in a brushed, matte finish. The case is 13.3mm thick.  

There are also differences in the lugs, which are not immediately noticed by the wearer. This is the first time Blancpain is using sharply angled lugs on the Fifty Fathoms instead of the rounded ones in the past. Since it’s the first, we’ll wait and see if this is the new default for future models. The watch comes in a special box inspired by vintage camera housings. There is no news yet on how many will be available through Blancpain boutiques and selected authorised retailers. In Singapore, pricing will be at S$44,800, including taxes; regional pricing will follow.  

We’ll be updating this story further with more information about Blancpain’s Ocean Commitment initiatives; stay tuned or check out our Issue 4 this December for more details.  

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Editor

Darren has been writing about, and admiring the craft of watchmaking for over a dozen years. He considers himself lucky to live in a golden age of horology, and firmly believes that the most difficult watches to design are the simplest and the most intriguing to discover.


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