Blancpain The Legendary Diver Returns

Amongst the slew of vintage re-issues this year, the vintage-inspired Blancpain Fifty Fathoms is always the most head-turning watch among other pieces. The latest edition alerts if water moisture penetrates the watch.

We’ve seen huge advancement in digital technology this century. With more connected gadgets than ever, a smart phone penetrates many facets of our everyday life. Just a century earlier, television programs were first transmitted in black and white, the world’s first jet aircraft took its flight, and the Ford Model T revolutionised the car industry by popularising private cars for everyday use. In those days, even a specialised dive watches were not as reliable in readability as well as shock and water resistance as we see today.

Jean-Jacques Fiechter, a passionate diver, was Blancpain’s CEO in 1950-1980. He understood that a diver’s life depended upon a reliable timekeeping instrument and he saw that none existed in the marketplace. Therefore, he decided to create a professional tool watch finished with the most precautions attentions and designed for underwater diving. First, the Manufacture developed a double sealed crown system. It protects the watch from water penetration in the event of the crown were accidently to be pulled during a dive. The presence of the second interior seal worked to guarantee the timepiece’s water tightness. Second, they invented a channel into which the “O” ring would be inserted and held in position by an additional metallic disk, in order to eliminate this risk of the “O” ring being twisted when the back was screwed into the case. Last but not least, Blancpain invented a unidirectional rotating bezel, a world-first feature which prevents any accidental movement of the bezel that could induce a timing error.

During Blancpain was developing the dive watch, the French Navy in parallel began their quest to find a watch suitable for their aquatic missions. Yet, the watches for testing were far too small, the dials were hard to read, and the cases were far from water proof. In 1953, Blancpain delivered their newly invented dive watch to the French team for testing. The watch fully met their criteria and performed brilliantly in all of the tests. Thus, it became one of the essential pieces of equipment for the French combat swimmers corps. Later, the same occurred for marine forces around the globe. And the legend of a diver’s watch was born: Fifty Fathoms.

Tribute to Fifty Fathoms Mil-Spec

Since its creation in 1953, the Fifty Fathoms has been an all-time classic dive watch and marks it a legendary name at Blancpain. This year, the Manufacture re-interprets the vintage piece Mil-Spec 1 from 1957-58 and introduces us the Tribute to Fifty Fathoms Mil-Spec. The glory history of the original Mil-Spec 1 dates back to the 1950s. It met the strict requirements of the military and became the standard-issue of the American Underwater Demolition Team (UDT) and the Navy Seals. The combat swimmers had the watch on the wrists in their underwater missions.

The stand-out feature is no doubt the humidity indicator found at 6 o’clock in half orange and half white, recalling the designs of the 1950s MIL-SPEC 1. In the event of moisture ingress, the white part will change the colour from white to red. In the old days, this water-tightness indicator would alert the divers if the watch was compromised. These days, it indicates the need for servicing. This dive watch has superior legibility and is water resistant to 300 meters. One of the great things you cannot miss is the uni-directional rotating bezel coated in sapphire, an innovation of Blancpain that first appeared in 2003 with the 50th Anniversary Fifty Fathoms. Not only doest it protect the luminescent indications underneath, but also gives the watch a new breath of life. Collectors have to fend off each other to score one of only 500 pieces that will be produced.

Case: stainless steel
Movement: automatic Cal.1151
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds, date, humidity indicator
Water resistance: 300 metres
Price: around $113,000
Limitation: 500 pieces

Villeret Semainier Grande Date 8 Jour

The Villeret collection has, in its root, the understated aesthetics and elegance. After the Grande Date released two years ago, we today see again the twin-aperture date display. The Villeret Semainier Grande Date 8 Jour adds the day of the week sub-dial at 9 o’clock and the week of year indication around the dial rim with a blue serpentine hand. In spite of the three calendar displays, the piece is still stunning in both design and function, reiterating the core values of Villeret collection.

It would be a remiss not to mention that the Roman numerals and brand logo are not applied but enamel-painted, so as to be in harmony with the grand feu enamel dial fired at an extremely high temperature over 800 degrees Celsius. Cased in red gold, the piece houses an automatic movement equipped with a balance spring in silicon and equipped with three barrels offering 8-day of power reserve.

Case: red gold
Movement: automatic Cal.3738G2
Diameter: 42mm
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds, day of the week, big date, week of year indication
Water resistance: 30 metres
Price: around $275,500

Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe

Besides the aforementioned Tribute to Fifty Fathoms Mil-Spec, Blancpain this year also debuts a new Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe. It is identical to last years’ version in most respects, a three-hander with a blue dial. The major difference is the change of case diameter. Now it is trimmed down to 38mm from 43.6mm. This smaller size model is seen for the first time in the Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe lineup. Being known as a navy dive watch, this newest model is now in a more classic size. It is great for all-rounder that you can wear it for dress or sports. Cased in steel, the timepiece boasts the classic rectangular-shaped hands and features a bezel with blue ceramic inserted and hour makers in Liquidmetal, highlighting a tone-on-tone design with the blue dial. Beating inside is the automatic movement equipped with a balance spring in silicon. This is more shock-resistant as well as being impervious to magnetic fields, which in turn leads to enhanced timekeeping precision.

Case: stainless steel
Movement: automatic Cal.1150
Diameter: 38mm
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds, date
Water resistance: 300 metres
Price: around $76,500

Villeret Jour Date

At first glance, you may think this is just another classic-themed simple watch among this year’s novelties. Not that simple. It is the very first timepiece combining the day of the week and date by the Manufacture.

As the latest addition of the Villeret family, the Villeret Jour Date is nothing but elegant. The matt white dial features leaf-shaped cut-out hands and Roman numerals, while the day of the week and date are shown at 3 o’clock. Even a small seconds dial is added at 6 o’clcok, the dial stills look clean and spacious. On a personal note, this piece would achieve a more minimalist look if the Arabic indices in the sub-dial were taken out. Still, there is no denying that it is a dress watch built to a very high standard. Speaking of mechanism, the day jumps forward instantaneously, while the date jumps semi-instantaneously. It would definitely score big points if both indications jump instantaneously.

Case: stainless steel
Movement: automatic Cal. 1160DD
Diameter: 40mm
Functions: hours, seconds, small seconds, date, day of the week
Water resistance: 30 metres
Price: around $87,500

Villeret Quantieme Phase de Lune

To judge whether a women’s watch is fascinating, we cannot merely count the number of diamonds or examine the enamel drawings and miniature marvels, but also care about the choices of straps offered. In recent years, we’ve seen quite a lot sports watches comes with easily interchangeable straps. This year, Blancpain also surprises us with this beautiful piece in box set containing a set of five interchangeable straps in different colours and materials. The three alligator leather ones are in red, midnight blue and sky blue, while the other two are white ostrich leather strap and black satin strap. Ladies can easily remove and exchange the strap simply by pressing the functional catches.

Bedecked with 48 diamonds on the bezel, this petite beauty comes in red gold and houses a moonphase display at 6 o’clock. Unlike a moon we’ve commonly seen, this one graces with a feminine face; more interestingly, a beauty spot appears at the corner of its smiling mouth. It is indeed a nod to history. In 18th century, beauty spots were used by ladies of the Court as a message to their suitors that differed according to where these coquettish signs were placed. Here at the corner of mouth symbolises a playfully teasing attitude. Simply adding this beauty spot details does lend a feminine touch to the piece, reflecting Blancpain’s expertise in creating women’s watches.

Case: stainless steel or red gold
Movement: automatic Cal. 913QL
Diameter: 29.2mm
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds, date, moonphase
Water resistance: 30 metres
Price: around $133,000(steel)、$152,500(red gold)、$247,500(red gold with bracelet)


Text: Casper Li / Photo: Kauzrambler