Pure Pedigree: Blancpain Fifty Fathoms

Pure Pedigree: Blancpain Fifty Fathoms

Marketing plays an important role in the world of watches. While often genuine, there is sometimes a bit of an overkill, making it that some models are presented with much more pedigree than they actually have. As to many watch enthusiasts historic credibility plays an important factor in their purchase decisions is it not so strange that this happens. In ‘Pure Pedigree’ we zoom in to the true history of some of the worlds most iconic watches, starting with Blancpain’s Fifty Fathoms.

Blancpain Fifty Fathoms
The Blancpain Fifty Fathoms is one of the pioneers in the field of genuine diving watches. While there were water resistant watches before, they could not withstand great depths, and their functionality was still focused for use on land and not in the water. This was also the issue that in the early 1950’s the “Nageuers de combat,” the French version NAVY Seals had to cope with. One of their officers, Captain Bob Maloubier, penned down what he considered the ideal watch to dive with and set out to find somebody who could make it.

Throughout the years Blancpain produced different versions of the Fifty Fathoms
Throughout the years Blancpain produced different versions of the Fifty Fathoms

After being turned down by several brands, Maloubier got in contact with Jean-Jacques Fiechter, then CEO of Blancpain. Fiechter happened to be an avid amateur diver and immediately saw the added value in the design of Maloubier. Blancpain started development on what would become the Fifty Fathoms and launched it in 1953. Its name was a direct reference to its water resistance. A fathom is a British measurement of depth, and fifty of them refers to about 91 meters or close to 300 feet. In the early 1950s this was also the limit to which divers could dive as the technology to go deeper wasn’t there yet.

Blancpain Fifty Fathoms
One of the most innovative parts of the Fifty Fathoms was the diving bezel, which allowed divers to see how much time they have already spend underwater. Bold hour markers, as well as hands, with plenty of luminous material, also aided in making it easy for divers to check the time down below. Blancpain also opted for an automatic movement for the Fifty Fathoms. This meant that the screw down crown didn’t have to be opened regularly to wind the watch, which would might compromise its water resistance over time. The crown was also equipped with a patented double O-ring seal, which was another novelty.

Vintage (left) and modern Blancpain Fifty Fathoms
Vintage (left) and modern Blancpain Fifty Fathoms

While the Fifty Fathoms became standard issue for the divers of the  French Navy, the watch also found its way on the wrist of diving pioneer Jacques Cousteau. In fact, he wore it when filming “The Silent World,” his underwater documentary which won the   Palme d’Or at the 1956 Cannes Film Festival. In the meantime was the Fifty Fathoms also adopted as standard issue watch by specialized military units from many different countries besides France, including those of Germany, Israel, Sweden, Denmark and even the United States.

The Fifty Fathoms legacy continues even today
The Fifty Fathoms legacy continues even today

For many years the Fifty Fathoms was unknown to the general public, more so because the vast majority of its clients were indeed the armed forces around the world. This changed in 1997, when the Fifty Fathoms was re-introduced, now aimed at the public market. The model got even more of an impulse in 2002 when Marc A. Hayek becomes the president and CEO of Blancpain. Just as Fiechter many years before him, is he also an avid diver, and under his guidance does the pioneering legacy of the Fifty Fathoms continues today.

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