The history of the Fifty Fathoms brings together two lineages. First is that of Jean-Jacques Fiechter a passionate diver who was Blancpain’s CEO for three decades, 1950-1980. The second is that of Captain Robert “Bob” Maloubier and Lieutenant Claude Riffaud, founders of the French Navy’s combat swimmers corps and who were searching for a reliable watch for their underwater missions. With continuous improvements in mind, Jean-Jacques Fiechter incorporated a circular water-tightness indicator to the Fifty Fathoms, where if any liquid were to leak into the watch case, a disk at 6 o’clock would signal the problem by changing its color from white to red. This water-tightness indicator was present on the dial of the Fifty Fathoms model called the MIL-SPEC 1, which was introduced in 1957-58 to meet the strict requirements of the military. Beginning in 1958, the American Navy tested a variety of different watches with the goal of drawing up specifications for a timepiece to be used in their underwater missions. Following those tests, the Fifty Fathoms became the standard-issue watch on the wrists of American combat swimmers, as well as the reference point for future production to take place in the US. Meanwhile, Blancpain obtained contracts to equip members of the elite UDT and the Navy Seals with MIL-SPEC 1 watches. Later on, in the early 1960s, those evolved into the MIL-SPEC 2 and, using the name “Tornek-Rayville”, the TR-900. The water-tightness indicator became a requirement of the American Navy, and was incorporated in all these models.
The new Blancpain Tribute to Fifty Fathoms MIL-SPEC released here at Baselworld 2017 features the same type of moisture indicator as its predecessors. This time sporting a much smaller case measuring 40.3 mm case —almost 5 mm smaller than the regular Fifty Fathoms— but still will all the usual elements that have made the Fifty Fathoms an icon, the new MIL-SPEC is simply gorgeous but a tad small.
This new model naturally features the entire set of technical characteristics of a watch dedicated to diving, established by the original 1953 Fifty Fathoms and later followed by the entire watch industry. Its black dial features indexes in superluminova and a water-tightness indicator recalling the designs of the 1950s MIL-SPEC 1.
The unidirectional rotating bezel covered in scratch-resistant sapphire, a Blancpain innovation which first appeared in 2003 with the 50th Anniversary Fifty Fathoms, protects the luminescent indications underneath.
The new Blancpain Tribute to Fifty Fathoms MIL-SPEC is fitted with Blancpain’s in-house automatic winding caliber 1151, comprising 210 components including two series-coupled mainspring barrels and offering a four-day power reserve. The movement as well as its solid gold winding rotor with a NAC coating and Blancpain logo, are visible through the clear sapphire case back.
The watch is water resistant to 300 meters and equipped with the usual sail-canvas strap —leather lined— equipped with pin buckle, but also on stainless steel bracelet and with an optional NATO strap.
On the wrist, the new Blancpain Tribute to Fifty Fathoms MIL-SPEC wears smaller than its actual size and more like a 39 mm watch. While we absolutely love this new watch, we can't get pasd the smaller case size. If you have a 7.5"+ wrist size, you would wish this new watch had been made with a 45 mm case. The new Tribute to Fifty Fathoms MIL-SPEC is limited to 500 examples and will be available around May or June 2017.
Sticker Price $14,100 USD. For more info on Blancpain click here.