Blancpain Fifty Fathoms: The Diving Watch Archetype

By pablocruz in Lifestyle
May 14, 2019
Blancpain Fifty Fathoms: The Diving Watch Archetype

With the Fifty Fathoms, Blancpain has created a true diving watch icon. Launched in 1953 as the ultimate benchmark in terms of robustness and precision, the watch has quickly developed into an absolute watch classic and a top choice for all those looking for reliable watches with an unmistakable look for daily use above and under the water surface.

The history of a milestone

When Blancpain presented the Fifty Fathoms in 1953 as one of the first robust and waterproof wristwatches ever, colour television was still almost as far away as the moon landing. To understand why the Fifty Fathoms was a real milestone in watchmaking at the time of its launch, it is worth taking a look at its history.

It was in 1952 when the French Ministry of Defence commissioned its officers Robert Maloubier and Claude Riffaud to form a combat swimmer unit. The two soldiers quickly reached their limits in quest of suitable mission watches. At that time, simply no watch manufacturer seemed capable enough to produce timepieces that were waterproof and rugged enough to withstand the extreme challenges that combat swimmers face. Eventually, Maloubier and Riffaud approached Blancpain.

50 fathoms into the depth

In order to supply French combat swimmers with mission watches to suit their purposes, Blancpain’s watchmakers and engineers made every effort to produce timepieces that can withstand even the most adverse conditions. Since 1953 we all know: They have been fairly successful with it and the finished model pays tribute to its application character simply because of its name. Fifty Fathoms is after all nothing else than the English expression of guaranteed diving depth in the unit of nautical thread. In concrete terms, 50 fathoms correspond to a depth of 91.45 metres.

Reliable robustness for military and civilian divers

Even if – by today’s standards – a diver’s watch with less than 100 metres of water resistance no longer amazes anyone, the Fifty Fathoms was considered a prime example of a robust and reliable wristwatch for above and below water sports activities at the time of its launch. It is therefore not surprising that, in addition to French combat divers, naval soldiers from many other countries have also been equipped with the Blancpain icon over the years. Since 1997 the water resistance of 300 metres has been in the standard range of today’s diving watches. The design of the Fifty Fathoms was also modernized, but still bears the DNA of the first model from 1953 unmistakably in it.

The Fifty Fathoms today

Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Automatic | Ref.: 5015-1130-52

Blancpain now offers a wide range of variants within the Fifty Fathoms collection. The simple automatic version with the reference 5015-1130 is probably the closest to the original model from 1953. However, the stainless-steel case has grown to a striking 45 mm diameter and the unidirectional rotating bezel is made of scratch-resistant sapphire. The power is provided by the manufacture calibre 1315 with automatic winding and an enormous power reserve of up to 120 hours. The watch runs for 5 days after full winding without being worn.

Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Flyback Chronograph | Ref.: 5085F-1130-52

Another current variant of the Fifty Fathoms is the Flyback Chronograph, whose case is also 45 mm in size. To emphasize the sporty character of the watch, the stop mechanism can also be operated under water. Basically, a chronograph is given the addition “Flyback” if a new time measurement can be started immediately without having to stop and reset the hands to zero beforehand.

Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Tourbillon | Ref.: 5025-1530-52A

For all those, who appreciate the Fifty Fathom’s sporty and robust look, but want something more sophisticated inside, there is even a Tourbillon version. Through an opening in the dial at 12 o’clock, the virtuoso construction of the Tourbillon is visible to everyone. At 6 o’clock a display moreover indicates an 8-day power reserve. The complex technique of the inhouse calibre 25A can also be admired through a sapphire crystal back. Otherwise, this case also measures 45 mm in diameter, whereby yellow or white gold is used instead of steel.

Looking at the current collection, Blancpain shows beautifully that an icon among diving watches can be interpreted in a modern way without diluting the DNA of the classic watch from within the own ranks. 


David Schank
David Schank is a journalist and photographer. Since he was 15 years old, he has been immersing himself daily in the watch cosmos by writing about the treasures he encounters. As Managing Director, he has been one of the operators of the Watchlounge blog and its associated watch community since 2018.