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Blancpain’s Fifty Fathoms: What Makes It Special?

In recent years, one style of watch has outgrown all others – the dive watch. As a class of watches, “divers” as they are sometimes known, include some of the most brilliant and iconic timepieces in the world. Blending functionality, form, aesthetic, and value, one reason dive watches are so popular is their ability to multitask: they’re collector’s items, work essentials, tools, and for some, an embodiment of the oft-referenced “Go Anywhere, Do Anything” (GADA) watch.

However, in the world of dive watches—as with any other field, interest, or industry—there are a few standouts. One of our favorite examples of these distinguished models is the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms.


An introduction to Blancpain’s first modern dive watch

Blancpain’s Fifty Fathoms is a timepiece that is legendary in every sense of the word. Sharing a pedestal with other pioneering watchmakers such as the Rolex and Panerai, Blancpain’s flagship model stands out for all the right reasons. Adding to the mystique of the Fifty Fathoms is the timepiece’s backstory.


The Fifty Fathoms story begins in 1952, when the French Ministry of Defence tasked Special Operations Executive agent and WWII veteran, Capt. Bob Maloubier, and Special Forces officer Lt. Claude Riffaud, with finding equipment that could withstand the brutally…extreme conditions faced by combat swimmers, also known as frogmen. They were the perfect choice, having the military and diving experience necessary to understand first hand the need for a watch to keep up with commanding dive missions. There were many commercially available dive watches available in the latter half of the 20th century, and the two men tested many of them, but none could meet the strict requirements set forth. To be able to keep up with the missions and conditions, Maloubier’s perfect watch had to meet the following criteria:

  • Unequaled water resistance;
  • A black dial with large, bold numerals and clear markings;
  • An outer rotating bezel aligned with a large minute hand to quickly check the remaining oxygen time for diving or underwater applications;
  • Bright, long-lasting luminous markers and hands, for legibility even at extreme depths;
  • an antimagnetic case; and
  • a self-winding movement

Although many modern dive watches meet these standards with ease, the timepieces of the 1950’s could not yet keep up. The scarcity of viable options led Capt. Maloubier to reach out to Jean-Jacques Fiechter, the CEO of Blancpain, to create a watch that was up to the task. An experienced diver himself, Fiechter met the challenge head on. The rest is history, and the result is the very first watch designed and manufactured specifically for diving. Blancpain’s Fifty Fathoms debuted in 1953.


Understanding the name

The name Fifty Fathoms is synonymous with luxury, and is certainly on par with other trademarks, such as the Rolls Royce Ghost or Ferrari Enzo. Still, its true meaning is more utilitarian than luxurious. “Fathoms,” a somewhat arcane unit of measurement, was originally a British unit of length equivalent to six feet (1.8 meters). Used mostly by British operatives and divers who understood the maximum depth a diver could safely descend was “fifty fathoms” (100 meters),  it was a natural alliterative name for what would become a world-renowned diver watch.


The name has a literary reference as well, thanks to Fiechter and his fondness for William Shakespeare—a passage in Act I, Scene II of The Tempest begins with the words, “Full fathom five.”

Taking Capt. Maloubier’s needs into consideration, Blancpain had to develop a watch that was not only capable of meeting strict standards, but also one that could keep up when pushed to the limits of human endurance. True to its name, the Fifty Fathoms was able to perform flawlessly and provide the capabilities that agents and operators needed at any point in time during their missions. The watch was an immediate sensation among elite divers, and was soon adopted by the special military forces of several countries, including the United States, Spain, Norway, Israel, and Germany. The Fifty Fathoms was eventually the dive watch of choice for the U.S. Navy Seals, one of the world’s most elite diving corps.

blancpain fifty fathoms bathyscaphe

What makes the watch so special?

Beyond an association with the toughest agents on earth and the fact that the most famous diver of all time, Jacques-Yves Costaeu, wore it to the 1956 Cannes Film Festival, the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms is notable for many reasons.

The Swiss timepiece holds the distinction of being small but highly capable. So capable, and so much a tool watch, in fact, that it was not at first a staple of luxury watch retailers—it was sold in dive shops and stores that catered to outdoor enthusiasts. However, thanks to the extraordinary attention to detail and high levels of craftsmanship, the Fifty Fathoms became a shining example of a tool watch that is also luxurious. Besides working flawlessly in even the harshest conditions, it is also a collectible piece for many because of its sleek, handsome looks that settle perfectly on any wrist.


Additionally, the Fifty Fathoms is unique because it undergoes constant development—there are now models that can withstand 200, 500 and 1,000 meters, along with an endless back-catalog of references, representing thousands of material, size, and complication combos. One of the brand’s latest innovations is their newest bracelet, a three-row steel style that’s extremely flexible, comfortable, and well-made. Part of the fun of being a Fifty Fathoms fan is seeing what they’ll come up with next!

Blancpain’s legacy of creating the world’s first true diving watch, along with the 70 years of technological innovation, development, and design that have followed, has led the company to create the Blancpain Ocean Commitment. This important initiative contributes to scientific research, raises awareness of the beauty of the world’s oceans, and works toward the implementation of efficient ocean conservation measures. To commemorate those 70 years, Blancpain has released the limited edition Fifty Fathoms 70th Anniversary—three 70-piece series, each dedicated to a different region of the world.

As one of the world’s most famous dive watches today, the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms possesses a reputation unlike any other. If you’re looking for a sign to invest in a timeless piece that will always be an important figure in the watch world, this is it!

Feldmar Watch takes immense pride in being the place to be if you want to buy new or used luxury watches in Los Angeles, CA. Browse through our large collection of dive watches today!

About The Author: Tom Roth


Born in Washington state, Tom developed an interest in photography during college at University of San Diego. There, he got started in music journalism, interviewing artists and taking photos at concerts. A life-long tinkerer and collector, it wasn’t long before Tom became fascinated with fountain pens and watches.

Those interests collided in November 2020 when Tom started at Feldmar Watch Company where he lives out every watch geek’s dream: photographing and writing about timepieces. When he’s not tinkering with his watch collection, Tom can be found traveling, biting his nails while watching PNW sports teams, and taking flying lessons.

Read more from Tom Roth

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