The OG Diver

The Complete Buying Guide to the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Watch


September 17, 2019 Watches By

Given the hype, you’d think Rolex or Omega released the first dive watch, but the Swiss firm Blancpain was right there neck-in-neck with Rolex in 1953 with the release of its famed Fifty Fathoms.

The French Navy’s elite SCUBA squad, called the Nageur de Combat, had specified a number of features for the watch: a locking timing bezel to assure dive times didn’t get overextended, an auto-winding movement to reduce wear on the crown threads, and a leak warning system — in this case a clever dot on the dial that would turn red if moisture was present. Dubbed the Fifty Fathoms, this watch became the functional and aesthetic template for countless dive watches to follow.

By the 1970s, Blancpain had bent the aesthetics of the Fifty Fathoms toward the disco-era’s blingy vibes, all in an attempt to keep pace with a new breed of watches loosely called “luxury sport watches.” The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak sparked the trend, but the Fifty-Fathoms in its 70s get-up didn’t endure the rise of electronic quartz watches in the 1980s.

A few acquisitions of Blancpain went by before new management released the Fifty Fathoms again in 2007, this time using the original designs as inspiration. Watch fans the world over swooned. Since 2007, the Fifty Fathoms collection has swelled to include over 70 watches, making this one of the largest and most varied dive watch collections available today. Models range from 1950s-styled look-alikes, to large modern affairs, to watches with mechanical complications — and there’s even a handsome tribute to those blingy 70s models.

Common Features of Modern Fifty Fathoms
-In-house mechanical movements
-Silicone balance springs
-Unidirectional sapphire or ceramic timing bezels
-At least 300 meters (30 bar) of water resistance
-Relatively thin cases (for a dive watch) coming in around 13mm on most models

The Vintage-Inspired Models

These watches tend to look more like the original Fifty Fathoms did back in the 1950s, and to accomplish this, Blancpain uses beautiful, domed bezel inserts in sapphire and/or ceramic, traditionally shaped lugs, and dial markings that remind one of yesteryear.

Barakuda

Limited to 500 pieces, this watch has vintage vibes for days. The dial’s aged lume is perfectly matched to the lume on the domed ceramic bezel, and the bits of red remind us that this is a sports watch.
Case Diameter: 40mm
Movement: 1151 Automatic
MSRP: 14,100

Bathyscaphe Limited Edition (with Hodinkee)

At 10.77mm thick, this watch is a marvel of dive watch technology. The story here is minimalism: no date, not fussy extra markers, and a ceramic bezel insert with liquid metal numerals that’s going to look great no matter how hard you beat on it. Only 100 were made, and they’re all gone, so you’ll have to look to the secondary market.
Case Diameter: 38mm
Movement: 1153 automatic
MSRP: $9,900

500 Fathoms & 500 Fathoms GMT

Vintage looks, yes, but everything else about these watches is reaching into the future. With 100 meters of water resistance, an enormous case, a “decompression” (or helium escape) valve, titanium case, and a winding rotor in the shape of a ship’s propellor, these limited editions are truly unto themselves.
Case Diameter: 48mm
Movement: 1315 (standard), 5215 (GMT)
MSRP: Inquire for price

Fifty Fathoms Automatique 40mm

This collection of watches is perhaps the quintessential vintage-inspired FF. You can get a variety of straps and/or bracelets, and there are a few colorways available, including the Ocean Commitment model, which represents Blancpain’s contribution to ocean conservation. That red dot harkens back to the original FF that sported a leak gauge, which is now an iconic feature for the brand.
Case Diameter: 40.3mm
Movement: 1151 atuomatic
MSRP: Inquire for price

Fifty Fathoms Automatique 45mm

Drop that leak gauge, add a five millimeters, but keep the rest of the vintage vibes intact, and you’ve got this modern-sized model that’s going to hang tough with today’s bigger divers. Want some gold on your wrist? How about a blacked-out model? Some fancy dial engraving? How about a Nageur de Combat special edition with vintage round markers? Blancpain delivers with this lineup.
Case Diameter: 45mm
Movement: 1315 automatic
MSRP: Inquire for price

Fifty Fathoms Grand Date

Take the 45mm model above and add in a large date aperture at 6-o’clock, and you’ve got a dive watch that’s sporting a complication typically reserved for dress watches. It’s not a common combination, to say the least, but there’s something compelling about this nod to haute horlogerie in the context of a large dive watch.
Case Diameter: 45mm
Movement: 6918B
MSRP: $17,500

Fifty Fathoms Chronographe Flyback

A flyback chronograph allows you to reset the chronograph’s timing without stopping the watch, for instant lap resets. It’s a complication that takes some serious work to build well, and Blancpain’s in house movement does the job excellently. It can also be useful underwater for timing safety stops and any other intervals one might want to measure.
Case Diameter: 45mm
Movement: F185
MSRP: $17,800

Fifty Fathoms Chronographe Flyback Quantième Complet

With the weekday, date and month on display along with the moon’s phases, you’ll get the big picture of time. Meanwhile, the flyback chronograph will provide repeating snapshots of the instant you’re in with dead accuracy. All that in a dive watch adds up to a very special wrist watch.
Case Diameter: 45mm
Movement: 66BF8
MSRP: $24,700

Tourbillon 8 Jours

Tourbillions in dive watches are a rare breed, and one providing eight days of power displayed on a power reserve gauge, even more so. In a tourbillion movement, the balance wheel rotates within a cage at a set rate. This is a very old (and rather complicated) solution to negating the effects of gravity on a movement, and it’s one of the most fascinating movements to watch in action. It’s also one of the more difficult complications to execute, making this watch one of Blancpain’s most impressive.
Case Diameter: 45mm
Movement: 25A
MSRP: Inquire for price

The X Fathoms

This is one of those watches that may make you marvel at human ingenuity. It’s massive, but there’s good reason: the watch houses a mechanical depth gauge with two depth scales, a max-depth marker, and a reset button, which itself bests most SCUBA depth gauges. It also has a 5-minute countdown timer, which is no small feat of watchmaking, and a helium escape valve. At 24mm thick and a full 55.65mm wide, its going to wear like a modern dive computer.
Case Diameter: 55.65mm
Movement: 9918B
MSRP: $40,700

The Fifty Fathoms Jour Date 70s

Harkening back to those disco-era models, the Jour Date 70s is a stunning refinement on what might have originally been an overcompensation on Blancpain’s part. Restraining the touches of red and the overall bling to tasteful levels, the Jour Date 70s is the dressiest of the Fifty Fathoms, making it the perfect companion for those dive trips where dinner is served on white table cloths.
Case Diameter: 43mm
Movement: 1315DD (day date)
MSRP: $12,700

The Modern Fifty Fathoms

Let’s not make the mistake of thinking that the vintage-inspired models above are somehow technologically inferior to the modern styled Fifty-Fathoms we are about to examine. All of the Fifty-Fathoms are superior machines, built in-house, and ready to perform excellently in and around the water. The modern models are simply designed with a current aesthetic, and as such they possess an understated refinement and, because they’re so beautifully finished, a bit of panache. The dot markers and syringe hands, however, add a nice dose of vintage Blancpain style.

Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe

A straightforward dive watch with a date window at 4:30, this is a no-fuss diver that’s going to look perfect with a suit or jeans-n-tee. The 1315 in-house movement is one of Blancpain’s staples. There are ceramic cases, steel ones, and gold available, with only very slight differences in size.
Case Diameter: 43.6mm (grey ceramic) 42mm (steel)
Movement: 1315
MSRP: $12,860

Bathyscaphe 38mm

Though Blancpain bills these as women’s watches, we all know that 38mm can be a classy size on any man, and for those with smaller wrists, it can be the perfect fit. Don’t let those old-school gender categorizers push you around — these are simply great watches in a versatile and increasingly popular size. Also, Blancpain puts the white dial with white bezel insert on candy-colored straps (presumably for women), but throw that on a burly brown suede, a shiny croc, or a camo NATO strap, and it’ll really pop with a hip masculine style.
Case Diameter: 38mm
Movement: 1150
MSRP: $9,500

Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe Quantième Annuel

Add in an annual calendar to the Bathyscaphe, and we’re entering the world of complications while keeping true to the rugged dive watch heritage of the Fifty-Fathoms. Few companies are going into this territory, and Blancpain does so with signature grace.
Case Diameter: 43mm
Movement: 6054P
MSRP: Inquire for price

Fifty Fathoms Quantième Complet Phase de Lune

This watch is a wonderful combination of diving ruggedness and the haute-horological complexity in one great looking package. The complete calendar will display day of week, month, and the date in a lovely pointer array while the lunar cycles will play out in the blue aperture.
Case Diameter: 42mm
Movement: 6654P
MSRP: $14,800

Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe Chronographe Flyback

Featuring an incredible complication, a form factor that’s modern but classic, and proportions that will never go out of style for a diver, the Chronographe Flyback may be one of the most compelling offerings in the Fifty Fathoms lineup. Get it in gray ceramic for an edgier modern experience, or in the very cool brushed blue ceramic of the Ocean Commitment version to support ocean cleanup. Steel models will look and feel more traditional.
Case Diameter: 43.6mm (ceramic)
Movement: F385
MSRP: $17,200

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