A Vintage Watch Guy's Thoughts On Blancpain's Contemporary Fifty Fathoms Collection
The Fifty Fathoms is, and has been since its introduction, one of the most iconic wristwatches of all time. Every watch blog has given their own historic rundown of its lineage so let’s change it up; today, we're talking modern. Currently, Blancpain has 48 individual Fifty Fathoms references. Excessive? I strongly believe so. Let's go for a dive!
I’ll start with the specific models. The Bathyscaphe, with a simple black nylon strap, is held together by a brushed stainless steel 43-millimeter case. Inside beats a Blancpain calibre 1315, a self-winding, in-house movement equipped with 35 jewels, a 120 hour power reserve, a silicon hairspring, and date function--that’s impressive. The finishing of the calibre is clean with some beautiful perlage on the mainplate which, since it's never exposed, exhibits how Blancpain pays attention to even the technically unnecessary details. The case back, being sapphire, exposes the calibre 1315 and its matte-finished rotor well. Overall, it’s a great looking wristwatch on the exterior with a fine calibre within. With it's rugged case, slate dial and nylon strap, I can see the utilitarian roots of the Bathyscaphe and that is a very, very good thing. The retail price, sitting at $10,500, in my opinion, is steep but I’m sure it’s founded, at least to Blancpain, in the brand's rich history.
Would I reduce the 41-millimeter case size? Absolutely, and I think it would widen the market of potential buyers while restoring itself back to more classic proportions and all without losing any of its existing appeal. It would also be great to see Blancpain make the most of color, given that nearly the entire watch is in slate grey, and change the seconds track around the dial from white to red (matching the existing red tip of the second hand to watch). This would be a beautifully subtle change and would, without doubt, put this Blancpain on my wish list.
The next, arguably polar and absolutely most outlandish Fifty Fathoms variation is the Chronographe Flyback Speed Command (CFSC). It’s cased in a 45-millimeter brushed black satin case, strapped on a black leather band with yellow stitching to match the numerals on both the dial and bezel. Additionally, this wristwatch is easily recognized by its carbon fiber dial. Inside, you’ll find the calibre F185--another self winding, in-house, but this time with 37 jewels, a flyback chronograph function, and a 40 hour power reserve. The finishing of the calibre is markedly better than the finishing on the 1315 with perlage throughout the movement (not just the mainplate), as well as cotes de geneve. The wearer (and his friends) would have a great opportunity to view the finishing beneath the sapphire case back- definitely a positive.
My largest issue with the CFSC is its total disregard for lineage. How in the world does a carbon fiber chronograph with dashboard-esque numerals associate itself with the Fifty Fathoms, yet more closely resemble a Hublot? What about this watch communicates a history of diving? The retro-inspired bezel with the diamond figure atop the 12:00 hour marker seems to be the only allusion to the rich past of the Fifty Fathoms it seems to be exploiting. The tasteful enthusiast will be much more likely to allocate their $20,200 for an Aquanaut or Saxonia--watches which represent their respective company's history rather than a garish market request.
After digging through the Fifty Fathoms family, I’m generally uninterested. Yes, the movements and cases are well designed and constructed, I don’t contest that. But that’s even more of a reason to be disappointed. Brands like Nomos or Glashütte Original are tremendous in innovating while admiring the past with resources far less than Blancpain. There is no need, or desire (as I can imagine) for 48 variations of a classic watch, each more distant from its roots than the last. So, yes, the Fifty Fathoms' 48 piece-line is comprised of excess. It, in my opinion, should be trimmed down to a small collection of 1-3 classic variations, all individually connected to their predecessor. Will that make Blancpain more money? I couldn't tell you. But they'd have a lot more to be proud of.
That being said, take a minute and a look at their Villeret collection. Nearly its entirety pays honest tribute to the classic Blancpain while only modernizing slight details (enlarging the watches while keeping traditional proportions, etc.). Well done, Blancpain.