When it comes to iconic dive watches, I am sure we all have many of the same ones pop to mind, most often coming from Rolex and, due to their more recent resurgence, Panerai. Back in the 1950s, though, there was another brand that produced what I feel is an iconic diver as well – the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms. That is the watch we will be going through in today’s edition of Historical Horology.
It was in 1952 that the French “frogmen” (what we today call combat swimmers) put the call out. They needed a watch that could meet the demands and stresses that their jobs put on the tools that they carried with them. Surprisingly, no one picked up that challenge. Finally, they found their answer with Blancpain, who’s CEO, Jean-Jacques Fiechter, also happened to be a diver himself. Thus they set forth creating this new watch.
Captain Maloubier, of the French force, stated that these were the requirements for the watch: “… a black dial, large, bold numerals and clear markings, as well as an outer rotating bezel. We wanted to be able to align this bezel with the large minute hand, in order to easily know our remaining oxygen time. And we wanted all those markers to clearly glow in the dark.”
That first model, delivered in 1953, was the archetype for the 50 Fathoms watches that would follow: a black dial with lumed numerals and indices, paired with a uni-directional bezel with luminous numbers and indices on a black background. At the time it was released, the 42mm case was positively massive for the era, though it seems middle-of-the-road by today’s tastes. That sizing really came to be so the watch could withstand the rigors it would be put through, as well as be a workable tool in the divers’ arsenal.
Since then, the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms had been adopted by various military divers (not just the French), and there have been a number of versions also made available to the public. To read more about this history of an instantly recognizable dive watch icon, check out this great article over at Monochrome.
All images courtesy of Monochrome