Blancpain Tribute to Fifty Fathoms MIL-SPEC
History constantly repeats itself and brands always come in two categories; on one side are those brands that use big statements to launch their new products and on the other side are those brands that make quite a noise in a silent and classy manner. BASELWORLD 2017 has kicked off and Horbiter® will start off with the history of the diver’s watch, the timepiece that began writing history itself and that divides standard wrist watches from professional instruments. We are talking about the Blancpain Tribute to Fifty Fathoms MIL-SPEC; one of those rare instances, where a limited edition doesn’t sound like a commercial operation but is rather the result of a real and authentic tale.
The Blancpain Fifty Fathoms MIL-SPEC was born in 1957 but the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms, the very first professional diver’s watch in history, was born even before that and is the product of the pioneering spirit of a professional diver that quickly exchanged his diving suit for something more suitable for his role as Blancpain’s boss; a position he kept for over 30 years between 1950 and 1980. When an item, mostly an item with a specific function, is created from the passion of a professional in the sector, success is always guaranteed. The willingness to reach an aim, the ability to interpret the needs of divers were exceptional trigger points. In those years, a diver’s watch or an aviator’s watch (the latter already since the 30s) were closer to back-up professional instruments rather than luxury items and that’s one of the reasons why big collectors are fighting against each other to put their hands on one of these timepieces for their personal collections.
Nowadays, it is easy to claim that crafting a professional diver’s watch might be a simply task but, in those years, it was an enormous technological challenge as common functions like the screwed in crown didn’t exist just yet. Moreover, the choice to equip a timepiece with an automatic movement was mainly driven by the need not to use the winding crown in the coupling area, where it meets the (double) O-Ring seal rather than making sure that the watch wouldn’t stop working during a diving session. The same thing can be said of the coupling area, where the case-back and the case meet; another area, where water could easily leak in. This issue was solved by the development team of the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms by inserting the gasket within a circular channel and by adding in a disc to prevent a possible “pinching” during the delicate phase when the case-back is being screwed in.
The same thing goes for the unidirectional bezel; an easy to craft function but also a crucial one since it needs to correctly manage the diving time, where even a one-minute-mistake could mean either success or death. At a certain stage of its development, the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms became so authoritative if compared to all the competitors’ offers that it turned into the reference instruments for the frogmen of the French Navy. The Blancpain Fifty Fathoms quickly moved from the French army ranks to everywhere and became the favourite instrument of half of the world’s frogmen. It is no exaggeration when we say that the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms represents in the world of diving what the Speedmaster represented for US astronauts and NASA alike. These are professional instruments that marked an era in their respective sectors.
What is the MIL-SPEC 1? It is a military specification created by the US army towards the end of the 50s and that the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms fully comply with, thus becoming the US navy’s favourite instrument, including the prestigious Navy Seals division in its following version; the MIL-SPEC 2. In its first MIL-SPEC version, the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms could boast an original and romantic function; a circular indicator located at 6 o’clock that can measure the watch’s waterproofness. When water leaks inside the watch, the indicator gradually changes colour by moving from white to red. It is one of the Holy Grails among the vintage versions of the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms and it is the version that Blancpain brought back onto the market this year.
Its name is Blancpain Tribute to Fifty Fathoms MIL-SPEC: it is quite a faithful re-edition of that wonderful timepiece. The same black dial with white indices, the same diamond shape index located at 12 o’clock and a modern sapphire glass-made bezel. The only negative note on a date that didn’t even exist on the original version and that, together with the see-through case-back, betrays the modern nature of this Fifty Fathoms but not the same spirit and the quality of its making. The main points of this modern icon are the case measuring 40mm, the gold-made rotor that underwent a treatment with a special platinum alloy called NAC, and the 1151 calibre that is entirely in-house built and that features a silicon-made balance spring and up to 4 days of power reserve. This is the flagship of real Swiss watch-making; that watch-making sector that is unaffected by the economic crisis and that doesn’t feed it either. The best 500 limited-series watches, each priced at 13000 euro, you could ever dream of wearing around your wrist without even having to think about it.
(Photo credit: Horbiter's proprietary photo-shooting by Entropik)
Gaetano C @Horbiter