The Blancpain Tribute to Fifty Fathoms No Rad
There's a breed of watches whose charm won't fade any easier: diving watches. That category includes a yet more desirable subset: luxury diving watches. The Blancpain Fifty Fathoms fits in the second, boasting a premium feel with unrivaled pedigree, and its recent story ranks among the best case studies in Haute- Horlogerie. I'll never forget when Blancpain unveiled their commemorative timepiece, the 50th Anniversary Fifty Fathoms celebrating fifty years since the first professional diving watch hit the market. The Fifty Fathoms's modern chapter started, therefore, in 2003; the end of that story is a collection whose reputation has grown alongside sales volumes.
The brand outperformed without investing in massive ad campaigns, like most premium and high-volume competitors do when introducing a new collection. The brand adopted an unconventional tone of voice, geared towards listening to the finest collectors' expectations and crafting the finest diving watch. As a result, some Fifty Fathoms have raised their value to the extent that was hard to predict ten or even five years ago. You won't find a Tribute to Fifty Fathoms Mil-Spec, an Ocean Commitment, or a Tribute to Aqualung anywhere on the Internet. The ultimate collectors won't miss the latest Limited Edition Fifty Fathoms watches and be sure they're not going to mark them up and re-sell them the day after tomorrow.
The Barakuda and the Nageurs de Combat.
Scrolling through the brand's catalog, I reckon the Fifty Fathoms Nageurs de Combat is my cup of tea and the pinnacle of the limited editions Fifty Fathoms' saga. However, it's not entirely in keeping with the original Fifty Fathoms in either size and "feel." With this specific case excluded, the 40mm models are the most sought-after and collectors-ready Fifty Fathoms on sale. The Barakuda was a proving ground for marketers; a small case with knurled crown protected by tiny square shoulders and a quintessentially vintage feel is all you need to hype things up.
The Tribute to Fifty Fathoms No Rad feels like a follow-up to the Barakuda's outrageous success. Once unveiled, the 500 units disappeared in a blink of an eye; in allocating each of the five-hundred pieces, I'm sure that Blancpain's priority was to please the brand's long-established collectors and owners.
The Blancpain Tribute to Fifty Fathoms No Rad
The teaser announced ahead of the official presentation was not hiding the "No Rad" insignia at all. The contemporary No Rad pays homage to a timepiece released in the mid-sixties, adopted by various military corps, including the respected German Navy's frogmen. The Fifty Fathoms' legend began with the French Navy to quickly extend to other military corps moving forward.
The original No Radiation Fifty Fathoms marked a new generation of timepieces using a replacement to the harmful radium-based luminescent material for the first time. The 2021 Blancpain Tribute to Fifty Fathoms No Rad combines a kind of underwater military operations pedigree with the unmistakable luxury sports watch design that makes any Fifty Fathoms a connoisseur diving watch.
The dial showcases painted dots, and a diamond-shaped index at twelve, all filled with the same vintage Super-LumiNova® you'll spot on indexes and numerals of the sapphire-crystal equipped rotating bezel (which glows a full green in the dark); the case features exquisite mirror polishing and craftsmanship all around. The Fifty Fathoms is old-school and miles away from any mass-produced luxury diving watch to sum things up. The formula combines fascinating history, a vintage design, and state-of-the-art engineering packed to offer a "boutique" experience.
The Tropic-type rubber strap is the icing on the cake and more durable, it seems, than the ordinary rubber or canvas strap. Measuring 40.3mm in diameter, with a thickness of 13.23 and the in-house caliber 1151 to power the watch for at least three days, the Tribute to Fifty Fathoms No Rad 2021 is halfway between a seventies' looking sports diving watch with a somewhat military feel to it. The Blancpain Tribute to Fifty Fathoms No Rad also comes with a 20 millimeters lug-to-lug distance and short lugs to enhance wearer comfort. As a consequence, it wears smaller than any steel 40 mm large luxury watch.
Are we, therefore, close to perfection? We are not, since there's no perfect watch, and neither is this Blancpain for reasons regarding the product, the brand image, and the strategy the brand is pursuing, which looks dangerous in the long term. Build quality and details are top-notch: if you're buying one, you won't be disappointed; such is the refinement inside and out. I'll never stop repeating there are areas of improvement, one being the "touch and feel" of any Fifty Fathoms' rotating bezel: it sounds metallic and not as crisp as you would expect on a timepiece this class and price. It primarily has to do with the "perceived" quality, and not with reliability or build quality; you'll find a far better detenting on timepieces costing half this Blancpain and less.
Regarding the strategy: does it make any sense to keep producing 40mm vintage-mimicking limited edition pieces without considering how it will affect the standard offering? I see that people (and speculation) keep approaching only 40 mm Limited Edition Fifty Fathoms, involving the classic 45mm offering whose average price is almost the same and is losing attractiveness in comparison. I think Blancpain should better cluster the 40 and 45 mm Fifty Fathoms offering and avoid product cannibalization. Be aware of what happened at Patek and Audemars Piguet along the way; the story goes that PP has phased out the 5711, and the second one is about to do the same with 15202ST.
In summary, I do like the Blancpain Tribute to Fifty Fathoms No Rad, and I would take one, but all the 25 pieces out of the total 500 allocated across the Italian retailers are gone already. The LE Fifty Fathoms have become highly collectible over the years, the No Rad is no exception, and prices have skyrocketed to impress Mr. Hayek himself, as he stated in an interview.
The Blancpain Tribute to Fifty Fathoms No Rad, whose price list is 13.400Euro, is about to beat any modern re-edition in appeal and value. It is by no means an affordable watch, but how much would you value history and pedigree? From a different perspective, It's a collector's item and an excellent investment, as quotations are well above retail price already. It is as unique as a fine bottle of wine you're opening to mark a great event, but great wines deserve further improvement too, and I genuinely hope that Blancpain will listen to my suggestions and improve the Fifty Fathoms collection further.
(Photo credit: Marco Antinori for Horbiter®)
Gaetano C @Horbiter®