The lure of Blancpain

A while ago I allowed myself to trade the Fifty Fathoms Mil-Spec, a watch that I really liked a lot and missed immediately it was gone. In fact, it was my fourth Fifty Fathoms of one kind or another. I’d previously owned three of the 45mm models as well (the Automatique, the Dark Knight and the No Radiations) and whilst I thought the larger models were all absolutely gorgeous watches I knew they were a little too substantial for my wrists.

The Mil-Spec, being a whisker over 40mm, was perfect in every way but what they all had in common was a quality that became evident the moment you handled the watch. The flawless fit and finish, incredible depth of the dials & indices, the lumed sapphire bezels, the beautifully finished movements… in terms of divers, Blancpain take things to another level altogether, and – whilst clearly not cheap watches – at least you know you’re getting something more than a utilitarian movement housed in a relatively unremarkable piece of steel.

Anyway, back on track and the horological gods seem to have smiled on me (actually, it was planning rather than luck, and painful decisions were made). In any event, having missed out on one opportunity, I was surprised to see that not only was a second mint example of Blancpain’s latest tribute offering being listed for sale on my favourite watch forum. The result was probably always somewhat inevitable, and the Barakuda that’s on my wrist as I type is everything I hoped it would be. Certainly, it’s my favourite of all the Fifty Fathom’s I’ve owned, although there’s not a great deal to choose between it and the Mil-Spec. More on that in a minute, though.

The Barakuda is another beautifully executed tribute, this time to a watch that was originally released back in the late 1960s. Of course, the original FF dates back even further – to 1953 – and has a history that I’ve written about before so won’t repeat. However, whilst the French were the first to equip themselves with Fifty Fathoms models for their underwater missions other military elites followed. One of those – in the late 1960’s – was the German Navy then known as the Bundesmarine, which was supplied with Fifty Fathoms models via Barakuda – a German company specialising in the production and marketing of technical diving equipment.

Alongside the watches intended for the military, the company also introduced the domestic market to a civilian model adopting the Barakuda’s distinctive style, notably featuring the use of two-tone rectangular hour-markers, white-painted fluorescent hands, as well as a highly visible date display at 3 o’clock. Many were fitted with a Tropic-type rubber strap that was very popular with divers at the time and became quickly renowned for its durability as well as its wearer comfort. Production numbers aren’t verified, but it’s widely believed there were about 150 of these watches. This scarcity, along with the military provenance, have made the Barakuda a very prized watch among Fifty Fathoms collectors. In fact, many FF aficionados thought that it should have been the first limited edition tribute model that Blancpain produced. Here’s a shot of the original Barakuda, just as a point of reference; this one is from 1970 (and it’s a 41mm case, by the way). It was sold by Phillips at auction two years ago and fetched about £14k – not bad for one of the most iconic dive watches in history.


Let’s jump forward again, then, to Blancpain’s reissue of the Barakuda that was released last year; just 500 watches in all, it’s actually a pretty faithful tribute. The Barakuda shares much of the Mil-Spec DNA in that it’s presented in the same 40.3mm case and is driven by the same Blancpain calibre 1151 movement. In fact, the movement is made by Piguet but has been used extensively by Blancpain, and also by Brequet, AP and VC. Interestingly though, only Blancpain is allowed by Piguet to have a 100 hour reserve, whilst other rival manufactures have been forced to settle on a “measly” 70 hours; the nenefit of being siblings, of course. In any event, it’s finished absolutely beautifully with a mere 3.25mm thickness that belies its twin barrels, 210 components and 28 jewels. Whilst you might not realise it whilst gazing at it in wonder, the rotor is solid 18ct gold; however, it’s coated with a platinum alloy (Blancpain’s “NAC”) which I have to say looks amazing.

The dial is a matt black that somehow seems to add depth to the dual-coloured indices featuring the wonderful pops of red seen in the original. Both the crystal and bezel are domed sapphire, the latter being fully lumed albeit not going so far as to feature a minute track across its full radius as per the original. The lume, by the way, is spectacular.

I’ve been asked how it compares to the Mil-Spec, and the truth is that they wear very similarly in many ways for the reasons mentioned above. It boils down to aesthetics, and I’m sure that there will be fans in both camps. For me, the Barakuda’s warmth, matt dial and unique colouring, coin-edge bezel and date window positioned at 3 o’clock wins the day for me; however, you really couldn’t make a mistake with either, and to my mind both represent everything that’s right about reissues. Genuine testaments to the past, whilst representing the very best of watchmaking in the present.

So, the customary photos… not an easy one due to the domed crystal, but I hope that they convey in some way the beauty of this watch.




A long-overdue update

A while ago, I decided that a consolidation of my collection was somewhat overdue. My target was to go from 16 to 10 in total, and having mulled over what to retain and what to let go a few very nice watches were moved on. Out went my Aquanaut (it funded my motorcycling adventure, and frankly the value of it as a wrist trinket was getting silly); my Royal Oak Diver (a bloody gorgeous watch, but just a little too hefty for my wrist); and both my Parmigiani and Zenith chronographs.

What I didn’t count on was any new arrivals, but – true to form – I seem to have struggled in achieving my objectives in respect of any meaningful reduction. As there are some nice new trinkets now fighting for wrist time, though, I thought I’d pop up a quick incoming post with an image or two to liven it up 🙂

Rolex (Zenith) Daytona 16523

I only recently moved a steel Zenith Daytona on, but when I saw this beauty from 1996 listed for sale I felt a strange compulsion to nab it. The seller was happy to take my Parmigiani in part trade, and given that I was thinking of moving it on anyway a deal saw very swiftly concluded.

I must admit that I was in two minds when it arrived. It was clearly a lovely thing, but I wasn’t 100% sure how I felt about wearing a steel and gold watch. A couple of days in, though, and I was absolutely loving it. Maybe it’s because I’m in my late fifties now, but in any event it makes a lovely change, and it’s surprisingly adaptable. My task now is to keep it away from Bea, who has an uncanny knack of nabbing the watches she takes a fancy to.


Grand Seiko SBGE245G

This one was a real surprise, as – whilst I’d admired them from photos on the web I’d never considered buying one. However, when a trade deal materialised and I tried it on, it became a bit of a no-brainer.

It’s a Spring Drive GMT, and is a limited edition of 600 available from Seiko flagship salons, Seiko Premium Boutiques, and Seiko Premium Watch Salons across Japan (to quote Seiko, that is – they’re about to start appearing here in the UK, though, and this one seems to have been one of the very first received by authorised dealers here). Its water resistant to 200m, and offers three time zones using both the GMT hand and the 24 hour bezel. Unlike most GS Spring Drives, it also has torch-like lume.

Aside from the stunning sapphire bezel it has a mahogany-red dial with a very subtle sunburst finish, there’s a power reserve on the dial (which I think looks fantastic, and contrasts beautifully with the dial itself). It measures 44mm and is about as big as I’d want to go with it, but it wears nicely and (being a Spring Drive) features that mesmerising sweep of the second hand. I love it.


Seiko SLA025J1

This is another watch (limited this tie to 1500 pieces) that came in a trade, but – given how much I liked the original vintage 6159-7001 when I owned it – it’s probably less of a surprising choice.

Anyone who knows the 6159 will see immediately that this is a very faithful homage in terms of both design and specification. It measures a fairly hefty 44.8mm in diameter, and features a monobloc case and coin-edge bezel; like the 6159, the lugs are long and angular. Inside is Seiko’s calibre 8L55, a hi-beat (36,000 bph) movement that’s essentially a less decorated version of the Grand Seiko calibre 9S85. What remains is a high-end movement with a 55-hour power reserve, 37 jewels and very decent accuracy.

The case is also finished in the same way as a Grand Seiko. This means that the polished surfaces are finished by hand using the traditional Zaratsu method, with sharp angles and perfectly flat surfaces.

The black aluminium insert has a golden track and numerals, designed just like the 1968 version. Seiko again harks back to the original with a matte black “gilt” dial, and having now owned both I would say that they’ve come up with a fantastic tribute to a real horological icon from the 1960’s. They even provide it on a classic waffle strap that – again – mirrors what one would have worn the 6159 on all those years ago.


So, that’s about it in terms of changes. Oh, save for the fact that – a few months ago now – I sold the Fifty Fathoms Mil-Spec on the sailcloth strap, and snagged the bracelet version instead (along with a sailcloth strap as well, so the best of both worlds). I’m not sure that I’ve ever posted a photo of the watch on the bracelet, but I finally managed to take one this evening.


For what it’s worth, I have no worries whatsoever in having sold a few “high end” watches, and frankly no longer enjoyed wearing wrist jewellery worth in excess of £20-30k. In any event, they helped fund some work on the house and my newfound motorbike madness, which to my mind is money well spent.

Some more horological husbandry!!!

It’s been a while since I last posted, and this piece once again is about changes to what seems to be an ever-growing collection (not through any planning or intent on my part, I hasten to add – I actually thought I might be able to get the numbers down a bit). That said, I’ve had some new arrivals over the past few months so I thought I’d write a quick update for those that might have an interest 🙂

Omega SM300 new build

I’ve admired these from afar for absolutely ages, as I love the originals and had a WTB for one for quite a while. There have been some lovely examples passing through SC but I’ve never quite managed to nab one, but finally this unworn example reared its head in Singapore and it seemed too good an opportunity to miss. It’s one of the sought-after Lewis Watch Company builds, and there’s a post on the Omega Forum that sets out the background very nicely. For those who don’t like to follow links, here’s the gist of it…

What I’ve done with these is a fair bit more thorough than what Watchco did with theirs a few years back.

The movements are still from donor watches (565 for date and 552 without date). However they have had no expense spared servicing performed which included as a minimum new centre wheels, cannon pinions, mainsprings of course, some have had new barrels, barrel bridges, balances. Essentially whatever they needed in terms of new parts as well as traditional techniques to reduce or eliminate the effects of 50 odd years of wear on someone’s wrist.

Add to that entirely synthetic lubrication and at least a month of testing and fine tuning. Each case back has been professionally engraved on the inside with the serial of the movement, the build date, my company initials and the sequence number (1 of 6).

They have all been tested waterproof to 100meters which is all the Witschi Proofmaster S will go to. – This is a professional grade machine and is extremely sensitive to case deformation under vacuum and pressure. They have also been wet tested. I then produced a certificate for each watch giving its particulars. It’s timing and waterproof test performance numbers are listed.

ALL parts are new stock except of course the movement. ALL parts used are Omega and the correct ones for this reference, right down to the case clamps and screws. ALL bezels align properly at 12, no dodgy factory seconds here.

I have added the latest deployant clasp and leather or rubber strap which are also Omega items. Perhaps controversially I don’t like the mesh bracelet ( apart from to look at ) as it’s hard to get a proper fit and is uncomfortable to wear. Likewise the 1171 / 633 is a $25 bracelet with a $400 price tag.

Wrapping it all up is a brand new wooden Omega box of the Planet Ocean / modern SM300 variety. Plus a 12 month warranty on my workmanship.

So… a great build, two OEM leather straps and a deployant, a bit of paperwork, some engraving, a lovely box set and lume like a torch. What’s not to love?


Breitling Navitimer 806

I find the general love of all things Breitling a bit mystifying, if I’m honest. Whilst I don’t doubt their quality for a moment, I really haven’t seen many that I like and most are simply far too blingy for an old fart/traditionalist like me. That said, there has always been one exception, and that’s the Navitimer. Within the iconic chronograph hierarchy I believe it holds a place very near the top, and I shudder when I think that in the past I’ve simultaneously owned an 806, and Ed White and a white gold Daytona… all of which have slipped through my fingers.

Anyway, the Navitimer has a genuinely interesting heritage and history. After the great success of Breitling’s first slide-rule watch (the Chronomat), the Navitimer was launched all the way back in 1952. Whilst the Chronomat was focussed on the engineer and businessman market, the Navitimer was designed specifically for pilots; so much so that the “Aircraft Owners and Pilot Association” (AOPA) immediately decided to make it their official watch. This new Navitimer combined three essential tools for navigation – a watch, a chronograph and a slide-rule. It was, effectively, a navigation timer, hence the name it was given.

It was designed with the Venus 178 movement (although some later models contained a Valjoux), a well-respected column wheel chronograph, and the first to be produced were fitted with a black Arabic dial and the famous AOPA logo. In fact, on the very first models “Breitling” was only seen on the case back. Shortly afterwards, the Breitling name was added over the AOPA logo, sometimes topped with the “B”. The reference of this watch was 806, and remained so until the introduction of a completely new generation in the 1970’s.

Over the following years, there were a number of dial variations, each termed a “Generation” (numbered 1-7 or so up to the 70’s, at least); there are some reasonably good sources of information out there for anyone who may be interested, but it takes a bit of legwork and it can be a little confusing as not all historic accounts are completely consistent.

Anyway, this acquisition is lovely – a 2nd Generation 806 that dates to 1966. It really is in good all-original condition, with a white on black dial and incorporating the earlier/smaller subdials that I think are by far the nicer.

Aside from the fact that the case is unpolished but in great original shape, the patina on dial and hands is even and dark, and the subdials are gorgeous (it was also very recently serviced, but there was no attempt to clean the dial – there are obvious signs of discolouration, but on the plus side it means that it’s in untouched condition). Note the absence of red highlights too – seen on later/current models but unsubtle in comparison.

Just a little (more specific) information on the 2nd Generation variant, taken from the Net… in approximately 1960 – after the watch had already become a huge success – the Navitimer’s design was modified and thereafter became known as “2nd Generation”. The three subdials changed from black to white, the hands were remodelled and the Breitling name appeared in printing on the dial. During the 1960’s the slide-rule bezel was also remodelled twice. Moreover, the AOPA wing was removed from the dial and the official Breitling Navitimer logo became two aircrafts flying in close formation. At the same time, however, Breitling continued to supply AOPA with Navitimers sporting the AOPA logo on the dial.

So… here you go!


Omega Speedmaster 60th Anniversary

Now, I’ll state at the outset that I love this trilogy of tribute watches released by Omega. I already have the Seamaster 60th (I’m actually wearing it as I type, and it’s one of my favourite watches), so I was delighted when an opportunity arose to add it’s sibling. I’m actually tempted to get the Railmaster too, but I’ll have to have a good think about that before taking the plunge yet again.

I won’t bother writing any kind of history of the Speedmaster, but will just say (as I’m sure most people know by now) that the proportions and design of the 60th Anniversary are an exact match of those of the first model launched in 1957, the reference CK2915-1.

The dial as also a faithful reproduction of its ancestor, as are the broad arrow hands (seen again, also, on the previously released Speedmaster ’57); the applied Omega logo has been reincarnated, and the Omega Speedmaster signature is in the original font.

Whilst the 60th is a very faithful tribute, the movement is of course the modern caliber 1861. The bracelet is identical in style to ye original, but is far more solid and sports a very sold clasp with micro-adjustment on the fly. The lume – yes, it’s been given an aged look like the other two watches in the “set”, and some people will no doubt find that a little marmite – is a lovely bright luminova, whereas the original would have been radium. Finally, the “Swiss Made” is now above the seconds, track while it used to be below.

For comparison purposes, then, here’s the original…


And here’s the 60th!


Actually, given that I mentioned its Seamaster sibling I may as well post a shot of that too, whilst I’m at it!


Blancpain Tribute to Fifty Fathoms Mil-Spec

Well, this is the last of the incomings, and to be honest it’s the one I’d been craving since I first heard of its release. In fact, I’ve paid more than one begging visit to the Bond Street boutique, even at one point trying to buy the prototype (only 500 were released globally, and the boutique were allocated just 2!).

To trace it back to it’s roots one has to travel back all the way to the early 1950’s – even before Rolex released the first iteration of the Submariner at 1954’s Basel Watch Fair. In 1952, the French “Nageuers de Combat” (combat swimmers) was formed by the French government as an elite team of tactical soldiers – effectively, they were France’s early equivalent of the Navy Seals. Led by Captain Bob Maloubier, the mission of this elite group of frogmen was undersea intelligence gathering and acts of sabotage, such as attacks in sea ports or destruction of ships, all accomplished by teams of divers often working at night.

Beyond their diving tanks, scuba regulators, masks, flippers and suits, Maloubier understood the importance of robust and reliable diving instruments, of which there were three: a compass, a depth metre and a diving watch. The watch was central to many of the key tasks confronting the divers. Of course the timing of the dive was an essential (it would not to do to over-stay the supply of oxygen). A second, and perhaps somewhat less obvious need was timing for navigation purposes. After running tests of the watches then available on the market, Maloubier concluded that none were up to the task. Thus, he decided to undertake the conception and design of a timing instrument that would target the needs of military combat diving.

Blancpain fulfilled these needs and provided the first model of this very specific divers watch in 1953, the “Fifty Fathoms”. The rest, I guess is history, but amongst the many models that have been produced since then the Mil-Spec (based closely on the original Mil-Spec that was produced in 1957 – so in fact another 60th anniversary release) is one of just two of the modern variants to be given a substantially more wearable case of “a mere” 40mm. I’ve previously owned both the standard auto and the Dark Knight, both of which were 45mm, and whilst I loved them both they were simply a little too big for me.

That half orange, half white circle you see prominently placed at six o’clock is an indicator for water ingress. If the dial is exposed to water – even a relatively small amount – the white part will begin to turn a reddish-orange to match the other side. However, with WR rated at 300m, one would sincerely hope that it’s not something that will ever be anything more than redundant functionality.

Inside, and unlike the larger FF’s, is the Blancpain calibre 1151 movement. In fact, it’s made by Piguet but has been used extensively by Blancpain, and also by Brequet, AP and VC. Only Blancpain is allowed by Piguet to have a 100 hour reserve, whilst other companies have to settle on a “measly” 70 hours. The movement doesn’t hack, either, which had me frantically consulting my Google-Fu to ensure that mine didn’t have a problem!

I’m absolutely delighted to have snagged this watch; I genuinely thought I’d missed the boat, so it was especially lovely to finally strap it to my wrist.


More of those naughty incomings ;)

Okay, I’m not going to ramble on this time (cue collective sigh of relief). However, if you fancy a bit of a read about the iconic Fifty Fathoms you could do worse than have a look here; I’ve had two previously, in fact, the other one being the DLC’d “Dark Knight”. I really have missed them both – I only sold them because I told myself they were a little too large for me – so when an opportunity arose to buy the limited edition (just 500 of this model released globally) Tribute to Fifty Fathoms I was quick to take the seller – a mate from TZ-UK – out for a beer or two, get him drunk and seal a deal.

The Blancpain ref. 5015B-1130-52A shares both case and movement with the standard Fifty Fathoms that I wrote about in the post linked above. Aside from the ‘No Radiations’ symbol on the dial, the differences relate to the bezel and dial configurations. The Tribute version features a bezel with almost an identical appearance to the original Fifty Fathoms “No Radiations” from the late 60s ; that is, a slightly different font for the numerals and a minute track that continues all the way around, as you’d find on a Milsub. The dial dispenses with all four of the arabic numbers, and also features round super-luminova markers instead of applied arrow-shaped markers, together with a date aperture at 3 o’clock with white date wheel (the standard FF has the date window at 4.30, and a black date wheel). Obviously, it’s horses for courses as to which you prefer, but I love this one – the changes to the dial work for me (especially the no-rads symbol) and the LE nature of it adds a little to the ownership experience.

Anyway, here’s a relatively quick and dirty photo, albeit that I lost my battle with the uber-reflective domed crystal (for now!!!).


The other watch that joined the fold recently is one of the new Seiko Turtles – this is the SRP779K1 with the black dial and pepsi bezel. I actually bought it in Tenerife whilst I was buying Bea a really nice Certina chrono – the guy in the shop offered me a reasonable deal on the two, and I’d wanted to try one of these since they were released. I’m not going to say much more about it, save that these watches are a reissue of the wonderful 6306/6309 vintage Seiko divers from the 70s/80s. Now, after ruining the rubber strap that it came on, and subsequently buying the OEM bracelet from another mate on TZ, I thought I’d share a photo of the matching navy and red two-piece Zulu that arrived from Sweden a couple of days ago… as you can see, it’s a lovely match and serves to pretty up what is essentially a very utilitarian design.


So, two very different watches, but both very welcome additions to the collection. I’d better stop now 🙂

The Dark Knight Rises

Some time ago, I wrote a fairly long post (I know – not unusual for me!) about a watch that I’d just acquired with a particularly interesting history – the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms. You can read that post here if you’re so inclined. A truly iconic watch, and to my mind one of the most beautiful looking dive watches you can buy.

Now, despite the above it ended up being moved on, as it just seemed a little too large for me; however, when I tried on the DLC’d “Dark Knight” version recently I was really surprised at how much better it wore on me, and the more I thought abut ti the more I wanted to add one to my collection.

I’ve been wearing it for about 24 hours now, and my instincts were definitely correct in that it looks far better on my wrist the the stainless steel version did. In fact, I’ve just ordered a custom strap from Camille Fournet (black sharkskin with red stitching) which i think will be absolutely perfect for it.





Horological Husbandry

The end of December saw the completion of a project that required me to be office based for the preceding 15 months; not only office based, but in a pretty formal environment in the heart of the City. Over that period, and for reasons that are self-explanatory, my collection slowly but surely moved in a far more dressy direction than it had ever been before and I realised a week or two ago that a little “horological husbandry” was going to be required. In fact, I had more watches than I wanted, and as a consequence I’ve reduced the number from twelve to nine; I’ll probably move one or two others on during the next month or two as well.

Anyway, I very recently traded my lovely Christian Van Der Klaauw, as it was unlikely to be worn very much in my more casual surroundings at home (and yes, I’m more than happy with the Grand Seiko that came the other way, as I can dress that up or down very easily). I also realised that my remaining divers were both vintage – a Sub and a Tuna – and that I had nothing modern in that style whatsoever. It’s not that I needed anything modern, obviously, but it seemed a bit daft as I’d really enjoyed the rather short ownership of a ceramic Sea Dweller. This feeling of needing some change was exacerbated by the fact that my GO Perpetual Calendar and JLC Master Calendar were so similar in terms of style and functions. Hmmm… what to do?

Well, I knew that my GO wasn’t going anywhere – I’ve had that for the best part of two years now, and although I don’t wear it that often I do still get a real buzz every time I put it on. With that in mind, I started to resign myself to the notion that I may have to let the Master Calendar go; not an easy decision because it’s such a beautiful watch, but needs must (and it’s not as if they’re scarce, or never available with a discount). At the same time, I’d just completed a trade with another TZ-UK member and – as we were already talking – thought I might as well broach the subject of another trade, one that might just work out very well for both of us. That’s just what I did, and consequently I’m drafting this post with a Blancpain Fifty Fathoms on my wrist as I type.

It’s two years in March since my friend Tim and I enjoyed a really wonderful trip to the Blancpain manufacture in Switzerland. Aside from the fact that the company was so incredibly hospitable (they paid for the entire party’s flights, hotel accommodation and restaurants) it was quite an experience. The factory visit itself was like stepping back in time, precisely as I’d been hoping it would be. We were also in the heart of the Swiss watchmaking industry (the Vallée de Joux is, along with Neuchâtel, the birthplace of Swiss horology and it is still the home of the most famous Swiss watch manufactures such as Audemars Piguet, Patek Philippe, Vacheron Constantin, Jaeger-LeCoultre and Blancpain themselves)… it almost smelt of watchmaking history and craftsmanship. That aside, we also found ourselves hiking about two miles up a mountain one night in absolute darkness, with snowshoes on our feet and lamps strapped to our heads, to enjoy a delicious fondue dinner when we reached our destination. I’ll always remember the sight of Tim, sitting in the snow as his legs decided that they couldn’t go any further, muttering “Just give me a minute…”. All in all, a trip I’ll never forget, and there are some photos which get reasonably close to capturing what Blancpain is all about that you can peruse here.

Since that trip, I’d been looking at various Blancpain models, and ironically missed snapping up a Leman Complete Calendar Moonphase at a stupidly cheap price only this week. I missed it by a nanosecond, but had I bought it the JLC would probably have gone as a result and I doubt I’d be writing this post. I wasn’t yearning after a Fifty Fathoms, but knew what wonderful watches they are from some earlier reading and having tried one or two in the past. I remember well admiring the stainless steel automatic version from a GTG a few years ago, and more recently fell in love with Tim’s own in rose gold, which hit TZ-UK’s sales corner not that long ago. In other words, I was predisposed towards them in any event, particularly as a consequence of what is a real heritage that gives the FF a genuinely iconic status in the world of horology.

To trace it back to it’s roots one has to travel back all the way to the early 1950’s – even before Rolex released the first iteration of the Submariner at 1954’s Basel Watch Fair. In 1952, the French “Nageuers de Combat” (combat swimmers) was formed by the French government as an elite team of tactical soldiers – effectively, they were France’s early equivalent of the Navy Seals. Led by Captain Bob Maloubier, the mission of this elite group of frogmen was undersea intelligence gathering and acts of sabotage, such as attacks in sea ports or destruction of ships, all accomplished by teams of divers often working at night.

Beyond their diving tanks, scuba regulators, masks, flippers and suits, Maloubier understood the importance of robust and reliable diving instruments, of which there were three: a compass, a depth metre and a diving watch. The watch was central to many of the key tasks confronting the divers. Of course the timing of the dive was an essential (it would not to do to over-stay the supply of oxygen). A second, and perhaps somewhat less obvious need was timing for navigation purposes. After running tests of the watches then available on the market, Maloubier concluded that none were up to the task. Thus, he decided to undertake the conception and design of a timing instrument that would target the needs of military combat diving.

Maloubier drew up detailed specifications for his diving watch and farmed them out for bidding. Unfortunately, the reception from industry was decidedly cool, with one of the commercial directors of the firm LIP even commenting that such a timepiece “would have no future”. Eventually, Maloubier convinced the relatively small manufacture of Blancpain to produce his watch, and it found it’s way to the French Navy via Spirotechnique, which, at the time, was the official supplier of all wears to the French armed forces. Maloubier describes his first meeting with Blancpain: “Finally a small watch company, Blancpain, agreed to develop our project which envisioned a watch with a black dial, bold large numerals and clear markings: triangles, circles, squares; a rotatable exterior bezel which repeated the markings of the dial. We wanted at the start of a dive to be able to set the bezel opposite the large minute hand in order to mark the time. We wanted each of the markings to shine like a star for a shepherd.”

Blancpain fulfilled these needs and provided the first model of this very specific divers watch in 1953, the Blancpain “Fifty Fathoms”. Even at that time, it carried all the typical features of the more familiar models; a black dial with contrasting, self-luminous numbers and indexes, a notched bezel (unidirectional only for safety reasons) also in black with luminous numbers and indexes. In an era of small and dress watches, the round case of the first edition measured 42mm, with long and relatively massive lugs. The watch was designed to be waterproof up to a depth of 50 fathoms, which of course led to it’s name; this British measure corresponds to a depth of 91.45 meters, which was, at that time, considered as the maximum depth that divers could safely reach with a one-time use oxygen mixture. This high water-resistance (by 1953 standards) was achieved by using a screwed caseback and a newly developed crown with a double O-ring gasket. A screwed crown was not permitted because of an existing patent. As the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms relied on an automatic and antimagnetic movement, the need of pulling out the crown was considerably reduced, with no need to wind the watch every day in any event.

Here is is…

And here’s one being worn by Maloubier himself…

From the early 50s through the 70s, more than 20 different models of the Fifty Fathoms were produced, including one that was on the wrist of Jacques Cousteau in the 1956 Cannes Film Festival Palme d’Or winning “The Silent World”. Beyond the French diving units the Fifty Fathoms was also adopted by the Israeli, German, Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, Finnish, and most famously, American fighting forces. When the Americans were looking for a dive watch, there was a resolute “Buy American” policy for all units – so no watch with “Blancpain” on the dial would ever pass muster. So, an American company named Tornek-Rayville took the 50 Fathoms and rebranded it – they may or may not have replaced the Swiss jewels with American jewels for good measure. About 1000 Tornek-Rayville Fifty Fathoms were produced, and most were destroyed by the Navy at the end of the commission, so they are indeed very hard to find.

What a genuinely fantastic heritage. For a while it looked like it was in jeopardy, as Blancpain ceased production for three years in the early eighties. However, a man named Jean-Claude Biver purchased the brand which is now part of the Swatch Group, sharing it’s premises with sister company Frédéric Piguet. In 1997, Blancpain reintroduced the Fifty Fathoms and there have now been some fifty variations to date, many of which were never intended for consumer use. So, then, to the watch that I’m wearing; at 45mm it’s no wallflower, but with quite short, curved lugs (they’re almost stubby when viewed side-on) it’s very wearable for it’s size. In fact, the effect is not unlike that of the Tuna, which on paper seems massive but actually fits all but the smallest of wrists). The most striking feature, though, is the sapphire bezel, with it’s gentle curves and fully lumed numerals and markers. It looks luxurious, but it’s actually quite hardy and seemingly pretty difficult to mark.

The dial is stepped, and has a deep black gloss that befits the bezel and, again, oozes quality. The manufacture and model text is small and subtle, the eye being drawn instead to the bold mix of Arabic numerals and pointed indices on the dial. The side of the case bears the Blancpain name, and all of this is set off to perfection by the wonderfully pliable and comfortable sailcloth strap. All in all, it’s a wonderfully comfortable watch that looks like the ultimate diver… which, perhaps, it is.

Inside the wonderful case is the in-house 1315 Calibre. It has a bidirectional rotor that provides energy to 3 barrels and thus gives the watch 5 days of power reserve. It also features a free sprung balance wheel, less sensitive to vibrations and shocks. The Calibre 1315 comes with large rubies, inserted directly in the bridges and plates, as well as a classical finishing with bevelled angles on the bridges, perlage of the plates and circular stripes. In the tradition of the historic “Fifty Fathoms”, the Calibre 1315 is surrounded with antimagnetic protection. The spec in summary is as follows:

Self-winding automatic movement
120 hours power reserve
36.60mm diameter
5.65mm thickness
25 jewels
3 mainspring barrels
Glucydur free sprung balance with gold regulation screws
227 components

In addition, the movement features a date mechanism that has a fail-safe design, and which not allows setting at any time but also enables it to be both advanced and/or retarded.

All in all, then, a truly wonderful watch that, in terms of my initial perception, far exceeds my already high expectations. All I can add to the very long preamble is the customary set of photos, and an apology if I’ve bored you unduly!

Blancpain factory visit

I’d like to say a massive thank you to Blancpain (a wonderful manufacture, who were the most generous of hosts in providing an expenses-paid two day trip to their factory in Switzerland) and Watches of Switzerland in Cardiff (who, through Martin Bond, made it possible). Thank you, also, to Andy Good – Blancpain’s brand director in the UK – for being great company.

The view from the hotel

All 744 movement pieces from the Blancpain 1735

Watchmakers working on the high-end pieces (Tourbillons, Carrousels and Minute Repeaters)

Some tuition on complications

And lunch at the local greasy spoon before heading back

All in all, a wonderful and memorable trip!