Blancpain Fifty Fathoms for Hodinkee

After the success of the Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe Limited Edition for HODINKEE, we knew it wouldn’t be the last time that we strapped on a tank with Blancpain. As a nod to their rich history with the U.S. Navy, the new Fifty Fathoms MIL-SPEC Limited Edition for HODINKEE offers our take on a classic military-derived design.

Limited to just 250 units, the Fifty Fathoms for HODINKEE has a brushed steel case that measures 40.3mm wide and offers 300 meters of water resistance, a sapphire bezel with luminous scale, and a matte black dial with Blancpain’s period-correct and oh-so-adventurous functioning moisture indicator.While similar in style to Blancpain’s 2017 Tribute to Fifty Fathoms MIL-SPEC (which was limited to 500 pieces), Fifty Fathoms devotees will note not only the brushed case finish, but also the lack of both a date display and of the brand signature commonly seen engraved into the nine o’clock case flank. Replete with drilled lugs, the Fifty Fathoms for HODINKEE presents a minimal, true-to-form expression of Blancpain’s endearing early dive watch.

The design is elemental and makes no concessions for anything beyond raw function and absolute legibility. With a shape and ethos entirely informed by the leading modern dive watch, the Fifty Fathoms was born after World War II as the then-novel world of SCUBA diving was becoming more and more accepted by both hobbyists and professionals alike.After running out of air while diving and being forced to make an emergency ascent, Blancpain’s then CEO Jean-Jacques Fiechter set about to design a watch that could help track how long a diver had been breathing from their SCUBA system. In defining the qualities of his ideal dive timer, Fiechter inadvertently helped to shape the future of sport watches, and the Fifty Fathoms became the inspiration for the modern dive watch design as it looks today.After being accepted by the French Navy as a reliable and well-designed tool for diving immediately after its release, the Fifty Fathoms was a large watch with luminous markings, a rotating bezel with an elapsed time scale, a hacking movement to aid in synchronizing time with others in a dive team, and a soft-iron inner case to protect the movement from magnetization.

While offered as a commercial product available to any daring diver, the MIL-SPEC Fifty Fathoms would soon prove itself as a combat-ready tool for the U.S. Navy, and it is here where we find not only a hugely collectible and very special chapter in the lineage of the dive watch, but also the inspiration for the new Fifty Fathoms for HODINKEE.In 1955, Blancpain had broken into the U.S. market, and the U.S. Navy was looking to develop a specification for its ideal dive watch. Thankfully, the current Fifty Fathoms – which was already in use by several navies – covered the requirements set forth by the U.S. Navy, including the presence of a moisture indicator on the dial. This was an innovation that Blancpain had already developed and implemented for the Fifty Fathoms, and the eventual two-color split indicator has become a defining element in the history of Blancpain’s dive watch design.While in contrast to the Fifty Fathoms MIL-SPEC’s modern context as a desirable collectible, the original stage for these hard-wearing dive watches was as tools for the U.S. Navy. As watches were often supplied to Navy divers on a per-mission basis, service history and field use were often unknown, so the presence of a moisture indicator, which changes from blue/red to full red when exposed to water, helped provide a fast visual reference of the watch’s suitability for use underwater.

In 1958, Blancpain was selected for additional testing of the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms dive watches for the U.S. Navy, and the moisture indicator feature had proven so useful in the field that other outfits followed suit, including the French Navy and Jacques Yves Cousteau and his team of divers (and can be seen in use by the famed French oceanographers in their film The Silent World, which was in production from 1954-1955).With additional testing in 1959, the Blancpain option again stood out from any other contender, and the Navy came away with praise for the Fifty Fathoms’ reliable water resistance and its functional and entirely effective dive-time bezel, which was unique among those tested as the bezel automatically locked in place, requiring the user press down on the bezel before it could be turned. True to form, the Navy was also impressed by the simple but robust single-piece nylon strap, which is an earlier iteration of the NATO-style strap included with the modern Fifty Fathoms MIL-SPEC .
As the testing was completed, the Fifty Fathoms stood out by offering the most refined and innovative expression of the Navy’s needs for a dive watch. Furthermore, the Fifty Fathoms out-performed the competition, and the results stated that Blancpain’s ground-breaking diver was the only applicant to remain watertight for the complete battery of tests.
For a modern iteration of a mid-century military-derived tool dive watch, the Fifty Fathoms for HODINKEE captures the spirit and functional prowess of the original design while ensuring all that we’ve come to expect from a modern high-end sport watch.
Fitted to a black nylon NATO-style strap, the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms for HODINKEE is casual, comfortable, and certainly not lacking in toolish military charm. Befitting a watch in tribute to such a technical achievement, the Fifty Fathoms for HODINKEE features a cutting edge automatic movement, the Blancpain 1154. With a silicon balance spring and four days of power reserve, this specific iteration of the caliber 1150 offers a no-date execution and a lovely view via the fitted sapphire display caseback.
With only 250 being made, 200 pieces will be sold via the HODINKEE Shop and 50 will be sold at select Blancpain boutiques. Priced at $14,400, the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms for HODINKEE is the historically-minded Fifty Fathoms we’ve always wanted to create. No date, no extra flourish, just a beautiful and detailed recreation inspired by a legacy that helped give birth to the dive watch as we know it today.