I’ll admit my bias up front: I have a serious soft spot for Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe. I don’t think enough people give the company the credit it deserves for the role it played in the late 1980s revival of the mechanical watch industry.
I recently backed up that belief by purchasing an early-2000s Leman Ultra-Slim, from HODINKEE Pre-Owned. Four months later, I’m still absolutely smitten with my new-to-me watch, but I’ll admit that I never expected a Leman to be the first Blancpain to make its way into my collection. I assumed it would be a Fifty Fathoms dive watch, because – like many collectors today – that’s the product I most associate with Blancpain.
Thirty years ago, you would have thought that statement was crazy. A watch collector in 1992 would only know vintage examples of the Fifty Fathoms. It’s true – the Fifty Fathoms has only recently held a permanent place in Blancpain’s catalog since 2007, when it re-emerged after disappearing from production at some point in the 1970s, following its heyday in the ’50s and ’60s.
The design and technical principles of the original 1953 Fifty Fathoms laid the groundwork for the ISO 6425 standard, which now governs whether or not a watch is suitable for professional diving – and yet, the Fifty Fathoms collection laid mostly dormant for decades. Since 2007, however, Blancpain has made up for lost time. The current selection of Fifty Fathoms watches is more diverse and accessible than at any other point in its history.
That’s alright with me. I own more dive watches than I know what to do with, something I’m sure I’m not alone in, and the Fifty Fathoms has always represented an endgame in appreciating the category for me. (In other words, while some collectors go crazy for MilSubs, I’ve generally been the guy jabbering about moisture indicators.)
But it took me a while to realize just how cool the latest addition to the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe is. It’s not a precise reissue of some forgotten Bathyscaphe, which is a secondary line within the greater Fifty Fathoms family, and it’s not a collaboration with the HODINKEE team. What it does do, however, is adjust the course that the already smooth-sailing Fifty Fathoms is on to reach even greater heights.
The Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe is the younger, slimmer (and debatably hotter) sibling to the original mainstream Fifty Fathoms watch. Named after the deep-diving submersible invented by the Swiss physicist and explorer Auguste Piccard, the original Bathyscaphe dive watch was introduced in 1956 as the civilian complement to the more professional Fifty Fathoms. It came in a smaller size and was targeted toward the recreational diving market. After officially reintroducing the Fifty Fathoms into serial production in 2007, Blancpain continued to build out the collection. Six years later, for the 60th anniversary of the first Fifty Fathoms, in 2013, Blancpain unveiled an entirely new production series within the Fifty Fathoms line – the Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe. These watches maintained the core conceit of the original Bathyscaphe, with a smaller diameter and more accessible price point, and zero loss in technical proficiency or professional specification.
Using the Bathyscaphe’s now-signature 43mm × 13.45mm case profile, Blancpain has once again retrofitted the dive watch by introducing a grade 23 titanium case and topping it off with a sleek grey dial featuring some serious vertical brushing.
It’s not just the dial that’s grey. The whole watch has been rendered in a monochromatic greyscale, except for the use of off-white Super-LumiNova (it’s a lighter shade than what I’d typically characterize as faux-patina) on the hands and hour markers and the red tip of the seconds hand. The case has a slightly darker grey tone compared to the anthracite shade on the dial, featuring a completely matte decoration. The self-winding caliber 1315 inside has the same soft satin sheen, with a soleil finish on the bridges, plus the gunmetal-tone solid-gold rotor. Over on the dial side, even the date aperture is completed by a grey background! Grey is great – but let’s revisit that case metal. The choice of titanium is a fun one for Blancpain fans. It could be considered a bit of an inside-baseball nod to the first year of production for the current-gen Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe , when a 43mm ceramicized (AKA, ceramic-coated) titanium edition, the ref. 5000-12C30-NABA, debuted alongside the original 38mm and 43mm stainless steel models. Although it was included as part of the Bathyscaphe’s initial 21st-century revival, it was only produced for a short period and very few ended up in the hands of collectors. As a result, it’s become one of the most sought-after and collectible Blancpain watches of the 21st century.