Let’s get this out of the way right from the start: while there is a part of me that’s curious to see what surreal effect could be wrung from writing out “Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe Flyback Chronograph Blancpain Ocean Commitment II” every time this watch needs to be named, we’re just going to go with “BOC II.” Okay? On to the watch itself.
To put this watch in context, we enter the WABAC Machine and set our controls for Baselworld, April 2014, when Blancpain first introduced the Blancpain Bathyscaphe Chronograph Flyback, as well as the then-new, technically forward-looking automatic caliber F385. The watch was and is a handsome, if slightly large, 43.6 mm three register flyback chronograph with a water resistance of 300m, and it fills all the requirements of ISO 6425 necessary for it to be considered a bona fide diver’s watch too.
The movement, as HODINKEE founder Ben Clymer noted at the time, almost outshone the watch: caliber F385 has a 50-hour power reserve, with a free-sprung variable inertia balance and silicon balance spring (thereby offering better resistance to magnetism) with a column wheel and vertical clutch control system for the flyback chronograph. The oscillating weight is platinum-plated 18k gold, which is a rather remarkable piece of perversely appealing stealth-luxury, particularly for a technical dive watch (at first glance you might mistake it for something like tungsten, which is mundane if practical, and leave it at that).
The big news in this instance is the blue ceramic case. Blancpain’s made a fairly extensive investment in the production of ceramic watch casesÂ (the very first ceramic watch cases were Da Vinci watches, by IWC, made all the way back in 1986 â more on that here). This is the first time Blancpain’s produced a watch case in blue ceramic, which the company says is done by introducing a pigment and binder into the base ceramic powder, compressing the combination to ensure a homogenous mixture, and then firing; the result is a sintered mixture of the ceramic and pigment with the binder burned off in the firing process. The result is pretty handsome â the deep blue ceramic is quite dark, but with subtle highlights that give it a pleasingly mutable character as the light changes.
The movement finish is pretty representative of what Blancpain is doing these days in its technical watches: very clean, and very much a modern take on movement finishing that dispenses with most of the traditional Swiss movement decoration vocabulary, substituting its own crisp, geometric design cues. This works very well in the context of the BOC II and carries through the theme of modern, functionally-oriented luxury watchmaking quite well. In its own way, Blancpain’s achieved something of a minor miracle in this series of watches, which is to produce a single coherent feel that connects functionality, movement design and finish, and case construction in a single experiential continuum.Â
Legibility and wearability are excellent, as you’d expect from a high-end technical watch. The only slight gotcha I continue to find in Blancpain’s dive watches is that the bezel feels slightly stiff, although I haven’t gone diving with any of them (alas) and so, can’t speak to what it’s like to try turn them with diver’s gloves, underwater. Though, come to think of it, a partial solution to that might be to just buy a pair of diver’s gloves and keep them in my desk drawer. Next time.
It’s a very easy watch to wear, even if you’re not a diver. The ceramic case is light in weight and though at 43.6mm x 15.25mm, it’s on the bigger side, overall handling of things like the proportions and placement of the sub-dials and width of the hands go a long way from keeping it from looking oversized (lug width is 23mm, by the way). Dive watches in general tend to be bulkier than their less purpose-driven brethren anyway, so the BOC II isn’t an outlier from a size standpoint, at least in its category.Â
Ceramic as a watch case material continues to occasionally evoke skepticism, as ceramic has a brittle failure mode â to put it plainly, it’ll break before it’ll bend â but modern technical ceramics largely seem to be able to handle the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune and certainly the watch internets aren’t exactly littered with images of broken ceramic watch cases with indignant captions (though you can find them if you look). Ceramic as a case material is not a mere freak of modern luxury marketing either; Seiko began using a ceramic bezel shroud in its 1000m Pro Diver quartz model in 1986. There are advantages and disadvantages to any material and you pay your money and you takes your chances, but the obstacles to wider adoption of ceramic as a case material seem to be technical rather than practical.
This is a 250 piece limited edition, priced at $20,100. Blancpain says that â¬1,000 from the proceeds of each sale will go towards funding oceanographic scientific expeditions, as well as media awareness-raising projects intended to promote appreciation of and concern for the ecology of the world’s oceans. Owners will receive a certificate attesting to their support for these projects, and you can find out more about what projects are being supported on the dedicated Ocean Commitment mini-site.Â
The BOC II: case, blue ceramic, water resistant to 300m,Â 43.6mm x 15.25mm, with transparent caseback. Movement, Blancpain in-house chronograph caliber F385, column wheel and vertical clutch-controlled flyback mechanism with seconds, minutes, and hour totalizers, and date. 50-hour power reserve. More at Blancpain.com