The Blancpain Fifty Fathoms, along with the Rolex Submariner, constitutes a kind of ur dive watch. Both mid-century designs helped to shape the template for the modern diver. Both are remarkably simple in their design language. And both have stood the test of time. In fact, the Fifty Fathoms, which debuted in 1953, actually has the distinction of being the first modern timepiece for diving, beating out the Submariner by a year.
We’ve seen a number of executions of the Fifty Fathom in recent times, from tribute pieces honoring the historical Mil-Spec and Aqua Lung models, to a range of Bathyscaphes sold to raise funds for Blancpain’s philanthropic commitment to the world’s oceans. In each incarnation of this timepiece, we have a modern automatic diver with superior water resistance and a durable build clearly meant to be taken into the water and used. Among high-end mechanical timepieces, these are some of the most demonstrably purpose-built tool watches that one is likely to encounter.
Just The Facts
From a high-level-design standpoint, this is a watch that readers will be well acquainted with. It’s a Bathyscaphe, an evolution of the standard Fifty Fathoms diver released in 2013 to coincide with the 60th anniversary of the Blancpain’s legendary diver. The Fifty Fathoms is Blancpain’s best-known product family, a model that is a category unto itself for sports watch collectors. Few watches out there can rightly claim such a mantle.
I see the Bathyscaphe as a straightforward, modern take on the Fifty Fathoms. It’s a part of Blancpain’s famous family of divers, but very clearly a watch that has been reinterpreted for the 21st century. The bezels are cutting edge, utilizing the Swatch Group’s Liquidmetal technology, and the movements are souped up, coming with extended power reserves and hairsprings made from amagnetic silicon.
The watch we are reviewing today offers a look back at design cues found in a Blancpain diver dating from the 1970s, interpreted through the lens of the modern 43mm Bathyscaphe with 300 meters of water resistance. Sure, the look of this watch comes from what can be seen as a polarizing decade for watches, but the ’70s are also known for some truly unforgettable sports watch designs. This Bathyscaphe’s dial closely echoes the one seen on the 1970s Fifty Fathoms below. Not only do both fumé dials darken as they reach the edges of the case, they also have double markers for the hours/5-minute track. But whereas the vintage watch below employs a second crown and an inner bezel for timing dives – the minutes track rotates around the stationary inner hour markers – the latest Fifty Fathoms has an outer bezel that repeats this information. To my mind, it has the feeling of being somewhat redundant in this application.
With the exception of the smaller sized Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe 38 mm – an unsurprising favorite around the HODINKEE office – the Blancpain Bathyscaphe is a large-sized sports watch, and this one is certainly no different. At 43mm in diameter and a whopping 14.25mm in height, it’s big by the standard of watches that we mostly tend to cover here at HODINKEE, but it’s also well within the range of what the majority of watch wearers think of when they think of a sports watch.
If you flip this guy over, the movement you see looking back at you is the automatic Blancpain caliber 1315 DD. This is a proven movement that has seen more than 10 years of use at Blancpain. It’s notable for combining automatic winding and an extended power reserve of five days with silicon components in its escapement. The finishing on the movement is well executed, but subtle, befitting a tool watch of this type.
This is the first time that I’ve ever worn a Bathyscaphe for any great length of time. I had previously worn and enjoyed other Blancpains for short durations, including the excellent Fifty Fathoms Mil-Spec, and I was excited to find out what I would think about this modern take on the Fifty Fathoms. I knew right off the bat this this watch was bound to test my comfort zone in terms of size. My wrist is seven inches, a pretty average size, and the majority of watches that I own tend to top out at about 40mm, with just a couple of exceptions. Make no mistake, this watch wears every bit of its 43mm, with a large crown to boot, and its relatively thick construction makes for a wearing experience that will take some getting used to if you’re mostly into vintage watches. I found that just as I was getting ready to hand this watch back on my fifth day with it, I was finally starting to get used to its size. Overall, it was a welcome change of pace for me during the time I spent with it. I thought it went well with my usual summer wardrobe of shorts and t-shirts.
One of the things that struck me most about this watch’s design was how the dial grew on me over time. I chalk this up to the depth and quality of its build, and the crispness of its applied markers, that I suppose I tended not to associate with sports watches from the 1970s. When I think of the most compelling watches from the ’70s, my mind goes to certain sports watches that have become sought after today despite never really being marketed as proper luxury watches in their own time. Looking closely at those pieces, I’ve found that their quality was perfectly fine for the time, but would seem to be lacking in some ways by the expectations set by modern fine watchmaking. Today’s notion of a luxury sports watch didn’t really exist before 1972’s Royal Oak. So it’s interesting to see this Bathyscaphe, so clearly meant to exalt the modern tool watch, with its well finished markers and crisp hands. I think if you compare the dial of this watch to the vintage Blancpain Fifty Fathoms from the ’70s above, the new watch wins out.
One thing that I didn’t love about this watch is, thankfully, the easiest thing to remedy. The strap that the Bathyscaphe Day Date 70s comes on is made from an aged leather that is supposed to complement the fumé dial and gel with the overall ’70s design that is being offered. While I see what Blancpain is going for here, I couldn’t help but feel like this watch would have looked wonderful and worn really well on a simple black rubber strap of some quality.
I didn’t have a chance to put this watch on a Witschi machine during my five day test-drive, though I did set the time to my phone’s clock right before I put it on. By the time I was done with my test drive, I could notice no significant rate variation. I think that Blancpain’s in-house movements sometimes don’t get all the credit that they deserve. The caliber 1315 DD may be plainly finished, but it is certainly well executed. You get all the bells and whistles of a modern Blancpain, including an amagnetic silicon balance spring. You also get an extended power reserve of 120 hours, despite the uncompromising frequency of 28,800 vph. Usually, when you see a reserve of this length, you have some reduction in frequency to help eke out the extra time running while consuming less energy. This is a sports watch that you could easily designate for weekend wear and rarely have to handle the crown to reset the time. As long as you put it away Sunday evening with a full wind, it should still be keeping time when you go back to it Friday night.
Things To Consider
One potential criticism that could be leveled at The Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe Day Date 70s is its cost. The way you see it configured here on a strap (there is also a bracelet option) it’s going to set you back $12,700. It absolutely has to be emphasized that we are talking about a high-end, well finished watch from one of the Swatch Group’s top-tier brands. And we are also looking at a limited edition of only 500 pieces. But we are also talking about a steel dive watch that, used and worn like a dive watch, is going to be placed in adverse conditions and receive a fair amount of wear and tear. Just for the sake of argument, one might wonder what’s out there in terms of a technologically advanced mechanical watch of real quality at a lower price point.
Staying within the Swatch Group stable of brands, one can look to the Omega Seasmaster Professional Diver 300M Co-Axial Master Chronometer. Granted, this watch is no Blancpain, but it is arguably one of the finest mass-produced mechanical dive watches that has ever been made. Its movement is the result of a series of upgrades and updates that include the implementation of a co-axial escapement, high resistance to magnetic fields, and Master Chronometer Certification. You get all of this, in the form of a 300m-water-resistant tool watch, for a starting price of $4,400. To be clear, and to reiterate, the Omega is a mass-produced product and the Blancpain is not, but still, each is a purpose-built tool watch that offers the same water resistance.
A much fairer comparison might be made to the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore Diver. Aesthetically, these are fairly far removed from the Bathyscaphe 70s Day Date, but they are in a similar league in terms of brand perception. Like our Bathyscaphe, the Royal Oak Offshore Diver is a handcrafted luxury watch. And indeed, you’ll pay a good bit more for the AP ($19,900) than you will for the Blancpain. In terms of what you can expect from each watch’s movement, the Blancpain compares quite favorably, with its silicon hairspring and its power reserve that lasts twice as long as the Offshore’s.
The Blancpain Bathyscaphe Day Date 70s ref. 5052-1110-63A was a fun watch for me to wear. I quite like the design of the Bathyscaphe family, but I must say that I particularly like the 38mm execution of the Bathyscaphe that came out last year in Basel. When I survey the landscape of what’s currently available in the standard Fifty Fathoms and in the Bathyscaphe range, the two watches whose pull I most feel are the aforementioned 38mm Bathyscaphe and Fifty Fathoms Mil-Spec, both introductions from 2017. Were Blancpain to explore this ’70s design in the form of a watch that came in at or under 40mm, and that eschewed the displays for day and date – now that would be something I’d like to have look at.
See the entire Fifty Fathoms collection at Blancpain.com.