By all accounts, 2023 has been owned by Blancpain. Over the past nine months, the seminal watchmaker has not been subtle in its efforts to celebrate the 70th anniversary of its iconic Fifty Fathoms dive watch, unveiling not one, but two incredible timepieces to mark the occasion. But as we learned last night, that was merely the pre-show.
At an event hosted in Cannes, the proverbial birthplace of the modern dive watch, Blancpain hit a soaring crescendo, unveiling the Fifty Fathoms 70th Anniversary Act III. A MIL-SPEC dive watch that reinterprets the design language of the deep sea legend, the new piece is big, bold and surprisingly, bronze gold.
For years, Blancpain has touted the importance of the Fifty Fathoms line, labelling it the world’s ‘first true dive watch’, so it seems only fitting that the birthday celebrations are ongoing. What is interesting, is the direction in which it has taken the range.
The new Blancpain Fifty Fathoms 70th Anniversary Act III cuts a unique figure against its milestone mates. Where the Tech Gombessa was very a left-field release, the latest iteration takes us back to the glory days. Inspired by the MIL-SPEC Fifty Fathoms of 1957, Act III is a refined approach to the modern dive watch. There is no date, no bathyscaphe and no clutter, merely a timepiece designed to withstand the aquatic elements. As Blancpain CEO Mark Hayek explained, the Fifty Fathoms isn’t so much a watch that can also be used as a diving tool, but rather a diving tool that can also tell the time.
With a streamlined dial design, Blancpain was free to play this case material without fear of overstretching its capabilities. For this, the designers turned to gold, opting for a 9K Bronze Gold alloy, which was comprised of 50 per cent copper, 37.5 per cent gold, along with silver, palladium and gallium.
Admittedly, it’s a finish that we’ve seen attempted before, but never with this level of detail and consideration. With bronze suffering the slings and arrows of oxidation, the addition of gold works to offset the chemical balance, ensuring a longer lifespan.
In a sense, Blancpain has managed to create a dive watch that simultaneously walks the line between heritage and progression without pissing off too many purists, case in point; the diameter. The new Act III timepiece measures 41.30mm, the exact diameter of the original 1953 Fifty Fathoms, however, many of the references from here return to the 1957 MIL-SPEC release.
That watch was famous for its moisture indicator, a safety feature that confirmed that the piece was undamaged, which naturally, was a critical component for military divers completing underwater missions.
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For the 2023 release, the moisture indicator has made a startling comeback, sneaking perfectly in at 6 o’clock. The dive watch also features a unidirectional satin-brushed bezel with a black ceramic insert and vintage Super-LumiNova hour-markers, completing the classic aesthetic.
Taking one look at the new Act III, it’s impossible not the see the watch as a tribute to the past. The design is altogether familiar and robust, offering a rare bridge between the Fifty Fathoms generations. Inside, however, it’s completely new.
The Blancpain Fifty Fathoms 70th Anniversary Act III is powered by the 1154.P2 movement, a twin-barrel design that promises a stellar 100-hour power reserve. Better still, Blancpain is offering a 1000-gauss version of its movement for the first time, thanks to the bronze gold material and exclusive alloys for the escapement. Meanwhile, the silicon balance spring ensures the watch’s resistance to magnetism, which is good news for history buffs. The original Fifty Fathoms piece did not boast the same magnetic resistance, meaning that beautiful movement was locked away in a soft iron cage. Thankfully, Blancpain has come a long way in 70 years and the new 1154.P2 can be freely observed through the sapphire caseback.
There are vintage nods everywhere you look on the new Fifty Fathoms 70th Anniversary Act III, from the period-accurate decoration on the mainplate to the engraved logotype, and it all comes together in a brilliant synergy. It’s a piece that draws on every bit of Blancpain’s heritage as a dive watch pioneer, helping to shine a light on the brand’s ambitious plans for the future.
While the origins of the first dive watch are, somewhat fittingly, a little murky, Blancpain’s connection to ocean exploration is unquestionable. In recent years, the maison has reaffirmed its stance on ocean conservation through the Blancpain Ocean Commitment and it’s been far from an act of tokenism. The brand has made no secret of its support for Laurent Ballesta’s Gombessa Expeditions, even going so far as to name the Fifty Fathoms 70th Anniversary Act II after his work, and at the launch event in Cannes, Blancpain CEO Mark Hayek kept the issue of marine sustainability high on the agenda.
In fact, despite having a bevy of captivated watch nerds all gathered in one place eager to get a first glimpse at the new piece, Hayek chose to open the event with a 90-minute panel discussion about the importance of ocean health. A lifelong diver himself, Hayek has transformed his personal mission to improve the quality of marine life into a key pillar of Blancpain’s business strategy, and it makes perfect sense.
One of the best-loved watches ever produced, the Fifty Fathoms was born out of necessity, crafted by former Blancpain CEO Jean-Jacques Fiechter to improve safety whilst underwater. Flash forward 70 years and his predecessor is doing exactly the same, albeit from a slightly different perspective.
Admittedly, when you talk about ingenuity in the world of watchmaking, you’ll invariably fall into a dialogue of ‘who did it first’, but it rarely makes a difference. Whether you were the inaugural shepherd who herded the industry up the mountain of innovation or merely a follower who expanded on the idea, credit belongs where credit is due. Acclaim should not be reserved exclusively for those who did it first, but for those who did it best. Somewhat remarkably, Blancpain finds itself in the unique position of laying claim to both of those titles. The new Fifty Fathoms 70th Anniversary Act III is a testament to this.
The Blancpain Fifty Fathoms 70th Anniversary Act III is limited to just 555 pieces worldwide and is priced at CHF30,000. It arrives presented in a box inspired by historic camera housing, another nod to Blancpain’s ocean protection initiatives and photography projects. If these birthday celebrations are anything to go by, we can’t wait to see what happens when the brand turns 300 in 2035.
Blancpain Fifty Fathoms 70th Anniversary Act III
- Brand: Blancpain
- Model: Fifty Fathoms 70th Anniversary Act III
- Movement: 1154.P2
- Diameter: 41.30mm
- Thickness: 13.30mm
- Water-resistance: 30 bar
- Case: 9k Bronze Gold
- Availability: Limited to 555 pieces worldwide
- Price: CHF30,000
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