Blancpain, the esteemed Swiss manufacture that opened its doors in 1735, is known worldwide for crafting some of the most elegant pocket and dress wristwatches in history. Many of these pieces are brilliant works of horological art, and as a category are worthy of in-depth study and analysis. But Blancpain's other genius--what has made their legacy--is their entrant into the world of purpose built tool watches, and the industry's prototypical modern diver's watch: the legendary Fifty Fathoms.
Alongside the Rolex Submariner and DOXA Sub 300 Series, the Fifty Fathoms is without question one of the most important dive watch designs in history, and is often credited with being the first purpose-built timepiece with sub-aquatic usage in mind. Designed by nagueur de combat (or combat swimmer) Captain Bob Maloubier, who sketched it with a pen and paper, the idea was first sent to retailer LIP.
But LIP dismissed the idea as a "portable clock without any future."
So it was Blancpain, then--under the influence of Jean-Jacques Fiechter, the brand's new Director--that ultimately believed in Maloubier's design and agreed to produce it. The first model of Fifty Fathoms debuted in 1953, unique among its contemporaries by its 42mm size and Bakelite bezel. Fiechter (himself an experienced diver) decreed that the bezel would only rotate one way, thus making it impossible for the diver to misread how much air he had left in his tank. In order to guarantee water-tightness, Fiechter devised a system using rubber gaskets to seal the case. He also chose an automatic winding system rather than a manual one for the movement, because of the undue stress a manual winding system can put on the crown.
Underwater explorer and oceanographer Jacques Cousteau was among the first to adopt the Fifty Fathoms, featuring it in his documentary Le monde du silence. Navies of France, Germany, and the United States (thanks to the influence of Allen Tornek) chose the Fifty Fathoms for their divers. These Fifty Fathoms, released in the U.S. under the moniker "Tornek-Rayville" or "Blancpain Torrnek," and the case backs bore the ominous inscription "DANGER. IF FOUND RETURN TO NEAREST MILITARY FACILITY."
Between the model's debut and the 1970s, Blancpain produced over 20 different versions. Of these, those marketed under Aqua Lung brand name and bearing the "No Radiation" logo prove a desirable (and more attainable) alternative to the elusive (and oftentimes unaffordable) Mil-Spec versions. The "No Radiation" logo was Blancpain's way of distinguishing the civilian divers from the military ones--in those meant for military service, the dials were illuminated with radioactive material, but in the civilian ones, Blancpain used tritium and emblazoned the dial with a red and yellow radiation logo.
The "No Rad" Fifty Fathoms packs all of the punch of its military counterparts. Its 35mm size might seem modest, but its size is deceptive, given the care its progenitors took in its design. Strapped on a rubber Tropic strap like those issued to military personnel, it's a sharp and stunning addition to the vintage collector's arsenal.
Stainless steel case is approximately 35mm (excluding crown). Blancpain Self-Winding Movement. Circa 1960s.
Overall Condition: Stainless steel case is in very good condition with sharp lugs and no signs of over polishing. Case does have minimal signs of use and wear in keeping with its age. Bezel is in very good condition with crisp printing and no major signs of damage, and fine even patina to the luminescent elements. Dial is in good condition with some signs of age, particularly between 9 and 12 o'clock. Luminescent elements of the hour markers and hands have darkened to an even patina. Seconds hand is missing lume. Unsigned crown. Blancpain case back is in very good condition with some light scratches and tool marks.
Includes one 18mm rubber Tropic strap and two 18mm nylon straps from Crown & Buckle