Blancpain Fifty Fathoms 'No Radiations' Midsize

Blancpain Fifty Fathoms 'No Radiations' Midsize

Why We Love It

Here at Analog/Shift, there is virtually no segment of vintage watch collecting that we love more than dive watches.

We may never know whether they've seen an ocean, battlefield, or only on office in London. Regardless, we know that divers were purpose-built, tough as nails, and provided functionality for a wide range of people all over the world.

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. It is also often credited with being the first purpose-built timepiece with sub-aquatic usage in mind.

The Navies of France, Germany, and the United States chose the Fifty Fathoms for their divers, and underwater explorer Jacques Cousteau appeared in a documentary with the watch strapped to his wrist. Those not destined for military service - like the one we feature here - would bear a special design on the dial signifying that the luminescent material was not Radium.

Despite its geiger counter reading, 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. Wether worn on Tropic strap like those issued to military personnel or on soft calf skin leather, it's an elevated and off the beaten path addition to any vintage collector's arsenal.

The Story

In 1952, the French Navy and Secret Services tasked two veterans with a formidable mission. These men—Lt. Claude Riffaud of the Navy and Captain Bob Maloubier of the Secret Services—were to create a specialized unit of combat divers, meant to act under the utmost secrecy. Some of the missions they were to enact included attacking ports and sabotage.

Riffaud and Maloubier had a general idea of what gear the divers needed—compasses, depth gauges, watches.

But as far as watches were concerned, there was no watch on the market specifically designed for the use to which these combat divers would put it.

So Maloubier, armed with a pencil and protractor, sketched a watch. Not just any watch, but a watch ideally suited for diving. It needed to have a robust, watertight case, and a dial that would be legible in the darkest of nights, at the deepest of depths. He then shopped his idea to several different manufacturers, but all were resistant of this new and esoteric design; all except Blancpain, that is, whose CEO, Fiechter,  happened to be an amateur diver himself.

Fiechter relished the chance for his company to create a watch that no other manufacturer had dared to make. He relied on Maloubier’s expertise—and his own diving experience—to build a watch with a Bakelite bezel and rubber gaskets to seal the case. The movement that he used, rather than a manual wind, would be automatic in order to alleviate pressure on the crown from repeated winding.

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 worth 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.


SKU: AS03616

Stainless steel case is approximately 35mm (excluding the crown). A Schild automatic-winding movement. Circa 1960's.

Overall Condition: The case is in fantastic condition overall showing normal wear consistent with age and use. Luminous gloss silver gilt chapter ring dial is in excellent condition with warmly patinated indices and 'sword' handset showing matching patina. Acrylic bezel even luminous material and light chip at 11:00. Unsigned crown. Caseback shows crisp engravings.

Includes tan leather strap with steel pin buckle.

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