Great designs don’t age and this Blancpain Fifty Fathoms “Nageurs de Combat” is living proof of this fact. You would think that a watch that has been revisited so many times since its first dive in 1953 would have lost its magic by now. Far from it. In the case of this Blancpain Fifty Fathoms “Nageurs de Combat” the magic is alive and kicking because we are looking at a watch that goes right back to the roots of the dive watch icon. Faithful readers of MONOCHROME may remember when, back in 2014, the history of the Fifty Fathoms was published at length. But no better occasion than this to refresh it.
TWO VISIONS, SAME NEEDS
Jean-Jacques Fiechter, Blancpain’s CEO at the time and a diving fanatic, recognized the need for a watch to aid divers, even more so after he nearly drowned because of miscalculating the remaining oxygen in his tank. At the same time Robert Maloubier, commanding officer of the French Nageurs de Combat (or Combat Divers) of the French Navy, also needed a dive watch for his frogmen. After unsuccessful attempts with several companies, he got wind that Blancpain was doing something similar and approached the company with his idea.
The original Blancpain Fifty Fathoms, circa 1953
Together they defined what features should appear on what will become the perfect watch for Maloubier’s underwater combat unit: the watch had to glow in the dark (including the seconds hand) and had to be water-resistant up to at least 50 fathoms (91 metres). The depth rating they established would also become the name of a watch that would pave the ground for all other dive watches built from that moment on.
Robert Maloubier, commanding officer of the French Nageurs de Combat, his Fifty Fathoms on the wrist.
The Fifty Fathoms was powered with an automatic movement and featured the all-important rotating bezel to time immersions. The Navy was happy and so was Blancpain, and over the years they saw the watch become a legend. This Blancpain Fifty Fathoms “Nageurs de Combat” is a way of thanking those underwater commandos.
A FITTING HOMAGE
The Fifty Fathoms “Nageurs de Combat” pays tribute to the men whose needs lead to the creation of this watch.
The steel case of the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Nageurs de Combat Limited Edition is the larger version of this watch, at 45mm in diameter and 15.70mm in height. It comes with a brushed finish throughout. It is big, but not much more than the original, which hit the 42mm diameter mark. Thanks to the curved sapphire bezel and the dominant presence of black, I have to admit that, on the wrist, it does not look as big as what is claimed on paper. Today the watch is capable of fathoming greater depths and can reach 164 fathoms, or 300 metres.
The bezel of this modern Blancpain Fifty Fathoms is a node to the original, with a sapphire crystal that protects it against wear and tear – main difference is that, on the original model, this bezel was bakelite. It consolidates the beautiful retro look that we have also seen on another vintage-inspired Fifty Fathoms this year; the great-looking Barakuda (which you can see with live pictures here) and also on one of my personal favourites; the 2017 Mil-Spec (here on live pics).
On the dial of the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms “Nageurs de Combat”, there is a subtle detail that reveals its origin; a big 7 under the name of the watch that can only be seen when the light hits it at the right angle. It refers to the maximum depth (7 metres) divers can withstand breathing pure oxygen. Oxygen might be a vital component of life, but it is also a powerful oxidant that becomes extremely toxic after the 7-metre mark. That is the reason why divers use a mixture of different gasses.
The indexes and hands, unique to this Fifty Fathoms “Nageurs de Combat” (and greatly participating to the military design of this watch), are treated with Super-LumiNova, as are the markings on the bezel. This ensures flawless legibility underwater or when we wake up in the middle of the night – yes, this watch will most likely be used as a desk-diver more than a true diving instrument.
Powering the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms “Nageurs de Combat” is calibre 1315, a far cry from the original. It is, in fact, a state-of-the-art movement oscillating at 4Hz and equipped with no fewer than 3 barrels coupled in series, to keep the watch ticking during 120 hours (5 days). The hairspring inside is made of non-magnetic, shock-resistant silicon and it also features a free-sprung balance wheel.
The calibre, however, cannot be seen as it is covered by a plain steel case back with a stamped relief that depicts the official French Combat Diver Qualification Badge with two winged seahorses over an anchor, along with the special edition number, x/300.
ON THE WRIST
I said before that the watch feels smaller; closer to 42mm than 45mm. I can’t recall a diver from Blancpain that does not fit well on a wrist (except the behemoth X Fathoms that you can see here), and the present “Nageurs de Combat” is no exception. It also has quite a sober presence, which extends the wearability of the watch – except for the Blancpain engraving on the case-band.
Price and availability
If you are interested in this Blancpain Fifty Fathoms “Nageurs de Combat” (reference 5015E-1130-B52A), I suggest you approach your boutique fast because it is not going to be around for long – the watch is limited to 300 pieces. Its price is EUR 14,710.
More information at Blancpain.com.
This post first appeared on Monochrome Watches - An online magazine dedicated to fine watches.