February 3, 2014
by Ariel Adams
Years ago when I first got into timepieces I stumbled upon a previous generation Blancpain Fifty Fathoms watch and fell in love it with. It remained an idle love for quite a while and eventually Blancpain decided to release a brand new version of its base Fifty Fathoms Automatique which has remained the cornerstone of its sporty dive watch collection ever since. I now have the pleasure of offering a hands-on review of a deliciously designed Swiss diver with a great design, great character, and matching “great” price.
You aren’t the first person to notice that indeed this watch is water resistant to more than 50 fathoms. The Fifty Fathoms name is derived from the original version of this watch that dates back to the middle of the 20th century during the great dive watch race among major watch makers of that era. Brands such as Rolex and Blancpain pushed the limits of the then available technology to equip those engaged with the emerging world of SCUBA and other sport diving. It was in the 1950s that the modern dive watch was born – a timepiece designed for professional use, but also suitable (and available) for hobbyists. In fact, if you think about it, the dive watch is a unique creature because it is among the few items originally designed as a professional instrument that transcended into one’s normal life without undergoing any real changes. It would be like someone wearing a construction yard hardhat out on the town – and while it didn’t work with most things, it did with diving watches.
The newest generation Fifty Fathoms is no longer new, but it does represent a beautiful timeless design. Even when Blancpain updates this watch again, the “5015” generation Fifty Fathoms will still remain a beautiful item. It was released when large timepieces were still all the rage, and just before most dive watches began to use ceramic bezel inserts. Having said that, the rotating bezel insert is still very durable because it is made of sapphire crystal.
When the 5015 Fifty Fathoms was released it was very impressive to have an all-sapphire crystal bezel. What is more impressive is how it is shaped. Having a flat sapphire crystal bezel isn’t that big of a deal, but having one that is curved requires a much more sophisticated and time consuming machining process. Under the sapphire crystal is a vintage-styled timing bezel design that has become a symbol of how minimalistic design translates well into dive watches. I should also note for those who don’t know, sapphire crystal is very durable so it makes the bezel virtually scratch-proof. The bezel numerals are further produced in SuperLumiNova. So even though ceramic bezels are bit more modern, the bezel on this Fifty Fathoms is more expensive to produce, and very beautiful in its own right. I consider it among the nicest high-end dive watch bezels available.
Don’t ask why but unfortunately we weren’t able to get a lume-shot of the Fifty Fathoms in the dark. Worry not because the luminant is excellent. Applied to the hands (even the seconds hand), hour markers, and the bezel, the C3 (green) SuperLumiNova is generously applied and makes for among the brightest dials you’ll see after it has been charged by light. It is really the icing on a very nice dial cake. But seriously, even though the Fifty Fathoms dial may not be as widely recognizable as that of a Submariner, in my opinion it is every bit as classic because it combines good looks and effortless legibility.
50 fathoms is actually 100 meters (exactly 300 feet). This Fifty Fathoms was is water resistant to 300 meters, which is closer to 1000 feet. Clearly Blancpain has improved its cases over the last 60 or so years. Even though this is a timepiece with a high level of pedigree, it is still very much a professional dive watch in theme. The supremely clean dial even incorporates a date window between 4 and 5 o’clock that does not disrupt the hour markers and is put on a black disc. What really makes the dial feel good is the high-quality parts and finishing that Blancpain uses. I will go even further to suggest that this timepiece is a good example of how quality components can make something otherwise simple great. Let’s face it, the overall design of the Fifty Fathoms – while highly refined – is quite simple. What really makes it feel like a high-end item are the materials and components. And without those components and level of refinement most luxury products would lose that which makes them so desirable to the sophisticated consumer.