December 28, 2016
by Ariel Adams
My absolute favorite watches are pretty-looking sport models. There is a significant volume of these watches around, but really attractive ones are hard to find. Probably the biggest challenge in making a beautiful-looking sports watch is to first make sure it is a great utility watch, and only then ensuring it is visually attractive. Doing both is no simple task, but success can yield the reward of a watch being a true classic. That’s probably a good way of introducing this hands-on look at the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe Flyback Chronograph Ocean Commitment II timepieces that just look so darn good.
I am not shy about sharing my feeling that Blancpain produces some of the most beautiful high-end diving watches available these days with their Fifty Fathoms family. The collection is populated with a few distinct models which generally fall into the “classic” Blancpain Fifty Fathoms 5015 watch family (review here), and the Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe. The latter subfamily has two lines right now which are the three-hand Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe, and the Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe Chronograph Flyback, which this limited-edition watch is a version of.
I first went hands-on with the Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe Chronograph Flyback here back in 2014 when it was released. The first limited edition model was the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe Flyback Chronograph Ocean Commitment, and earlier in 2016 Blancpain introduced a followup limited edition with this Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe Flyback Chronograph Ocean Commitment II (debuted on aBlogtoWatch here). In a sense, it is probably a bit irritating to people who purchased the first limited-edition Ocean Commitment model that there is now a second one. On the other hand, this followup is just as beautiful as the first, but also distinct in its appeal. So, if anything, the fact that there is a sequel to the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe Flyback Chronograph Ocean Commitment is a sign of the collection’s popularity.
There are a lot of hidden elements inside of the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe Flyback Chronograph which make it a truly compelling timepiece, but it does take some time to learn about them all. This is important to do in order to understand the value proposition because these watches are anything but cheap in price. With that said, you do get a fair amount for your money if you are interested in tool watch looks with a modern movement and excellent fit and finishing.
I also want to say right now that I prefer the chronograph version of the Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe over the three-hand model. Of course, not everyone agrees with me, but that is my personal preference as I find the three-hand model’s dial a bit visually bare. On the other hand, I certainly prefer the three-hand model of the original Fifty Fathoms models over their chronograph models.
A good reason for this aside from aesthetics is the movement inside of the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe Flyback Chronograph which is the in-house-made Blancpain caliber F385 automatic chronograph. You can view the movement through the rear of the case, and it isn’t difficult to tell that it is lovely in both design and decoration. Modern lines and shapes decorate this modern mechanical movement which also happens to boast a 5Hz (36,000bph) operating frequency. That is the same as the celebrated Zenith El Primero, and 1Hz faster than most standard 4Hz chronograph watches.
Given the faster operating speed of the movement you get two areas of benefits. First is a bit less useful to most people, and that is the ability to be a bit more precise when using the chronograph. Second is the fact that a higher operating frequency of the balance wheel means that rate result errors are averaged out more. That translates into more accuracy over time – a good thing. It is true that 5Hz movements of any kind are rare, and in dedicated dive watches this is pretty much the only one that I can think of.
The caliber F385 has a power reserve of 50 hours, and the chronograph has a flyback complication as well. It is produced from 322 parts, and apparently is specially secured to the case of the Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe Flyback Chronograph for shock protection purposes. Last, the movement features a silicon hair spring, which adds the benefits of more durability and accuracy over time.
That all sounds great but, unfortunately, I couldn’t have the pleasure of testing the watch out first-hand as the model I got to play with was a “blocked” (the movement is stopped from working in order to maintain the position of the hands) prototype. Thus, I still yearn to wear a functioning one of these and fully experience the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe Flyback Chronograph Ocean Commitment II out and about.
The first Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe Flyback Chronograph Ocean Commitment watch has a gray ceramic case with a blue bezel and dial. The Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe Flyback Chronograph Ocean Commitment II sort of reverses that color palette with a blue ceramic case and bezel, and then a metallic gray dial. Both the first and second Ocean Commitment models are pretty awesome, but ceramic watch lovers will clearly flock to this sequel limited edition model.
This is the first blue ceramic watch case I’ve worn (from a luxury brand), and it looks fantastic – especially next to the glossy gray tones. In some lights, the blue ceramic just looks like a black that has something going on with it, but in full light the rich blue tone of the case material comes out. Blancpain couldn’t really go any lighter with the blue as it would have made the color too unstable when it comes to production purposes.
Blancpain and Omega (both part of the Swatch Group and who share technologies) have some of the best ceramic cases around. The Omega Speedmaster Dark Side Of The Moon (review here) and the ceramic versions of the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe Flyback Chronograph have something in common. That is having some of the very best-looking ceramic cases on the market. What makes them so good is the sharpness of the angles on the case, as well as the quality of the contrast polishing. The Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe Flyback Chronograph case is among the finest available in a modern high-end dive watch, and that goes for the ceramic version as well. Angles are just wonderfully sharp, and detailing throughout is fantastic. It is hard to experience quality like this and go back to lesser watches.
Despite being a chronograph and having a ceramic case, the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe Flyback Chronograph Ocean Commitment II is still water resistant to 300 meters. The case feels perfectly sized at 43.60mm wide. It is also 15.25mm thick and has a lightly domed AR-coated sapphire crystal.
Around the dial is a smoothly operating 120-click, uni-directional rotating diver-style bezel. The outer bezel is titanium, with Liquidmetal (another technology shared with Omega) and blue ceramic as the rest of the bezel. The crown and pushers are also in blue ceramic – rendered equally nicely.
Given that this is a sport watch, the most important element other than durability is legibility. Here, the Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe certainly does not disappoint, with large blocky hands totally covered in luminant, and easy-to-read, highly contrasting hour markers. I also like that the subdials on the face are visually minimized. In fact, the most prominent elements on the dial are the various hands as well as the major markers. This allows the eyes to focus on the most important elements, while other things (like the chronograph subdials) are easy to read, but also not “in your face” when you don’t want to look at them.
Perhaps the only controversial element of the dial is the date window. It does help sales of watches to have a date complication. It is also good that Blancpain didn’t design the dial with the date window cutting off anything else. However, the date window is tilted so it is a bit odd to read with its position between 4 and 5 o’clock. Also, the date disc itself is black, which is a bit darker than the “meteor grey” dial color of the watch itself. It’s really not a big deal, but it will be the one thing people might complain about in the otherwise beautiful dial design. There are other splendid details that you’ll notice in the dial by just looking at it. Start by examining the clever design of the subdials, as well as the mostly polished metal-framed hour markers.
The brand offers two versions of the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe Flyback Chronograph Ocean Commitment II on either a gray textile/canvas strap, or this high-end NATO-style strap with gray titanium hardware. It’s a darn nice NATO-style strap, but it does come in a 23mm wide size, and it also feels a bit odd on such a high-end watch (even if it looks cool).
The best way to think about the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe Flyback Chronograph is as an extremely well-detailed tool watch. It looks nice, performs well, and has a very handsome classic look to it. Most important, of course, is that it is comfortable to wear and easy to read. Those elements together actually put it in a league with not that many other watches, and help solidify Blancpain as one of the premier producers of high-end “luxury” sport watches. The reference 5200-0310-G52 A (canvas strap) or reference 5200-0310-NAG A (NATO-style strap) Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe Flyback Chronograph Ocean Commitment II watch is priced at $20,100. blancpain.com