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Blancpain Tribute To Fifty Fathoms Mil-Spec Watch Hands-On

Blancpain Tribute To Fifty Fathoms Mil-Spec Watch Hands-On Hands-On

Even as purveyors of arguably one of the world’s first truly purpose-built dive watches, there’s no denying it’s been a long time since Blancpain has even been remotely close to the tool watch realm it once pioneered. That being said, it’s still neat to see the brand revisit those days with a marked degree of panache in the recently announced Tribute to Fifty Fathoms Mil-Spec – a watch that might cost $14,000, but it’s still every bit the capable tool once relied upon by combat divers in the late fifties.

Blancpain Tribute To Fifty Fathoms Mil-Spec Watch Hands-On Hands-On

Blancpain Tribute To Fifty Fathoms Mil-Spec Watch Hands-On Hands-On

Price notwithstanding, there’s a lot to love about this new limited-edition entry to the Fifty Fathoms line – which is likely why the watch is enjoying dive watch lover “sleeper hit” status post-Baselworld. Largely released without major fanfare, part of the Blancpain Tribute to Fifty Fathoms Mil-Spec watch’s appeal are its conservative dimensions and faithful adherence to the design codes of the original Mil-Spec. But a key dimension of its appeal is likely Blancpain’s inclusion of a critical feature of the original: a working replica of the “watertightness” moisture indicator at 6:00.

Blancpain Tribute To Fifty Fathoms Mil-Spec Watch Hands-On Hands-On

Blancpain Tribute To Fifty Fathoms Mil-Spec Watch Hands-On Hands-On

Blancpain Tribute To Fifty Fathoms Mil-Spec Watch Hands-On Hands-On

Back in the early days “when sex was safe and diving was dangerous,” dive watches weren’t the rugged, reliable tools we’re familiar with today. Though paramount to a diver’s safety, the earliest examples were still susceptible to damage by shock, plagued by poor visibility in low light, and built with cases ill-equipped to handle great ocean depths. Unsatisfied with issued watches that couldn’t (quite literally) perform under pressure, French combat swimmer corps commanders Captain Robert Maloubier and Lieutenant Claude Riffaud sought out the grandfather of the Fifty Fathoms, Jean-Jacques Fiechter, who was already hard at work on a design that would address these very symptoms.

Blancpain Tribute To Fifty Fathoms Mil-Spec Watch Hands-On Hands-On

Blancpain Tribute To Fifty Fathoms Mil-Spec Watch Hands-On Hands-On

But the watch that became standard-issue to the UDT teams commanded by Maloubier and Riffaud wasn’t Fiechter’s original Fifty Fathoms design, but one that contained an added safeguard: a quirky watertightness indicator that would alert the wearer if their watch was compromised. Now, it’s worth clarifying that such an indicator is a little bit like a smoke detector – it only points out the obvious, and does little to prevent the fire. But back in 1957 when the design was pioneered and soon adopted on all dive watches issued to combat swimmers, a diver only needed to know if his watch could be trusted or not.

Blancpain Tribute To Fifty Fathoms Mil-Spec Watch Hands-On Hands-On

Blancpain Tribute To Fifty Fathoms Mil-Spec Watch Hands-On Hands-On

If the watch was compromised (as many watches were prone to back then), he needed to rely on alternate means for timekeeping, or abort the dive to avoid decompression sickness (or worse). It’s also probably worth pointing out that such a safeguard is admittedly somewhat silly on an ultra-modern dive watch that’s already water-resistant to a crushing 300 meters (and costs $14k), but the charm of the Blancpain Tribute to Fifty Fathoms Mil-Spec isn’t its utility, but its admirable commitment to the source material.

Blancpain Tribute To Fifty Fathoms Mil-Spec Watch Hands-On Hands-On

Blancpain Tribute To Fifty Fathoms Mil-Spec Watch Hands-On Hands-On

Speaking of source material, though the case size on the Blancpain Tribute to Fifty Fathoms Mil-Spec has been increased from 37mm to 40mm, it’s still a merciful reduction from the last time we saw a Tribute to Fifty Fathoms, which managed to actually wear bigger than its sacrilegious 45mm case width. This 40mm case is really the sweet spot for Blancpain divers like the Mil-Spec, which finally strikes that fine balance between carrying the highly polished visual weight of being a modern “luxury diver” while still staying true to Fiechter’s original vision. If this is a harbinger of what’s to come for the next generation of Blancpain’s Fifty Fathoms collection, consider us fans.

Blancpain Tribute To Fifty Fathoms Mil-Spec Watch Hands-On Hands-On

Blancpain Tribute To Fifty Fathoms Mil-Spec Watch Hands-On Hands-On

But back to the moisture indicator for a moment – an indicator one would pray one never sees change color, especially on a watch at this price range. On the original, the idea was that in the event of a moisture ingress, the contrasting white region of the half-circle on the dial would change to a dark pink color. And the less contrast you see between the two, the greater your service bill is going to be. Blancpain wasn’t entirely clear about what materials actually comprise the indicator, but it’s raised and subtly textured like the surrounding luminous plots. Functionality-wise, it’s not unlike a water contact indicating tape you might find from manufacturers like 3M.

Blancpain Tribute To Fifty Fathoms Mil-Spec Watch Hands-On Hands-On

Blancpain Tribute To Fifty Fathoms Mil-Spec Watch Hands-On Hands-On

Since the moisture indicator has no connection with the inner workings of the watch (unlike Sinn’s Ar-capsule technology which functions as an active dehumidifier for the movement), Blancpain’s Caliber 1150 is allowed to perform as-is. Given the smaller profile of the case, Blancpain was wise to select a slimmer movement, rather than use the 1315 found on other Fifty Fathoms editions like the Bathyscaphe. Thus, the power reserve drops from 120 hours to 96 – which is still a generous number, thanks to its twin-barrel design. The watch is finished with an exhibition caseback, granting a view of the platinum alloy-coated gold rotor – an extravagant detail for a watch with such humble beginnings, but a nice one to look at, nonetheless.

Blancpain Tribute To Fifty Fathoms Mil-Spec Watch Hands-On Hands-On

Blancpain Tribute To Fifty Fathoms Mil-Spec Watch Hands-On Hands-On

Blancpain Tribute To Fifty Fathoms Mil-Spec Watch Hands-On Hands-On

The Blancpain Tribute to Fifty Fathoms Mil-Spec is available on one of three options: Blancpain’s now-familiar rubber-backed sailcloth, a stainless steel bracelet, or a black NATO strap – the latter of which seems to best disguise the price point and match the watch’s UDT trappings most efficiently between the three. The price on the bracelet is $14,100.



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  • IG

    Looks good on NATO – real men’s choice!

    • cluedog12

      Such confidence, but are you sure?

      When I consider which strap type is manliest, I ask myself this, “When engaging in ‘dungeon simulations’, would you rather be lashed with a leather or nylon whip?”

      • JimBob

        I believe the NATO straps appeal more to the D&D crowd than the B&D crowd.

    • Who are these “real men” that wear NATO’s?

      For example I am assuming most military and S&R currently wear G-shocks. “Real men” in the past probably wore leather straps or carried pocket watches on chains.

      Apart from the WIS demographic (too few to count) I think that most “NATO” wearers are hipsters with their “Daniel Wellingtons”.

  • Steve Loader

    Not a fan of the indicator myself, but everything else is a welcome return to the sensible 40mm Fifty Fathoms. Now if I could just swap my Millennium steel bezel for this sapphire bezel I’d have the perfect watch.

    • Agreed — I’m guessing the novelty would wear off soon

  • shortys home

    Thank you very much for this hands-on! I really like the 40mm size, I like the Nato, I love the dial, I hope they change the thickness of the hands, particularly the hour and seconds hands, in the final version. They just are too bold, not matching the fine execution of the watch otherwise.
    The backside photo also reveals a disturbance in clean design Blancpain is usually known for: the case extension to support the crown guards does not look pretty 🙁

    • IG

      This is a diver, the hands must be bold for legibility, and the bezel covers the crown guard so who cares how its backside looks… I wouldn’t for sure.

      • shortys home

        Right, since most diving watches these days are actually used for diving 😉
        Bold is fine, bold and refined is better. I actually care how a backside looks 😉
        It’s a great watch nonetheless…

        • IG

          Yeah, it’s an island in the ocean of Submariner knock-offs! …err, I mean “homages” 😀

  • A_watches

    I’m really not usually one that moans about date windows, but for this model, I think it would a lot better without it.

    Otherwise a very cool luxury toy..i mean tool watch

  • MEddie90

    Absolute stunner, I’ve always had a thing for the fifty fathoms so it’s nice to see a return to sane sizes and classic tool watch design. The lack of applied indeces and return of the moisture indicator helps with the tool watch look but I cant help but think a matt black dial would have worked better than the radial brushing used.

    The price is insane (as one expects) but given Blancpains now considered more of a haute horology brand than tool watch manufacturer I can see why they went for a more decorated movement and exhibition case back. I’ll stick to squale for the moment.

  • Ian john horwood

    If you was going to spend 14 thousand smackers on a dive piece , it would not be from a fountain pen manufacturer.

  • Now we need a no-date, no-orange-thingy version in the same 40mm case.

    • Mischa

      And no-14k.

      • Beefalope

        It’s called a Seiko Fifty-Five Fathoms. Available on eBay for about 400 bucks.

        You’re welcome.

        • A_watches

          haha, it will cost a bit of dignity also

          • Beefalope

            Yes, it will cost you all of your dignity. Clearly, wearing a $400 Seiko is beneath you. You’re obviously the kind of person who will wear a $14k watch as a beater while you’re Langes and Pateks are being polished.

            You, sir, are royalty.

            What are you even doing here with the unwashed masses?

          • A_watches

            easy problem are with homages and not seiko per se, would happily own skxs or the alpinist

          • Joel Schumann

            This already is a homage, though. Put aside all brand loyalty, and a modded Seiko is a more honest tool watch. Put on a quality strap instead of that cheap 9.95 dollar NATO and equally synthetic sailcloth. Then earmark a decent amount to a organization working with marine conservation and be happy about it.

          • A_watches

            well Blancpain own the right to do what they want with their model..

          • Beefalope

            We all probably have some sort of an homage watch in our collections. I’ve never understood people’s hostility toward homage watches.

  • WMWM

    The most appealing watch from Baselworld 2017 for me!


    It looks nice but not sure about the moisture thing might get on my nerve but the lume seems prettty weak to me and that the price mighty efty

  • $14,000 desk diver with a Pokemon logo on the dial. Looks like one of those hideous Seiko SKX mods on eBay.

  • SuperStrapper

    “…Blancpain wasn’t entirely clear about what materials actually comprise the indicator, but it’s raised and subtly textured like…”

    That’s because they don’t want you to know they just peeled the moisture detector out of a cell phone and stuck it on a watch dial.

    I’ve never been a big fan of this watch, and this iteration isn’t helping anything. There’s just something about an all-polished ‘sport’ watch that screams “I have no idea what I’m doing”. Not until I see the movement can I identify anything that brings this past about a $1k pricepoint in looks or execution. And then if you really super duper want to cheapen the look of your overpriced watch, get rid of the strap and put it on a seatbelt. Extra points on that because it covers your view of the movement, making sure no one will have the ability to tell your watch is not in fact from ali express.

    • cluedog12

      LOLed at the seatbelt comment. Have to agree with everything.

      One of the problems with most of the retro reissues is that the originals weren’t selling at these price points. Some people will love the strict recreation of the dial, but $14,100 should actually buy a lot more fancy. The regular Fifty Fathoms makes more sense as a luxury watch, but can see this version tugging at some heartstrings.

    • mtnsicl

      So, what if it is the same as a cell phone water detector? No need to reinvent the wheel here.

      • SuperStrapper

        I don’t remember complaining that it is? I’m simply pointing out the unnecessary subterfuge about what the material is. If it was developed by BP, they’d put up a billboard. But instead they just stay tight-lipped, suggesting that it’s nothing special and an off-the-shelf pre-existing solution that is known to be accurate and reliable. Sounds like a positive thing to talk about as far as I’m concerned.

        But you don’t want that type of messaging when you demand $14k for a $2k watch.

        • mtnsicl

          Jesus, you must just argue with yourself all day. I will bet you the watch sells out, even at 14k or whatever price an AD may drop it to.

          • SuperStrapper

            My apologies. I’ll try and remember to get my opinions pre-approved by you from now on. It wasn’t my intent to trigger you like that, I simply wasn’t aware that you were so easily triggered.

          • mtnsicl

            You’re the one who got their panties in a jam because they didn’t use a proprietary moisture indicator, and didn’t claim it was something more than it is. Perhaps they should have put a marketing spin on it, to make it look more than it really is?

          • SuperStrapper

            No, you just assumed that my panties were in a jam. All I did was make mention of it and you’ve gone out of your way to turn it into some kind of issue. So you may want to un-jam your own panties before commenting on the undergarment status of others.

          • JimBob

            Hayek should buy a boutique moisture-indicator sticker maker. The bespoke solutions for the various Swatch group brands will be well worth the investment, and a $1k MSRP bump.

    • henry

      You are excellent! I will purchase a 3M 5557 water contact indicator tape in shape of a frown and stick it on to a dial of my Seiko. Well, may be not the frown.

      • SuperStrapper

        Gets pinker the wetter it gets? There must be a few interesting designs to consider…

  • Beefalope

    I don’t see anything resembling a $14k watch.

    When is the last time that Blancpain was remotely relevant?

    • Sheez Gagoo

      In 1983, when they were sold to Biver and Piguet and in 1992, when they were sold again to the ancestor of Swatch Group.

      • Beefalope

        Been a rough stretch, hasn’t it?

        For a company that’s been around so long, you would think they’d have more than one iconic watch, and even that icon is hardly an icon because it’s take a seat so far back from the Submariner.

        • Sheez Gagoo

          Indeed. Sometimes SG is comparable to GM. It`s sometimes better for a company to die in dignity than beeing purchased by SG and living as a zombie brand. But their marketing campaign in the nineties was legendary.

        • Sheez Gagoo

          To be fair, they weren’t always in business. There are some huge gaps in their CV.

  • Alex Tan

    The 40mm size is great, but the price, slanted date and poke ball is a no go for me!

  • 14K is a bit stiff. But I like the watch. Need to find a bracelet example.

  • Djsherif

    Really? “sacrilegious 45mm”?

    40mm is way too small. When are you guys and watchmakers going to understand than wrists come in different sizes? You don’t sell a guy size 7 shoes when he should wear 13’s. Likewise the silliness of making 40mm dive watches and then putting a cyclops so people can read the all important date instead of just making a bigger watch.

    Many companies have figured out how to make bigger watches while still making them comfortable. It’s not a mystery.

    People need options and sizes. If you find 45mm too big for your wrists then buy a smaller model. The whole watch buying population shouldn’t have to suffer because of thinking like yours.

    • MEddie90

      I’m pretty sure the “sacrilegious” comment is meant to be a little tongue in cheek, referencing the number of watch lovers who prefer a smaller case.

      “40mm is way too small” really? The zodiac seawolf has always been sub 40mm and was worn by a range of professional divers and military personnel who i’m sure had varying wrist sizes. How do you think thick wristed people people survived in the 50’s?

      “Likewise the silliness of making 40mm dive watches and then putting a cyclops so people can read the all important date instead of just making a bigger watch” Making a larger date wheel is not an easy thing, it requires modifications to the existing movement that would likely increase cost, hence why most larger watches have the date towards the centre of the dial. Increasing the size of a watch, especially one with date windows or subdials is always going to mess with the proportions.

      • Djsherif

        I get your points however the one about the zodiac is exacting what I’m talking about. Who decides on these sizes? It’s ridiculous. Just because you don’t have a movement that can accommodate a larger case doesn’t mean it’s right. People will buy what is availae, so if only 40mm is available that’s what they will buy. Again, doesn’t mean it makes sense.

        There are so many modular movements now I see no reason why things like the date wheel couldn’t be made to be larger or with larger font to accommodate a larger dial.

    • SuperStrapper

      You’re having a violent agreement with this watch. It already does come in 45mm, and now it comes in 40mm…. So, a variety of sizes to suit all? And, to be clear, if this were a 45mm watch, or even a 60mm watch, the date window wouldn’t move. A date wheel radius is limited by the ligne of the movement (in theory, I’m sure someone could develop an i.e. 12 ligne movement with a 25 ligne date wheel, I just don’t can’t think of it being done: Ryan, where are you?) and BP is just not at the level where they develop specific calibers for specific watches: they have ubiquitous movements (albeit nice ones) that are used in a range of watches. So beefing up this case would give you a bigger dial opportunity, but the date wheel would be the same size and it’s placement would only appear to be stuck in a no-man’s land on the dial.

      And, as good a guy as Zach seems to be, I think you’re giving him just a bit too much credit: I don’t believe WhiteBread made this watch in 40mm because of the way he thinks.

      • Djsherif

        Your points are all valid and I appreciate the information about the date wheel, I never thought about it that way. The consistent size shaming fur lack of a better term still annoys me however regardless of whether it’s intentional or meant as a joke.

        Who are these people that decided that any watch over 40-42mm is garish and unsightly?

    • Tongue-in-cheek for sure, but more a reference to a wide deviation from the size of the original FF watches which were a more modest 41mm.

    • Pete L

      Well said and I wholeheartedly agree. Whilst there is a trend to return to smaller watches I am sure this will ebb and flow over time anyway. This is too small for me really and with my wrist size I have no problem with the 45mm. (would love one but cant afford it or justify the cost over a PO)

  • palettj

    Call me crazy, but is that white material at 6 o’clock is the same stuff they put in electronics to check for water damage?

  • Raymond Wilkie

    It’s awfully plain. nothing to excite me here.

  • Marius

    The Blancpain 50 Fathoms has always been my favourite dive watch. It combines an unmistakable and original design with a very capable movement, and a high level of fit & finish.

    Nevertheless, I never understood its price. In my opinion, asking over $14,000 for a relatively simple watch is ridiculous. Practically speaking, the 50 Fathoms is a steel watch, with a decent water resistance (300m WR is not exactly amazing these days), and with a simple movement. Granted, the F.Piguet 1150 caliber is quite reliable, and it’s also nicely-decorated, but still, it’s not a high-grade movement à la Lange or Patek.

    Furthermore, I don’t understand the market positioning of this watch. For instance, in Europe, a 50 Fathoms is around €2,000 cheaper than an AP Royal Oak (that’s before discounts). Now I’m sorry, but the 50 Fathoms doesn’t really stand a chance against the Royal Oak. Besides the fact that AP is a much more prestigious and well-known brand, the Royal Oak has a steel bracelet, is much more iconic and better looking, and has a better-decorated caliber. And, if you can negociate a discount (which you usually can with AP), these two watches would have a similar price, so I really don’t see why I would acquire the 50 Fathoms — and keep in mind that I’m a fan of this watch.

    • TrevorXM

      You are right about the pricing not making sense. However the Fifty Fathoms is a considerably more historically important and more positively recognised watch than a Royal Oak which has gained an ugly stain to it thanks to a lot of really unfortunate “celebrity” associations. Maybe it’s just me, but when I think “Fifty Fathoms” I think Jacques Cousteau. Romantic old time high adventure and military daring. When I think “Royal Oak” I think gangsta idiot rapper and bling.
      About the best that the Royal Oak can do in my mind prestige-wise is maybe Arnold Schwarzenegger.

      • Gokart Mozart

        To be fair AP only have themselves to blame for that especially with all the ridiculous RO Offshores.

        I always thought the RO looks better as a womans watch ( in proper womens watch sizes, not womens watch nowadays sizes) like the Rolex Oyster.

      • Gokart Mozart

        Actually, is the AP not more historically important watch than the Blancpain for this simple reason.

        The Royal Oak saved the Swiss watch industry and now destroying the same watch industry.

        Think about it.

        AP RO introduced the steel watch that was more expensive than a gold (PP and VC I think) watch creating the watch snobbery that we all “love” today and some of the ridiculous prices of today and save the Swiss from the Quartz crisis.

        Now the same over priced gold and steel watches are causing a decline in the watch industry because people cant afford them. And now because of the mobile phone and not the smart watch, most of the younger generation (under 35) do not need a mechanical watch.

      • Emperius

        Never understood the hexagonal-look to it, ugly imo. And I’m talking way before any celebrity infiltration.

    • Lee

      Having owned several ROs with AP 3120 and 2121 based calibers, I have to disagree with your statement that the RO in general has a better-decorated caliber compared to the Fifty Fathoms. If you compared AP 3120 to BP 1315, which is used in the regular 45mm and 43mm bathscaphe models, the beveling done on AP 3120 is diamond graved, shiny but not rounded, where as BP 1315 exhibits nicely rounded bevels. I would even venture to say that the BP 1315 has perhaps the best-finished bevels for watches in the sub 20K category. Now, if you are talking about AP 2121/based calibers, that’s a different story.

  • Mark1884

    I like Blancpain and the FF This is a classic. However, I would delete the moisture indicator. It just seems to be sitting there like a pimple on the dial. (I know this is a tribute) The strap would be my choice as opposed to a bracelet on this. The 40mm seems just right to me.
    I think the price is a little high on this one.

  • Lord Dunsany

    “…a safeguard is admittedly somewhat silly on an ultra-modern dive watch that’s already water-resistant to a crushing 300 meters…”

    I don’t think the word “silly” is appropriate when discussing the need for an indicator. There are a lot of reasons a watch might be compromised, not only depth. A glancing shot from a spear gun or a shark attack for instance.

  • Jonathan Smith

    Love the look but not the price — like most other watches I like!

  • Yanko

    There is absolutely nothing in this watch justifying 14K. Not even 4K.

  • Shinyitis

    Although the inner-nerd in me is telling me I should love this, the flatness of the dial makes me doubt if this offering is any better than the FF 45mm and the Bathyscaphe (which can be had for $10K now) – also contentious at their initial price points.

  • otaking241

    More of lazy “homage” than a true tribute. There are so many great details on the original that could have been incorporated to make this more special: long, slender lugs, low-profile crown without guards, wide, flat bezel with sawtooth knurling,the shape of the second hand etc.

    Take a page from Longines’ playbook and give us a real anniversary edition, not just this watered down variation on the current FF.

  • Lincolnshire Poacher

    I like these fifty fathoms watches. And there’s a lot to like in this one. Those sapphire bezels are really attractive and distinctive. The great big lugs, and the fairly simple dial.
    I’m not liking the fully polished case, its too dressy. I thought the point of the watch, was that it was an ultimate dive tool, with its moisture thingy.
    Although its already been said a lot. I’m going to say it too, $14,000 – WTF?

  • Garrett Hu

    For BP, there is the 50 Fathoms and then there is everything else, I guess you could even include the Bathyscaphe but it’s no secret that the Swiss watch industry isn’t exactly seeing growth and companies have been releasing new models at lower prices (right move because lowering prices on existing models would be detrimental to the brand). So when I saw this smaller model I was thinking ALS with their new Saxonia Thin 37 that is $10,000 cheaper than it’s 40mm brother that offers a much lower entry at $14,500 for a 18K gold piece while offering the same level of finishing thereby increasing value; a winning proposition.

    So when a 45mm Fifty Fathoms on bracelet goes for $17,200, I would have expected this one to be closer to $11,500 also on bracelet.

    Price aside, over time that indicator is bound to pick up moisture, the watch might be water tight but not airtight. So when this thing turns all pink, is it a $2000 dial replacement or can that little patch of material be replaced? Or perhaps it’s becomes a desired patina and left as is.

    Second, how is this Mil-Spec? I understand it was an issued timepiece but which Military Specification did it pass back in the day and how does this new one also qualify as Mil-Spec? Is it perhaps 810G certified? Guess I am looking too deeply into this but I get curious when I see MIL-Spec for MIL-STD designations.

    Anyways, it will most likely be sold out before I even get to see one so I guess at the end of the day the folks (me) who complain is too expensive, just really means it’s out of our price range.

  • benjameshodges

    Here’s hoping this beautiful limited edition trickles down into the main Blancpain catalogue going forward without the novelty humidity detector. Much prefer this style than the current 45mm version but still waiting on that all-brushed steel case.

  • Pete L

    Love the FF and particularly the sapphire bezels. This is too small for me. I love the 45mm and they are getting closer to within reach on the used market.

  • Garrett Hu

    I know it’s not fair to say this but, isn’t that about how much JCB bought the entire company Blancpain for?

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