While I typically don’t purchase the watches that most people would consider to be hype models, I also thoroughly enjoy some budget-friendly horological fun, and I recently decided to buy one of the Blancpain x Swatch Scuba Fifty Fathoms watches. Like a trendy beverage at some Instagram-famous cafe or bar, my expectations were highly realistic going into this particular purchase, although a brightly colored plastic (sorry, “Bioceramic”) version of the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms is simply too strange to ignore, so I finally pulled the trigger and picked up the Arctic version, which is the vintage-themed model that offers an orange and beige colorway, inspired by the Dendronotus Frondosus nudibranch (sea slug) that inhabits the cold waters of the Arctic Ocean.
Back when the Omega x Swatch MoonSwatch was launched in March 2022, I immediately wanted to get my hands on one; however, since I was committed to waiting until I found the model I wanted at retail, I continuously struck out at Swatch stores around the world, until I finally found one available in Geneva this year while visiting Switzerland for Watches and Wonders 2023. With that in mind, while the MoonSwatch was based upon one of the most famous wristwatches of all time and became somewhat of a cultural phenomenon, the Blancpain x Swatch Scuba Fifty Fathoms is a significantly more niche offering, and I was easily able to find my favorite model at the Times Square boutique in New York City while I was in town to check out the Planet Omega exhibition. While I had my heart set on the orange Arctic Ocean version, it should be noted that both the blue “Atlantic” and white “Antarctic” models were completely sold out when I visited this particular location.
While I won’t bother getting into a full overview of the collection (as that can be found in our initial coverage of the launch), here is a quick breakdown of the Blancpain x Swatch Scuba Fifty Fathoms lineup. The series spans a total of five models, with each one dedicated to one of the world’s oceans, and the colorways of each watch are inspired by a different type of nudibranch (better known as a sea slug) that can be found within that ocean’s waters. Additionally, while three of the models are based upon the modern Blancpain Fifty Fathoms diver, the other two get their inspiration from vintage references, and they forego the 4:30 date windows in favor of time-only displays and additional markings on the lower half of their dials that have been carried over from historic vintage watches. As for the specific models themselves, the three modern versions are the “Atlantic Ocean” (blue), “Pacific Ocean” (yellow), and “Indian Ocean” (green), while the two vintage-themed watches are the “Antarctic Ocean” (white) and the “Arctic Ocean” (orange), which is my personal favorite and the version that is featured here.
So what do you actually get with the Blancpain x Swatch Scuba Fifty Fathoms? The case measures 42.3mm in diameter by 14.4mm thick, with 22mm lugs and an overall lug-to-lug profile of 48mm. The case itself is made from Bioceramic, which is a composite material of two-thirds ceramic and one-third polymer that is partially derived from caster oil. Realistically speaking, Bioceramic is (more-or-less) a fancy type of plastic, and while it may be structurally superior to traditional polymer case materials, the overall feel of the Blancpain x Swatch Scuba Fifty Fathoms is very much in line with what you would expect from a budget-friendly plastic timepiece. While the signed Bioceramic crown doesn’t screw down or lock in any type of capacity, these diver-style models still offer 91 meters of water resistance, which conveniently converts to 50 fathoms (or 300 feet).
Moving onwards to the front of the Blancpain x Swatch Scuba Fifty Fathoms watches, the gently domed crystal is made from bio-sourced plastic, although it has been given an additional anti-scratch coating that should make it a bit more resilient compared to what you will find on most other Swatch watches (including the MoonSwatch). Additionally, while the bezel ring is made from Bioceramic and fitted with a plastic 60-minute insert, the bezel rotates with a proper 120-click unidirectional motion, and the markings on the insert are all completely luminous. Furthermore, despite its lightweight Bioceramic/plastic components, the actual tactile feel of the bezel is quite a bit better than what I had expected, and the entire bezel stands out as one of the highlights of the Blancpain x Swatch Scuba Fifty Fathoms series.
While the crystal above the dial is crafted from bio-sourced plastic, the crystal fitted to the display-style caseback is actually a flat piece of sapphire, and this is arguably the single greatest surprise on the Blancpain x Swatch Scuba Fifty Fathoms series. Swatch offers free crystal polishing at its various retail locations, and opting for a sapphire caseback guarantees that its staff will not have to deal with the scratches and scuffs that would otherwise instantly accumulate had there been an acrylic crystal rubbing against the material of their straps. However, short of popping out the caseback crystal, there is no way to open up the case of the watch, and the Bioceramic rim of the caseback is actually part of the middle case itself. While some people point to this case design as the reason why the Blancpain x Swatch Scuba Fifty Fathoms is considered to be unserviceable, that shortcoming is actually guaranteed by the design and construction of its internal movement.
Powering the Blancpain x Swatch Scuba Fifty Fathoms is the brand’s SISTEM51 automatic movement, which runs at a frequency of 21,600vph (3 Hz) with a rather impressive power reserve of approximately 90 hours. Entirely assembled by machines with a number of plastic components, the 19-jewel Swatch SISTEM51 movement is hardly an heirloom-quality caliber, and a quick look at its structure will reveal that its plates and bridges are held together by rivets (rather than screws), which means that the movement cannot be disassembled in order to perform any necessary repairs or service. While it essentially is disposable, the SISTEM51 fitted to the Blancpain x Swatch Scuba Fifty Fathoms models is decorated in an objectively rather amusing manner, with the plates and bridges painted to depict each watch’s respective ocean, while the clear plastic rotor that spins above it is adorned with an image of the specific nudibranch that serves as the inspiration for the colorway of each model.
The dials fitted to the various Blancpain x Swatch Scuba Fifty Fathoms watches are all different, and while the three modern versions feature a design and layout that is heavily based on the current Blancpain Fifty Fathoms, the two vintage-inspired models are fitted with dials that resemble those found on historic Fifty Fathoms references from the 1950s and 1960s. As for the dial fitted to the Arctic Ocean version, the lower half the the display features a prominent “No Radiations” symbol, which originally appeared on vintage Fifty Fathoms watches as a way to signify that their dials and hands did not feature the same highly radioactive radium-based luminous material as their predecessors. Regardless of color or style, all of the dials feature a gradient effect that darkens towards their outer edges, along with hands and hour markers that are filled with Grade A Super-LumiNova. The lume itself glows decently bright for a watch at this price point, and between the luminous hands, indexes, and bezel markings, the Blancpain x Swatch Scuba Fifty Fathoms actually offers a fairly decent low-light display.
Rather than having traditional spring bars at the lugs, the Blancpain x Swatch Scuba Fifty Fathoms watches have fixed metal bars that occupy the 22mm gap between the lug holes. Although you can remove this bar by using a small hex-style tool, it’s clear that these models were intended to be used with single-piece straps, and all five of the different watches are paired with a NATO-style strap that matches the colors of their cases and dials. Produced using recycled fishing nets that have been reclaimed from the ocean, the straps all feature a striped pattern and are fitted with hardware made from Bioceramic that appears in the same colors as their respective cases. The pass-through design of the strap makes the already thick case of the watch sit even higher upon the wrist, although one nice detail is that the Bioceramic hardware is signed, and the chunky buckle features the classic Fifty Fathoms cursive script logo.
Although the Blancpain x Swatch Scuba Fifty Fathoms is objectively fun to have on the wrist, it hardly feels like a premium timepiece, and this same amount of money can get you countless other watches that all deliver an exponentially more elevated ownership experience. With an official retail price of $400 USD, the Blancpain x Swatch Scuba Fifty Fathoms sits right near the very top of the current Swatch lineup, and it is more than twice the cost of the standard SISTEM51 models. While I can get behind the MoonSwatch as a fun and affordable way to enjoy a horological icon, the additional premium for the Blancpain x Swatch Scuba Fifty Fathoms pushes it into a realm where you start looking for more than just a fun design, and even staying within the Swatch Group brands, something like the Tissot PRX or Hamilton Khaki absolutely blows this timepiece out of the water. And yet, even though I knew pretty much all of this long before ever making my purchase, I still wanted the Blancpain x Swatch Scuba Fifty Fathoms, and that is the true power of a good concept, a well-conceived design, and (inevitably) some amount of internet-driven hype. For more information on the Blancpain x Swatch Scuba Fifty Fathoms collection, please visit the brand’s website.