If there is one single year that defines the trajectory of the dive watch genre, that year is 1953. Not only did we see the birth of the Rolex ref. 6204 (the first iteration of the all-conquering Submariner line), this was also the year that gave us the legendary Blancpain Fifty Fathoms, which arguably set the template for modern dive watch design. With that in mind, the Fifty Fathoms line’s 70th anniversary in 2023 is an undeniably important milestone for dive watches in general, and rather than looking backward, Blancpain aims to commemorate the occasion by creating a new future for the long-running series. Developed in conjunction with marine research group Gombessa Expeditions, the new Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Tech Gombessa offers a futuristic, saturation diving-focused look for the series as the first iteration of the new Fifty Fathoms Tech sub-line. With an aggressive style that blends signature Fifty Fathoms cues with dynamic integrated-lug styling, rugged construction, and an all-new patented complication developed specifically for the needs of long-term saturation divers, the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Tech Gombessa is a fittingly dramatic celebration of one of the ur-dive watches that shines a beacon on the line’s technical future.

There’s no getting around the fact that the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Tech Gombessa is a large watch. With an overall thickness of 14.81mm and an imposing 47mm-wide diameter, this case undeniably carries a serious wrist presence, but it’s not as overwhelming as those figures might suggest. In practice, this design wears closer to a 43 or 44mm-wide watch than a 47mm behemoth, and this deceptive wearability comes down to a handful of factors. First among these is the case material. Blancpain uses ultra-pure Grade 23 titanium for this model, which leads to a surprisingly lightweight wearing experience. In addition, the darker hue of this fully brushed alloy helps to visually compact the design on the wrist, while also lending the design a more aggressive, purposeful look. Of course, the largest factor in the Fifty Fathoms Tech Gombessa’s wearing experience is the case form itself. This is a far cry from the traditional, softly rounded diver layout of the standard Fifty Fathoms, with a unique central integrated lug design and an abrupt case side undercut. In real terms, this makes the effective lug-to-lug distance of the design a perfectly circular 47mm, allowing the watch to wrap around the wrist effectively while minimizing the actual footprint of the watch on the wrist. This mix of circular forms and sharp, modernist angles extends to the reworked crown guards, which offer a new pointed profile designed to echo the shape of the integrated lugs in reverse. At 10 o’clock, Blancpain adds a manual helium escape valve to the Fifty Fathoms Tech Gombessa, in the first of many saturation diving-focused reworks to the Fifty Fathoms formula.

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There are still plenty of recognizable Blancpain hallmarks throughout the Fifty Fathoms Tech Gombessa’s case, however. At 8 o’clock, the bold and often divisive “Blancpain” case side engraving makes its return, and while this sharply engraved accent may not be to everyone’s taste, it does fit the character of this design better than the softer, more traditional base Fifty Fathoms line. The Fifty Fathoms line’s trademark domed bezel insert also makes an appearance here but in a significantly altered form. Sitting atop a handsomely crenelated, 180-click unidirectional bezel, this insert keeps traditional Blancpain elements like the diamond-shaped 12 o’clock marker and the off-white scale intact but revamps the design to fit the needs of modern saturation divers. First among these changes is the shape of the bezel – in order to further protect against impacts, the bezel now slopes inward towards the sapphire crystal. Blancpain also eschews the standard sapphire Fifty Fathoms bezel insert material in favor of glossy polished black ceramic. The last alteration is the largest, however, and points towards the Fifty Fathoms Tech Gombessa’s unique new complication. Rather than a classic one-hour scale, this bezel insert is calibrated to track three-hour intervals, allowing it to track the long-interval dives made by modern saturation divers. While at first glance this might seem like a severe loss of utility for normal day-to-day functions, the bezel’s demarcations allow it to be used for tracking intervals as small as two and a half minutes when used in conjunction with the minutes hand. It may not be quite as precise as a standard diver scale for smaller time periods, but it made for an effective ersatz tea-steeping timer during our testing period. Around back, Blancpain fits the watch with a sapphire display caseback, and rates the watch for a robust (if unspectacular) 300 meters of water resistance.

Like the case, the dial of the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Tech Gombessa reimagines traditional Fifty Fathoms series cues in a modern, purpose-driven new light. Blancpain refers to the matte dial finish as “absolute black,” which absorbs 97 percent of incoming light to maximize contrast and legibility. With this ultra-dark backdrop in place, the brand keeps the rest of the dial design remarkably simple and focused, but with nuanced touches that underscore the overall sense of quality. Although Arabic numerals at 12 o’clock, 3 o’clock, 6 o’clock, and 9 o’clock are nothing new for the Fifty Fathoms series at large, these numerals are rendered here in a bold, modernist typeface that offers excellent at-a-glance legibility. Rather than being applied or printed, these numerals (along with the simple rectangular indices for the other hour markers) are built of solid raised blocks of luminous material in blazing signal orange, adding an aggressive touch of color alongside a dramatic sense of verticality when viewed from an angle. The clean straight sword handset continues this vibrant orange colorway, leaving only the dive-relevant hands with bezel-matching off-white lume. This brings us to the elephant in the room when discussing the Fifty Fathoms Tech Gombessa’s dial – that additional, shovel-tipped central hand. While enthusiasts may assume this is a GMT hand at first glance, this is actually a saturation diving-focused complication, making a full circuit of the dial in three hours. Interestingly, this hand cannot be adjusted independently of the main timekeeping hands, but this new deep-water diving complication has been developed after extensive testing and input from Gombessa Expeditions to meet the needs of modern saturation diving excursions.

Inside the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Tech Gombessa beats the new in-house 13P8 automatic movement. Beyond the novel (and as yet unnamed) complication, the 13P8 is an excellent performer, with a hefty 120-hour power reserve at a 28,800 bph beat rate. It’s also worth noting that despite the Fifty Fathoms Tech Gombessa’s muscular proportions, the movement itself measures in at 30.6mm-wide and 5.65mm-thick, which should allow it to trickle down into at least somewhat smaller cases in the future. In true Blancpain fashion, the 13P8’s finishing is dynamic and striking, with tight arabesque waves extending across the bridges and 1/2 plate, accented by brightly polished anglage. A black-coated 18K gold skeleton rotor tops the display here, sporting matching Arabesque waves and the distinctive Gombessa Expeditions coelacanth logo.

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Any integrated case design depends heavily on the strength of its strap or bracelet, and the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Tech Gombessa is no exception. The dramatically flared, raised edges of the black rubber strap here create an implied lug structure at their intersection with the case sides, thanks, especially to the seamless beveled character line that extends from the case side midway down the length of the strap. Like the rest of the design, this strap is designed for deep-water functionality first and foremost, and the internal titanium reinforcement structure should help it to retain its smooth original curvature more or less indefinitely. Despite this metal internal structure, however, the strap is supple and exceedingly comfortable on the wrist, offering a secure and lightweight fit.

Although it has been 70 years since the initial introduction of the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms, the brand is keen to ensure the watch remains a pioneer in the dive watch field, and the new Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Tech Gombessa forges an aggressive new path for the classic series in both styling and engineering. As the first of the newly created Fifty Fathoms Tech stable, this should also prove to be an intriguing canvas for experimentation for the brand in the coming years. The Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Tech Gombessa is available now through authorized dealers. MSRP for the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Tech Gombessa stands at $28,000 USD as of press time. For more details, please visit the brand’s website.

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