Blancpain Fifty Fathoms BarakudaBy Ken Kessler
Lucky ol’ Blancpain: those who were fortunate enough to see the exhibition a few years ago in Paris will know that there are enough variants of the Fifty Fathoms to keep the maison in limited editions for, oh, a hundred years. This one, the Barakuda, is among the coolest, thanks to a little touch that differentiates it from a regular Fifty Fathoms and which is slightly reminiscent of sister brand Omega’s so-called “racing dials”, as found on the Speedmaster Professional “Tintin”.
It’s amazing what a tiny dash of color can add to a timepiece that, even in its most common form, is one of the most handsome diving watches ever produced. This has been so for 66 years, while this year’s addition to the Fifty Fathoms Collection, Ref, 5008B-1130-B52A, harks back to the tail-end of the 1960s. As is the company’s wont, they’ve balanced the character of the original with updated technical elements, mainly the movements; to put it mildly, first-generation Fifty Fathoms used rather ordinary calibers, while this has a twin-barrel automatic.
Its tale is oft-told, but to recap, the Fifty Fathoms was born in 1953, and it vies with a certain rival from Geneva for the title of “world’s first SCUBA-ready diving watch.” Not a debate I care to enter, suffice it to say, this watch has peerless provenance. Designed by and for French military divers, it helped define the diving watch template of superlative legibility, rotating bezel to show elapsed or remaining time and security against moisture ingress to better-than-diving depths.
When the German Bundesmarine adopted the FF for its frogmen in the 1960s, the elected supplier was a company named Barakuda, which specialised in the production and marketing of technical diving equipment. Barakuda also served civilian clientele, the public being presented with a model that would distinguish it from the plain vanilla model used by the Bundesmarine.
For this, Barakuda introduced a model with distinctive two-tone rectangular hour-markers, white-painted fluorescent hands and a date display at 3 o’clock. As found on the reissue, some Barakudas were fitted with a style of strap popular at the time, a heavy, durable black rubber design with a textured “tropical” pattern and, with hindsight, a funky, period feel. The good news is that it’s also quite comfortable.
To give this faithful reissue a whiff of the past, the Barakuda approximates its age with the large red-and-white hour-markers coated with “old radium” type Super-LumiNova that suggests a period patina. Also in keeping with the original, the luminescent pencil-shaped hands are white-lacquered, and the date is positioned correctly at 3 o’clock instead of 4.30, as on the standard edition.
As is now the practice to torment those who hesitate, the Barakuda is limited to 500 pieces. Considering that it’s arguably the best-looking Fifty Fathoms since the line was reincarnated, expect it to sell out before it even reaches the shops.
Calibre 1151 automatic with twin barrels, date, 100-hour power reserve
40.3mm stainless steel, water-resistant to 300m, sapphire back
Black textured tropical rubber strap