A closer look at Blancpain’s Fifty Fathoms 70th Anniversary Act 3
The 70th anniversary of what was arguably the first modern dive watch to hit the market has been anything but muted.
Anniversary specials are all the rage. With the heyday of watch design now several decades past, almost all of the major models that would go on to define the modern industry and shape our collecting habits have hit the half-century or more. The Blancpain Fifty Fathoms, the jewel in the crown of one of the Swatch Group’s most prestigious brands is even older, turning 70 years old this year.
While there have been many iterations of the Fifty Fathoms over the years of its existence, one of the all-time favorites is the original ‘Mil-Spec’ configuration, most recognized for its iconic (and charmingly anachronistic) moisture indicator on the dial.
Why is it so anachronistic for a watch released in 2023? Well, besides the fact that even the original Blancpain Fifty Fathoms (regarded as the first modern dive watch) was itself water-resistant to (unsurprisingly) Fifty Fathoms (or around 300 ft/90 meters in contemporary currency), modern manufacturing techniques mean that the pieces in the current collection are water-resistant to between 300 and 1,000 meters.
Those depth ratings mean the extant versions of this watch are, roughly, between three and ten times less likely to allow moisture ingress. However, the inclusion of the indicator is as much an anchor for the brand’s story and a nod to its past than a feature one ever realistically expects to call upon.
What makes it even more fitting is the fact it has been paired with the ultra-contemporary 9-karat bronze-gold alloy that comprises 37.5% gold, 50% copper, and a pinch of silver, palladium, and gallium. This fusion of old and new is the ideal way to honor the entire legacy of the most iconic model ever produced by the industry’s oldest continuously operational brand.
The original version of this watch, with its no-nonsense design and highly legible dial, was adopted by military forces around the world including the United States, Germany, France, and Norway. Its life began in the 1950s, the brainchild of Jean-Jacques Fiechter, then CEO of Blancpain and keen diver. His love of the ocean saw him oversee the 1957 addition of the moisture indicator that dominates the dial here. This feature meant it met the US Navy’s requirements for use and thus was adopted soon after.
Regrettably, Fiechter passed away in 2022, but the long-time leader of the brand (who headed the company between 1950 and 1980) was a tireless advocate for the model line he created and remained a fitting ambassador for Blancpain until the very end. Surely, he would be pleased to see this milestone marked by not just a model that pulls together the past and present of the Blancpain brand, but also acknowledges its position within the Swatch Group by utilizing the impressive bronze-gold material we first saw deployed on the Omega Seamaster 300 in 2021.
Why we like it
The bronze-gold alloy makes a welcome return. As impressive as the Omega Seamaster 300 that first pioneered the material was, I personally believe it looks more at home with the Fifty Fathoms case design. Overall, the 70th Anniversary piece feels like an artifact — like an object that shouldn’t exist in the modern world. It has the look of an almost ancient navigation device whose age is inadvertently given away by small technologies here and faultless machining there.
Better still, in my opinion, is the fact the gold will ensure this bronze alloy does not patina in the way we’d expect regular bronze to age. This, I am sure for buyers of 555-piece limited, will be welcome news. Bronze watches are cool, but their appeal runs out once a certain price point is passed. With a retail value of USD 32,000, the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms 70th Anniversary model is beyond that (and then some).
From a wearability perspective, it is pleasing to see that the model sports extremely restrained dimensions, coming in at just 41.3 mm × 13.3 mm. Its visual impact on the wrist is further reduced by the choice of surface finish. Instead of the broad, brassy surfaces for which the reinvigorated Fifty Fathoms line of the early 2000s was known, this model opts for brushed surfaces, with edges picked out by extremely fine-lined polished chamfers. Those details add a dash of luxury to an otherwise pragmatic piece, but it is the movement that elevates this model to the pantheon of greatness.
I’m pleased that the movement — the in-house caliber 1154.P2 — is visible through a sapphire display case back. It would have been easy (and perhaps expected) for Blancpain to hide whatever caliber the brand selected to power proceedings behind a closed and engraved case back, but sense won out. While this is a highly usable dive tool, it is highly unlikely to be used as such. Therefore, it makes little to no sense to obscure the wonderful workings that have made the brand famous worldwide.
An automatic caliber, the 1154.P2’s rotor weight charges two barrels that subsequently offer a very healthy 100-hour power reserve. Better still (and entirely congruous with the watch’s intended purpose) is the magnetic resistance of up to 1000-gauss offered by this movement thanks, in large part, to the silicon hairspring.
All in all, the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms 70th Anniversary Act 3 is a fitting tribute to the past, a fine ambassador for the future, and a limited edition that is sure to live long in the memory of brand aficionados and industry obsessives alike.
Blancpain Fifty Fathoms 70th Anniversary Act 3
Movement: Calibre 1154.P2, automatic, with 100 hours of power reserve
Functions: Hours, minutes, seconds
Case: 41.3 mm × 13.3 mm, satin-brushed 9ct bronze-gold, water-resistant to 300M
Dial: Black dial with moisture indicator
Strap: Fabric strap
Price and availability: Limited to 555 pieces, USD 32,000