Introducing Blancpain’s Tribute to Fifty Fathoms “No Rad”

Introducing Blancpain’s Tribute to Fifty Fathoms “No Rad”

The Low-Down

Legibility in adverse conditions has been a requirement of a dive watch since Blancpain’s Fifty Fathoms codified the genre back in 1953. Back then, being able to tell the time underwater meant one thing — radium. Radium, mixed with water and glue, was a very effective luminous material, offering a constant glow. Radium wasn’t just used on watch dials; the element was commonly used in the first half of the 20th century. It fell rapidly out of favour when it became widely known just how dangerous it was. Radium ceased to be used on watch dials, leading to less harmful radioactive compounds, like tritium or non-radioactive photo-luminescent compounds.

For Blancpain, the Fifty Fathoms was an important watch, used by military and civilian divers alike. Legibility still mattered, but the brand found they needed to communicate, quickly and unequivocally, that their watches were free from harmful radium. The most effective method was to plainly say so on the dial. So it was that Blancpain adopted a symbol on their dials — a trefoil, the international symbol for ionising radiation, on a bright yellow field. The crucial signifier was the black cross through the trefoil, along with the words “No Radiations” in black, indicating that this watch was not hazardous to your health.

With its clean, straightforward dial, straight hands and ample use of vintage-looking Super-LumiNova, the new Tribute to Fifty Fathoms “No Rad” is visually quite similar to the original model from the 1960s. (©Revolution)
With its clean, straightforward dial, straight hands and ample use of vintage-looking Super-LumiNova, the new Tribute to Fifty Fathoms “No Rad” is visually quite similar to the original model from the 1960s. (©Revolution)

The first time this symbol was used on a Fifty Fathoms was in the reference RPG 1, made for the German Bundeswehr (armed forces), in particular, their elite frogman commandos, known as the Kampfschwimmer. Aside from its distinctive dial, this watch, now referred to as the “BUND No Rad” in a spectacular confluence of military history and collector-speak, was pure utility at 41mm, with a screw-down crown and bezel graduated for minutes.

The Blancpain Fifty Fathoms was introduced in 1953. (Image: Blackbird Watch)
The Blancpain Fifty Fathoms was introduced in 1953. (Image: Blackbird Watch)
A Fifty Fathoms "No Radiation" model from the 1960s. (Image: Blackbird Watch Manual)
A Fifty Fathoms "No Radiation" model from the 1960s. (Image: Blackbird Watch Manual)

IMHO

It is this watch, with its historically significant, cult-classic dial, that Blancpain has decided to revivify for its latest limited edition. And they’ve done it in spectacular style, with a well-sized 40.3mm steel case that sits 13.23mm tall. This case size is exclusive to the limited edition Fifty Fathoms and, after the special dial, makes for a large part of this watch’s allure. Blancpain fans with long memories might recall that this isn’t the first “No Rad” tribute the brand has done, but that 2010 limited edition demonstrates just how far the needle has shifted when it comes to sensitive re-editions. It was a 45mm case, very polished and with a glossy dial and regular handset. Compare that with the generally reserved details here — the straight hands, more straightforward dial and ample use of vintage-looking Super-LumiNova (ironically this particular hue is called “old radium”). Visually this is about as close to a historic “No Rad” watch as you’re likely to get. Even the strap is a period-correct soft rubber tropic-style strap.

Used as a diving instrument by the German Navy’s combat swimmers in the mid 1960s, the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms was stamped with a "no radiations" logo indicating that the brand was not using luminescent materials composed of radium. (©Revolution)
Used as a diving instrument by the German Navy’s combat swimmers in the mid 1960s, the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms was stamped with a "no radiation" logo indicating that the brand was not using luminescent materials composed of radium. (©Revolution)
The watch is powered by Calibre 1151 featuring a silicon balance spring and twin barrels that deliver four days of power reserve. (©Revolution)
The watch is powered by Calibre 1151 featuring a silicon balance spring and twin barrels that deliver four days of power reserve. (©Revolution)

The movement in this version is much more impressive than its ancestor. Calibre 1151 features a silicon balance spring, twin barrels allowing for four days of power reserve and a winding rotor with a cartouche-shaped aperture, a nod to the original Fifty Fathoms.

While you need not be worried about the dangers of radiation on this limited edition, there is another concern — availability. At 500 pieces, the Blancpain Tribute to Fifty Fathoms “No Rad” is sure to be hot property.

Tech Specs

Blancpain Tribute to Fifty Fathoms “No Rad”
Blancpain Tribute to Fifty Fathoms “No Rad”

Movement: Self-winding calibre 1151; four-day power reserve
Functions: Hours, minutes, seconds and date
Case: 40.3mm; stainless steel; water resistant to 300m
Strap: Tropic-style rubber
Price and Availability: CHF 13,200 ; limited to 500 pieces

Blancpain Tribute to Fifty Fathoms “No Rad” (©Revolution)

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Felix Scholz

Felix Scholz has spent the last decade covering watches from his home in Australia. Given this, it's surprising that he still struggles with time zones. Over the years he's become a firm believer that less is more when it comes to watch design – except when a rainbow bezel is involved. He's written for numerous titles including Hodinkee, GQ, A Collected Man and more. These days he looks after the Australian edition of Revolution and takes a break from writing about watches to talk about them, as the co-host of OT: The Podcast.

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