Remarkably, diver’s watches did not exist in 1953, when Blancpain CEO and diving enthusiast Jean-Jacques Fiechter set out to create a reliable instrument capable of accompanying him on his underwater adventures. It was christened Fifty Fathoms after the British measurement corresponding to around 91 meters, then considered to be the maximum depth divers could reach given the compressed air technology of the time. Fiechter tested the model himself while diving in the south of France and passed out prototypes to diving instructors at the various clubs to which he belonged. Soon, the elite combat diver unit of the French military commissioned Blancpain to supply the Fifty Fathoms. Jacques Cousteau used the watch in his Oscar-winning film “The Silent World,” and the list goes on … last month Blancpain outfitted divers on the Gombessa Project who undertook 40 days of deep water diving to study legendary bottom-dwelling sea creature, the Coelacanth, or Gombessa, a living fossil.
The standards set by the Fifty Fathoms in 1953 corresponds to today’s NIHS 92-11 (ISO 6425) standard for diver’s watches, created in 1996: lockable/unidirectional bezel bearing markings in order to check the dive time and the remaining air reserve (first patent for the Fifty Fathoms); water resistance to almost 100 meters (Blancpain’s second patent was a double O-ring seal on the crown; automatic winding to reduce the number of times the crown would need to be unscrewed; high readability – a black dial with clearly visible luminescent indications, housed within a broad case; and anti-magnetism.
The reason the Fifty Fathoms’ bezel with etched numerals looks so familiar is because so many other brands have since adopted the look.