This is *THE* diver’s watch
A classic, and a watch you should know about
Think of the most prominent car designer in the history of the automobile. In the watch world, that’s Gerald Genta. Now think of the most influential executive in the car world. In the watch world, that’s Jean-Claude Biver. Born in Luxembourg in 1949, Biver has successfully revamped a plethora of Swiss luxury brands including AP, Omega, TAG Heuer and Blancpain.
Blancpain is the oldest watch brand in the world - founded in 1735 - and it is also one of the few Swiss watch companies that never gave in to quartz. This came at a hefty cost because by the late 1970s, Blancpain was in a coma. A has-been brand that no one cared about. Biver bought the brand for CHF 22,000 in the 1980s (CHF 88,000 or $94k in today’s money) and sold it to Swatch Group (known as SMH Group back then) for 43 million dollars. Not a bad deal.
In 1953, Blancpain launched the first Fifty Fathoms, produced in partnership with the ‘Nageurs de Combat‘ (combat swimmers) a branch of the Marine Nationale (French Navy) and legendary naval officer and explorer Jacques Cousteau. In 1958, the US Navy Seals also began using the Fifty-Fathoms.
The watch is still used as a point of reference for modern diving watches and emulated by many. Even Seiko made a homage to the Fifty Fathoms (ref. SNZH57). Fans of the brand call it the ‘Fifty-FIVE Fathoms’.
The name is a reference to the watch’s depth rating of 91 metres which, at the time, was considered to be the maximum depth that a diver could reach while using a single-use oxygen source. The modern Fifty Fathoms is rated at 1000 mt.
The bad news is all that history, the heritage, and the technical capabilities come at a price. The cheapest pre-owned Fifty Fathoms I could find on Chrono24 will still set you back €4,000, which is a lot of cash, but not too bad for a piece of history.