Blancpain celebrates the 70th anniversary of the first modern diving watch
Timepieces and exclusive experience will punctuate the next 12 months, orchestrated around the key number 70, as well as 20 and 10: 70 for the 70th anniversary of the Fifty Fathoms; 20 for the 20th anniversary of the contemporary Fifty Fathoms and Blancpain’s Ocean Commitment; and 10 for the 10th anniversary of Gombessa expeditions.
“Passion makes us lose track of time”, concedes Jean-Jacques Fiechter, CEO of Blancpain from 1950 to 1980. With this in mind, he was dreaming of a watch sufficiently rugged, reliable, water-resistant and readable to be his trusted underwater companion.
Jean-Jacques Fiechter’s passion for diving motivated him to create a watch suited to this sport, his own personal experiences as a diver guiding him in defining what was required. As he explains, at the time, patent applications were filed once the product was commercialized, so his first patent application was filed early in 1954. Three dis- tinct innovations were patented in numerous countries: the locking rotating bezel, the double case back, and the double “O” ring crown system.
With its water resistance, robust doubled-sealed crown, self-winding movement, contrasting dark dial with luminescent indications, secured rotating bezel and anti-magnetic protection, the Fifty Fathoms became an indispensable instrument for divers on their underwater missions.
The genius of the Fifty Fathoms quickly became widely recognised and was adopted by the United States Navy Seals, America’s most elite diving corps, and also by the German and Israeli navies. Peaceful uses were also found for the watch through its selection by the French GERS (Undersea Study and Research Group), a world leader in undersea research. It was thus that Jacques-Yves Cousteau’s legendary team of divers wore Blancpain Fifty Fathoms watches when they filmed the award-winning movie The Silent World.
From the 1980s to the 2000s, the evolution of the Fifty Fathoms was put on hold, until the arrival of Marc A. Hayek at the helm of Blancpain. Like Fiechter decades before, Hayek was a passionate diver. Discovering the vintage Fifty Fathoms timepieces in Blancpain’s vault and immediately being seduced by the charm of Fiechter’s creations, Hayek vowed to bring back alive this history and tradition.
Representing both progress and continuity, the 2003 50th Anniversary Fifty Fathoms displayed the same dial and the same oversized luminous numerals and markers as the original 1953 design, reflecting the same adventurous spirit. Stainless steel was still used for the watch case, but the stainless steel case used for the 2003 version was now water resistant up to 300 meters, or about 165 fathoms, thanks to its screw-case, screw-locked crown and thick sapphire crystal.
Along with the presentation of the contemporary Fifty Fathoms, Blancpain unveiled its first ocean preservation initiative, the Whale Shark Project, which echoed the role played by the Fifty Fathoms in the discovery of the ocean world. The purpose of this joint initiative undertaken by Blancpain, the Shark Trust and PADI Project AWARE was to bring together the diving community, encouraging divers all over the world to contribute to the identification of whale sharks in order to constitute a comprehensive set of data, which would help identify the needs for protection.
The Fifty Fathoms was the catalyst for Blancpain’s commitment to the preservation of the ocean. It played an essential role in the development of scuba diving and the discovery of the ocean world, and has enabled Blancpain to forge close links with the ocean community that have been consistently strengthened over the past 70 years.
Among the Blancpain Ocean Commitment stands the Brand’s partnership with French diver, underwater photographer and biologist Laurent Ballesta. Blancpain has been supporting his Gombessa Expeditions since the very first edition in 2013.
To date, there have been six major Gombessa expeditions – and many other underwater missions –, all underwritten by Blancpain. The first took place in the Indian Ocean in 2013 in search of the coelacanth, a prehistoric fish once thought to have become extinct 70 million years ago. With its lobe fins and “primitive lung”, the coelacanth bears testament to the process by which land colonization occurred 370 million years ago, and is a living witness to the common origin of all four-limbed land animals.
Extremely rare and living over 120 meters below the ocean’s surface, very few direct sightings have been witnessed until Laurent Ballesta traveled to South Africa accompanied by specially trained divers and researchers to conduct for the first time an extensive series of observations and scientific experiments in contact with a living coelacanth. Locally known as “Gombessa”, the coelacanth gave its name to Ballesta’s project.