ALEXANDROS KERAVNOS AUGUST 1, 2017
It has been almost 2 years from when I took the decision to buy the modern Blancpain Fifty Fathoms and have now taken the decision to write a review with my personal impressions to help any fellow members thinking of jumping to a different wagon than the classic Submariner wagon, something more special, more unique, the Fifty Fathoms.
In general I have always been a watch enthusiast, from when I was a kid, in all my photos I wear the classic Casio, Citizen and later the lovely Seiko that I still keep in my collection. I have been a member to several forums for the last 5 years however I never had the funds to buy any watch that could be defined as an expensive timepiece. However during these years the knowledge was improving, the grails were spotted and I was patiently waiting.
3 years ago and after an important business achievement I knew that time has come… The first expensive watch purchase was a dressy timepiece, my precious dressy IWC Portofino 8 days hand wound in white, I got an amazing offer I couldn’t refuse from an AD and looked great with shirts and business outfit. However, It didn’t took me long to realize that I needed a sports watch, a watch that I will be able to wear for a coffee with friends, going to a football match with the guys and sometimes when I had to, to be able to wear it with a suit in my work.
My budget was close to $8,000 – $10,000 and this was going be the most expensive time piece in what I was intending to have, a small collection of 3-5 pieces.
The Story- The Road Trip in Italy
One of my wife’s dream trips has always been a road trip with friends in Italy, we discussed about it several times, we knew the places that we were planning to visit but we were always postponing it. However this time when this subject came up again on a conversation we had with friends I grabbed the opportunity and convinced everyone that we had to do it this year, now was the time, I had a plan.
Everything was arranged, the plan was that we were going to land in Rome stay couple of days there, then take a train for Florence and from there get a car to continue for the rest of the trip. We were going to drive from Florence up to Cinque Terre villages, the Portofino and many other graphical villages, go to Genova, Milan and finally before we leave to visit Lake Como.
This was our plan, but on the same time my plan and the map on my Smartphone had all the targets saved, all the Ads/boutiques for the brands that I was interested in these cities. The short list consisted of 10-12 sport/diver watches that I wanted to try in metal because I couldn’t find them in my country (Cyprus).
The list included several Panerai such as the PAM 233 or the ceramic PAM 441, the Rolex Sub date/no date, the classic GMT II & BLNR, the Omega Planet Ocean, IWC Aquatimers, JLC Master Compressor and the Deep Sea Chronograph, the Vacheron Constantin Overseas and finally the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms classic/Bathyscaphe.
Long story short about the trip, we had a great time, BUT my wife was going to kill me when she realized that one of her dream trips was becoming a watch exhibition and especially when she saw how fully prepared I was, having all these coordinates to these ADs. However, one thing that she agreed with me during these visits in ADs was that IF I was planning to spend so much money in one watch and could get a good discount then this watch had to be the Fifty Fathoms. Everything else was not feeling right.
So the decision was taken during the trip and now I had to find the right AD. In Genova I met an AD which is until now a good friend, Francesco. When I was there showed me couple of versions of the Fifty Fathoms, blue, chronograph, rose gold and some other Blancpain watches, we had a good talk regarding the history of the FF but unfortunately the classic 3 handed was out of stock in all Italy but I loved the RG when I tried it. Before I left, Francesco gave me couple of BP leaflets and I was surprised to find that in the bag he also included a gift, an Omega pen that I use until now in my office.
We kept contact with Francesco and after coming back home, he made me an offer for the classic steel version that I couldn’t refuse. So after 3-4 months of waiting from placing my order, the FF came to my door. The journey of finding the right watch has finished but a more interesting journey has started, the love for this piece.
History of the FIFTY FATHOMS
Few words about the history of the Fifty Fathoms. There are plenty of articles that can be found about the history of this timepiece but I will stick to the basics.
This watch was originally designed in 1953 by Captain ‘ Bob’ Maloubier for Blancpain, a real hero of the Alliance army and French Military Forces in World War II, he was chosen to design military equipment for the most selected closed group of French military, the Combat Divers.
The mission of this elite group was as you can imagine, was undersea intelligence, acts of sabotage, destruction of ships, anything that could be accomplished by teams of divers, often working during the night.
Maloubier designed the Fifty Fathoms according to Combat Divers’ standards and asked from Blancpain to execute his design. In 1953 the Fifty Fathoms was born and introduced in Basel, one year before the Rolex Submariner.
The success of the Fifty Fathoms with Combat Divers was soon followed by other military units. The Israeli, Spanish, German and US militaries also included it in their military equipment.
The characteristics that this watch had, were remarkable for the purpose it was created; high water resistance, robustly-protected crown system, automatic winding, black dial with luminescent markings, unidirectional rotating bezel with timing markings and anti-magnetic protection.
One innovation in the initial 1953 Fifty Fathom design was the unidirectional rotating bezel which was still present a decade later in the Tornek-Rayville. The bezel is intended to help time the dive. For safety reasons, it is designed to rotate only in a single direction, so that any mistakes made or accidental turning of the bezel would result in the diver shortening the dive rather than lengthening it.
It is generally accepted that the 1953 Fifty Fathoms watch was the first dive watch with a unidirectional rotating bezel, barely beating the Rolex Submariner.
The Fifty Fathoms was also one of Jacques Cousteau’s favorites and he was seen wearing it in many cases such as in ‘Silent World’ and in many other photos.
From 1953 until today the modern Fifty Fathoms has been through some changes but in general it kept the same design and characteristics, the DNA that made it special.
Size, Dial and luminescence of the modern FF of the Ref. 5015-1130-52
The watch is 45mm, has a black dial with the 3-6-9-12 design and a date window placed at the 4h30 position. The luminescence is absolutely impressive, maybe the best lume you can find in the watch market.
In the past radioactive materials were used in order to achieve this impressive result, that’s why in the back of some of old Fifty Fathoms you can find written ‘’IF FOUND RETURN TO NEAREST MILITARY FACILITY’’
The dial is executed in deep black with perfectly finished printed inscriptions making it a classic and timeless design.
The size of the dial is 31mm, many might say that it’s big however my impression after wearing many divers in the range of 42-46mm is that this watch wears much smaller from smaller divers because of the short lug design. I have tried many 41, 42 and 44mm divers and they did not feel as comfortable on my 6.75” wrist as the BPFF.
Movement of the FF – Cal. 1315
The heart of the Fifty Fathoms is an in house automatic movement by Blancpain, having an impressive 5 days power reserve and free sprung balance, it’s designed to be robust and ready for an all-day use.
During this 2 years of ownership I had absolutely no problems with the movement of the watch and it is still keeping great time.
Accuracy varies and depends from how long per day I wear the watch but in general it is very accurate and I can say it is in the range of -2 sec and +2 sec/day.
Overall impression about the movement is that it is doing what was created to do; be accurate and robust, basic characteristics that sometimes believe me you can’t find, even in much more expensive timepieces.
Case and Crown
Highly polished and extremely well finished with a steel solid case back having an anti-magnetic shield, are the basic characteristics of the case of the Fifty Fathoms.
The sapphire bezel is one of the stronger aspects of the watch and is just perfect to me. The domed unidirectional sapphire bezel screams quality and when you feel the smoothness of the finish and see the viewing effects that it creates in different angles with lighting (for example while driving), you realize why this watch is so special.
Deployant clasp and strap-changing system
The deployant clasp is absolutely beautiful and compliments the watch, I definitely recommend it. The clasp is finished in polished stanless steel and has the Fifty Fathoms engravings. Overall it looks great and provides more security to the watch when you take it off.
Regarding the strap changing system on the FF, has a lug width of 23mm and it works with tubes and screws. These tiny screws are very hard to find aftermarket (you can only buy them from an official Blancpain AD) and worth a lot (if I am not mistaken you have to pay around to €150 only for 2 tubes and 4 screws). The screws are very easy to be damaged even by using the right tools (hex keys 0.9mm) because of the softness and high quality of the stainless steel.
Having in mind the above I decided that I had 2 choices, either to use the existing tube system or change the bars with good quality spring bars. Until today I didn’t find the right spring bars like some other owners suggested that could perfectly match the lugs and I decided to stay with the original tubes. In these 2 years of ownership I had to change tubes & screws one time because they were damaged by me while changing straps. Luckily this was done for free from the Blancpain boutique in Munich when I was there for business.
The original X-71 Bracelet
The BP bracelet was bought from me few months ago, after negotiations it cost me close to €2000, it’s an expensive bracelet but when I tried it in the Blancpain boutique I knew that I had to buy it. It changes the watch completely, it becomes dressier and looks flashier I can say and on top of that it is extremely comfortable.
Is it worth it? Well to me it was well worth it because I wear shirts and suits all the time, others may find it expensive and not justifying the cost if they wear the watch with t-shirts. I personally love it…
The aftermarket strap section is a section I want to focus more and be different than other reviews.
I have read many reviews on the FF and when they came to the point of recommending any aftermarket straps, many of them were stating that the FF is hard to look better than on the OEM sailor-cloth kanvas. I have to disagree on that, the OEM strap to me looks cool and is an all-around option but does not give the personal character that I want to have with watches I wear.
Few words however about the original strap: the original sailor’s cloth strap has a rubber inner lining in order to feel more comfortable on the wrist but also to avoid quick ageing because of sweat. The strap is definitely of good quality, sharp looking and it is a good choice that can be suitable for an all-around look.
Unfortunately Blancpain is not offering any other alternatives straps for the watch other than the sailors-cloth canvas, therefore you need to look for custom aftermarket choices.
Wearing a Nato on the BP Fifty Fathoms is not an easy task, actually I have to say that is an extremely difficult task if not impossible and unfortunately I personally found about it, the hard way. The gap between the tube and the case is close to 1mm and as you can see from the picture below is extremely hard to fit a Nato there without damaging it, especially leather Natos.
I made the mistake buying some leather NATOs that were 1.5mm-2mm thick and in the end they couldn’t fit. One that I managed to fit, in the end I damaged it.
Aftermarket Custom made straps:
Below I have some of my favorite combinations with bracelet/straps/bunds from some of what I think are the best strap makers in US/Canada.
Combat Straps Canada
Attila Azzodi USA
The steel Fifty Fathoms is one of the most beautiful, versatile, classic diver watches in the market.
When I purchased the watch I was not buying it only because its beautiful, it was also the under the radar characteristic that it has when you want, the huge history behind it and the connection that I felt when it was first time on my wrist. That connection, that bond every day passing by it becomes stronger and rewards me for the research and effort I have put when I was making my research.
The FF goes with me almost everywhere and has been the watch I wear for all my trips overseas. It is extremely hard to be recognized as an expensive timepiece from non-watch enthusiasts, especially on strap, and this sometimes gives you a feeling of safety when you are abroad.
Daily I usually use it on the X-71 bracelet because of my work environment, I wear shirts and sometimes a suit, however when I wear it with jeans I have plenty of straps to choose from.
If I could make any recommendation to Blancpain it would be 1) for the price I believe they should include also the Bracelet 2) improve the strap system, stop making our life difficult with the tubes and screws.
To all potential buyers, first of all TRY IT if you are looking for a diver, it’s worth it
My recommendation: if you are going to buy it new from an AD, negotiate the price (there’s plenty of room for a decent discount), buy at the right price and try to get the one that includes the X-71 bracelet, you will never regret it.
Price-wise and taking into consideration, the build quality, the movement, the history behind it and what competitors are offering on that price range I find the price tag of the steel version to be totally justified.
After 2 years of ownership, I am confident to say that this watch is the only watch I will never sell. It is a keeper and will always stay in the family; it is simply special.
Happy hunting, I hope you enjoyed it and for any other questions please do not hesitate to contact me, regards Alexandros
About Alexandros Keravnos
Alexandros is a VAT Specialist in Larnaca, Cyprus. He is a horology enthusiast and a ‘thalassophile’ who started free diving from the age of 12 and finished scuba diving at the age of 16. Until now, at the age of 35 as a family man, he continues having the same passions.
Alexandros Keravnos is a member of Diver’s Watches Facebook Group.
Instagram account @thefiftyfathoms