The History of Blancpain's Fifty Fathoms, a Pioneer of Diving Watches

When it comes to diver's watches, many people think of Rolex Submariner, Omega Seamaster, Panerai Luminor, etc.

And among all of these, those who think of the Fifty Fathoms are true connoisseurs, and it is an area that most people are unaware of, isn't it?

So, today I'd like to explain the history and appeal of the mysterious Blancpain Fifty Fathoms.

To watch the video, click here↓

What kind of company is Blancpain?

First of all, there is the company Blancpain, which was founded in 1735 and is the oldest watch manufacturer in the world.

Since then, Frederic Piguet has been acquired by the Swatch Group, and some people believe that the brand's history has come to an end. However, in terms of a brand that has continued to be inherited under the same legal entity, it is the oldest in the world.

Now, let's take a look at the background of the creation of the Fifty Fathoms, a watch made by Blancpain.

The background of the Fifty Fathoms

Back in the 1950s, John-Jack Pfister, who was CEO of Blancpain, was influenced by his mother and enjoyed scuba diving, which was booming at the time.

1950s-1980s Blancpain CEO John-Jack Pfister

*John Jack Pfister, CEO of Blancpain from the 1950s to the 1980s

(Source: Blancpain official website)

Meanwhile, an incident occurs.

I got so into scuba diving that I spent a lot of time on the ocean floor without paying attention to how much oxygen I had left, and suddenly I realized I only had a little left.

They managed to escape by quickly climbing back up to sea level, but then Pfister realized something.

"There is a need for a timepiece that can accurately measure dive time on the ocean floor."

In this way, diver's watches began to be in demand in the underwater world.

However, the watch manufacturing know-how up to that point obviously did not include the know-how for making diver's watches.

So Blancpain decided to start creating a diver's watch from scratch.

What features does a diving watch need?

The key was making the watch waterproof.

Even back then, there were waterproof watches available, but you couldn't wear them in the ocean.

However, the invention of the O-ring changed perceptions of watch waterproofness.

Let's take a look at Blancpain's waterproof structure.

First, the back cover; the case has a double structure, with a back protector placed on top of the movement.

Back of the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms (movement)

The structure of the Fifty Fathoms

Fifty Fathoms Structure 2

There is a groove around it to accommodate a thick gasket, and an O-ring is inserted there, held down with a second back cover, and then crimped with a screw ring.

Fifty Fathoms Structure 3

The use of O-rings made it possible to create watches with a highly airtight and waterproof design.

Next, let's look at water ingress at the crown.

Until then, the crown structure of waterproof watches consisted of an O-ring inserted inside the crown.

However, if you do that, when you pull the crown to set the time, the O-ring (gasket) will come out with it, and water can get in through there.

So the new solution was to attach an O-ring to the tube.

Fifty Fathoms Tube O-ring

This means that there is no risk of water entering the watch, regardless of the position the crown is in, and the watch is also successfully waterproofed from the crown area.

These O-rings and the sealing of the crown were patented by Pfister and were a groundbreaking invention and technological innovation at the time.

It also greatly improves visibility underwater.

Pfister understood the importance of being able to tell the exact time, especially in murky water.

So Pfister came up with the idea of ​​increasing the diameter of the watch and painting the indexes and hands with white fluorescent paint to increase the contrast with the black dial.

A feature to help you remember your dive time

While the functional aspects of the watch have been achieved, we have also focused on the user, making improvements to make it even easier to understand.

Pfister knew from personal experience that divers tend to forget how deep they are deep.

We also understood that the longer the dive, the more important it becomes to measure time accurately.

He then turned his attention to the bezel and realized that a rotating bezel would allow him to accurately measure dive time.

To rotate the bezel, first align the bezel index with the minute hand.

It looks like this↓

Diver's watch bezel index and minute hand adjustment

Diver's watch - measuring dive time

In addition, to prevent the bezel from unintentionally shifting position if it were to hit something against the watch while diving, the bezel was designed so that it would only move if pressed down from above.

Fifty Fathoms and the French Army of Maloubier

Thus, the Fifty Fathoms was being researched and developed for professional divers, but the watch caught the eye of a man named Robert “Bob” Maloubier, who was working as a French intelligence officer at the time.

Robert Bob Maloubier, French intelligence officer

*Robert Bob Malbier

This was because the operatives needed a watch with high water resistance to effectively carry out intelligence activities underwater.

This man named Maroubier had consulted with La Spirotenique (now Aqualung) in France about his vision for a waterproof watch with luminous indexes and a rotating bezel, and it seemed to him that Blancpain was the company that could make it a reality, which led to his meeting with Blancpain.

At this point, the watch had achieved sufficient waterproofing, but because it was designed for use by divers, it was missing one feature that military personnel needed.

This is anti-magnetic.

In addition to watches, military personnel wear equipment that emits various electromagnetic waves, so they were concerned that these waves would affect the accuracy of their watches.

Blancpain's Pfister responded to this demand and a watch with an additional soft inner case was adopted by the French Navy's commando submarine forces.

And indeed, the first Fifty Fathoms, released in 1953, was created exactly according to that request.

Blancpain First Generation Fifty Fathoms

The Fifty Fathoms was eventually adopted by the Pakistani military, the Spanish military, the German Navy's elite frogmen, and finally by the US Navy's SEALDs .

Blancpain America

Even though it was not first adopted by the US military, the fact that it was adopted by the SEALDs greatly changes the appeal of the watch.

This is because the United States continues to spend the most on military spending and has the strongest military in the world.

Let's take a look at how the Fifty Fathoms spread in America.

First of all, Blancpain did not have a branch office in the United States, and the key person was Allen V. Tornek, who handled Blancpain's distribution in the United States.

To avoid the heavy tariffs imposed on imported watches, the company established a separate company in the United States.

The names of Rayville and Tornek were combined to form "Tornek-Rayville" (Blancpain's official company name at the time was "Rayville-Blancpain").

Allen V. Tornek

*Right: Allen V. Tornek

Allen flew to Switzerland to speak with President Pfister and they discussed a number of things.

During the conversation, Allen mentioned that his son Larry (Allen's son) enjoys diving as a hobby, and Pfister asked him to take out his Fifty Fathoms watch and give it to his son, and he handed it to him.

Tornek's son Larry

*Tornek's son Larry

And on the flight home, Allen thought about it.

I thought it might be a good idea to supply these watches to the Navy.

History of US military adoption of "SEALDs"

However, by that time the military had already begun reviewing the equipment.

In addition, the military specifications that stipulate the standards for watches used by the US Navy include a "watertightness indication function."

This is to prevent water from getting inside the watch and causing it to malfunction.

Basically, in most countries the watches are kept by the military and given to individuals when they go diving.

Divers must make sure that the watch used by the previous diver is in good condition before diving.

This is because any deviation in the accuracy of a clock can mean a matter of life or death.

When the watch is issued, if half the disc is blue, the diver can wear it with confidence, knowing that it is water-free.

That is why military specifications include a "watertightness indication function."

Fifty Fathoms Watertight Indicator

This is indicated by a disc at the 6 o'clock position that changes from white to red.

A new Fifty Fathoms gun was created to meet these standards and took part in military spec testing at the Frankford Arsenal in Philadelphia, USA.

Between 1957 and 1959, various Swiss brands and other international brands participated.

Among them, the only one that passed all the tests was "Fifty Fathoms".

And because it was developed in accordance with the specifications of the United States Navy, it was named MIL-SPEC.

MIL-SPEC Fifty Fathoms

Therefore, the designs of the ones delivered to the French military and those delivered to the US military are slightly different.

Fifty Fathoms: Differences between the American and French Armies

By the way, this is a Fifty Fathoms watch made by Tornek-Rayville, and it does not have the Blancpain logo but instead says "TORNEK-RAYVILLE US."

Tornek-Rayville Fifty Fathoms Tornek-Rayville Blancpain Fifty Fathoms

Origin of the name Fifty Fathoms

"Fathom" is a British unit of measurement for the depth of the ocean.

And since the maximum depth that divers could dive to at the time was 50 fathoms (about 91m), it was named "Fifty Fathoms" to convey the meaning of challenging the maximum.

Which came first, Fifty Fathoms or Submariner?

If you're a Rolex fan, you'll probably know that the Submariner was the world's first diver's watch!

That's what I would like to say.

However, in 1953, the Submariner was still in the pre-release prototype stage and had not yet been released.

This prototype was equipped with the caliber 6200.

The watch that was actually released was a year after the Fifty Fathoms, at the Basel Fair, and it was a Submariner equipped with the 6204 movement.

Acquired by Frédéric Piguet

Then, in response to requests from female amateur divers for a diver's watch that was too large, the company released the Bathyscaphe, which was smaller than the Fifty Fathoms.

The Fifty Fathoms also introduced a variety of lines and became popular with divers.

However, as mentioned at the beginning, Blancpain was acquired by Frédéric Piguet.

This was because, like most Swiss brands, Blancpain was no longer able to make watches due to the development of quartz watches by Seiko.

In short, the company was in a dormant state due to the Quartz Crisis and made the decision to "downsize its operations," which led to it being acquired by Piguet, who took notice of the situation.


So that's how I explained the background to the creation of Fifty Fathoms today.

Even after 70 years, its sophisticated design remains beautiful and timeless.

However, nearly 70 years after its creation, it continues to mature and evolve.

It was used in the film "The Silent World," which depicts the coral reef research activities of the oceanographic research vessel Calypso, and its adoption by the U.S. Navy has made it an iconic diver's watch.

Learning this story, born from Pfister's love for the sea, will make us love Blancpain even more and make us want to own a Fifty Fathoms.