Fifthy Fathoms 70th Anniversary

Blancpain continued the celebrations for the 70th anniversary of the Fifty Fathoms from the Rangiroa Atoll in French Polynesia, where the Tamataroa mission is taking place. Blancpain opened a new chapter in the history of the first modern diver’s watch by unveiling a new model designed to meet today’s technical diving requirements. Featuring an innovation co-developed by Marc A. Hayek, President & CEO of Blancpain, and Laurent Ballesta, founder of the Gombessa project, this instrument named “Tech Gombessa” makes it possible for the first time to measure up to three-hour immersion times. Its release commemorates the 10th anniversary of Gombessa, an initiative that Blancpain helped create by becoming the founding partner of the project from its inception in 2013. It also marks the launch of a new line in Blancpain’s diver’s watch collection. 

Seventy years ago, an icon was born: the Fifty Fathoms. The watch that would revolutionise watchmaking by becoming the first modern diver’s watch was conceived by a passionate scuba diver, Jean-Jacques Fiechter, then CEO of Blancpain. A pioneer in a discipline that was in its infancy, he understood the imperative need to track time while underwater. The instrument he designed to meet his own needs was immediately embraced by the oceanic community, becoming an unfailing ally of elite divers and underwater explorers. By enhancing safety in diving, the Fifty Fathoms contributed to the development of the sport and promoted the discovery of the ocean world.

The year 2023, which marks the 70th anniversary of the Fifty Fathoms, also resonates as a reboot of its birth through the arrival of an innovative anniversary diver’s watch. Since the 1950s, diving has experienced a major evolution, notably characterised by an obvious extension of immersion times. While the 1953 Fifty Fathoms met the requirements of Jean-Jacques Fiechter and the most experienced divers of the time, those now capable of spending several hours underwater have new requirements for time measurement.

Such is precisely the case with Blancpain’s current President & CEO, who is also an avid scuba diver and has been accustomed to highly technical closed-circuit dives for a number of years. Drawing on the invaluable heritage of the 1953 Fifty Fathoms, but also and above all on his own experiences, the CEO embarked on the design – alongside diver, photographer

and underwater biologist Laurent Ballesta –of a new mechanical instrument. It was intended to meet the needs of all extreme divers, starting with the members of the Gombessa Expeditions whose research work involves long-duration deep dives.

With Blancpain’s support, these deep-sea adventurers have joined forces in the multi-year Tamataroa mission. Dedicated to the study of the behaviour of the great hammerhead shark, Sphyrna mokarran, in French Polynesia, this project is led by a committee of passionate deep-sea divers, including Marc A. Hayek and Laurent Ballesta. Observation and information gathering regarding this species continued through technical dives on the Rangiroa Atoll, aimed at contributing to the implementation of management measures promoting its conservation.

It is in this context that the latest addition to the Fifty Fathoms collection was presented for the first time: the Tech Gombessa watch designed to measure the duration of up to three-hour-long tech dives or exits from a saturation system. Conceived five years ago by the two divers, this watch has been extensively tested. In 2019, after a year of conceptualisation, Blancpain began the development of the project, starting with the two key elements represented by the movement and the unidirectional rotating bezel. Unlike the bezels on conventional diver’s watches, the bezel on the Fifty Fathoms Tech Gombessa has a three-hour scale.

It is linked to a special hand that completes one full turn in three hours and whose material and colour – a white luminescent coating with green emission – match those of its markers. This device invented jointly by Marc A. Hayek and Laurent Ballesta is a world first for which a patent has been filed. It is the heart of the 13P8 self-winding movement, based on the same criteria of reliability and robustness that have made the Fifty Fathoms the ultimate diver’s watch for 70 years.

Once the combination of bezel and movement was defined, it was time to tackle the exterior of this new watch designed to plumb the depths. The brief was clear yet meeting it proved tricky: the Fifty Fathoms Tech Gombessa had to look like a Fifty Fathoms while exhibiting distinct tech attributes.

Blancpain’s designers therefore opted for a bezel inlay in black ceramic – instead of the traditional sapphire – which they decided to endow with a stronger curve and tilt it towards the dial. The latter’s legibility is optimised by a spherical crystal that eliminates any visual distortion. To ensure the best possible readability in the dark, the dial has a new finish: absolute black, whose structure is able to capture almost 97% of the light. In the same vein, the hour-markers are formed by luminescent block-shaped appliques, this time in orange with blue emission – colour codes picked up on the hours and minutes hands to differentiate between time-related information and diving times.