A Closer Look At The New Blancpain Tribute To Fifty Fathoms No Rad
This limited-edition reinterpretation of the emblematic diver is, in fact, very rad.
Swiss manufacture Blancpain holds a storied place in the annals of watchmaking. Founded in 1735, the brand is the oldest, continually operating watch company and celebrated for its top-tier pocket and dress watches. Blancpain movements were also much sought after by other watchmakers.
The watch Blancpain is best known for today is the Fifty Fathoms, the world’s first modern diving watch, which debuted in 1953. Designed by French secret agent and nageur de combat (also known in English as combat swimmer or frogman) Captain Bob Maloubier, the Fifty Fathoms is credited with being the first purpose-built timepiece with underwater usage in mind.
To this day, the Fifty Fathoms remains a mainstay of the Blancpain family because it is an archetypal diver’s watch – a piece that looks good on land while still providing life-or-death precision in the dark and muddy depths. That is also why fans of the life-aquatic get excited whenever a historic model from the archives gets revamped with of-the-moment technology. And the new limited-edition Tribute to Fifty Fathoms No Rad might be the most exciting reinterpretation yet.
As previously mentioned, the Fifty Fathoms has its roots in military use. In 1953, French combat swimmers were the first to use the watch on underwater missions, and for collectors, among the most elusive Fifty Fathoms are the mil-spec models.
The German military soon followed France's example and ordered the Fifty Fathoms RPG 1 model (a.k.a. the "BUND No Rad") to equip the elite frogman commando unit known as the “Kampfschwimmer.” Around the same time, Blancpain stopped using luminescent materials composed of harmful radium. The version used by the combat swimmers was stamped with a distinctive "NO RADIATIONS" logo. Over time, this model became a cult favorite among collectors.
The new Tribute to Fifty Fathoms No Rad honors the RPG 1 by innovating with its luminescent material, Super-LumiNova. The matte-finished, deep black dial features generously lumed geometrical hour-markers combined with traditional round dots, rectangles, and a diamond-shaped mark at 12 o'clock. The Fifty Fathoms’ instantly recognizable chapter ring the time scale on the bezel and the hands all feature "old radium"-colored Super-LumiNova that recalls the beige-orange tint of vintage models.
Additionally, the watch comes on a strap made of "Tropic"-type rubber, a material beloved in the 1960s because of its durability and comfort.
Other historical throwbacks include a 3 o'clock date aperture framed with a white rim like one of the 1960s models; and, of course, the most prominent design element on the dial: the yellow and red "NO RADIATIONS" logo.
At first glance, it would be easy to mistake the Tribute to Fifty Fathoms No Rad as a one-to-one reproduction, but closer inspection reveals many subtle upgrades. The unidirectional rotating bezel typical of the first Fifty Fathoms models now comes with a sapphire insert, which is a feature of the contemporary collection. And a domed glass box-type sapphire crystal makes the watch face feel deeper.
The size of this stainless steel watch has also been tweaked for modern tastes, measuring at 40.30mm instead of the original’s 35mm.
And finally, the Tribute to Fifty Fathoms No Rad comes equipped with the Blancpain Calibre 1151 self-winding movement with a four-day power reserve and features a silicon balance spring. But even this upgrade pays mind to the original Fifty Fathoms.
Its two barrels are wound utilizing a rotor with a cartouche-shaped aperture, harkening back to when this type of winding system was still commonly used to safeguard the movement from impacts by increasing the suppleness of the oscillating weight.
Limited to a 500-piece series and priced at $14,100, each Tribute to Fifty Fathoms No Rad comes individually numbered on the sapphire caseback.
(Photography by Liam O'Donnell)