Blancpain Fifty Fathoms
Blancpain is a brand steeped in history. When Blancpain recently revealed the Fifty Fathoms Barakuda Re-edition as well as the Air Command Flyback Chronograph, I was amazed not only because of how well executed they are, but also how faithful they are to their predecessors, on which they are heavily based upon.
Fifties French Frogmen
The Blancpain Fifty Fathoms is a legendary icon in the dive-watch category, as it is one of the oldest and perhaps most important as well, being referred to by many as the first dive watch that was truly purpose-built for diving. The history of the Fifty Fathoms is very synonymous with the French Frogmen of the 1950s, a diving unit under the French Navy.
Built for the Sea
The Frogmen performed many special tasks and missions under the water, and hence they needed a watch that can perform flawlessly with the ebbs and tides of the seas. This led Captain Robert Maloubier and Lieutenant Claude Riffaud to start their quest in procuring the best watch suited to their tasks and requirements. Eventually, they got in touch with Blancpain’s CEO of the time, Jean-Jacques Fiechter, who agreed to develop such a watch as he was a fervent and devoted diver himself. The very first Fifty Fathoms was produced in 1953, with many different variations subsequently. The Barakuda variant, specifically, was first issued to the German Military by Barakuda in the 1960s. Barakuda was the name of a supplier of specialised diving equipment.
The dials of the initial Barakudas and the latest re-edition bear a heavy resemblance. Both of them feature the characteristic bi-color rectangular indices, whereby the indices start off with a red accent before being finished off by blocks of creamy-lumed indices. The re-edition uses “old radium” Super Luminova in this case to resemble the beautifully-aged patina of the vintage models. The indices of the Barakudas are truly unique, and really help to distinguish them from the pack of dive watches. These indices sit on a black dial, with a framed cutout for showcasing the date.
Although the dials are fairly similar, the rest of the watch differs. The re-edition now has a sapphire bezel with graduations for the first 15 minutes compared to the fully-graduated bakelite bezel. It is also capped off with a sapphire crystal instead of an acrylic crystal. The latest model also features crown guards. Case wise, the latest model actually goes against the trend of upsized re-editions of vintage watches, as it is smaller at 40mm instead of 41mm. This ensures that the Barakuda re-edition will sit effortlessly on a wide range of wrists. It is also strapped on a tropic-rubber strap, as was the original. Beating inside the watch is the proven calibre 1151 which offers an impressive power reserve of 95 hours. The watch is limited to CHF13,200 and will be limited to 500 pieces. Based on my hunch, the watch will already be fully-spoken for in the first week of its reveal thanks to its undeniable charms.
Built for the Air – Blancpain Air Command
Up next is my personal favourite of the duo, the new Air Command. The original Air Commands were issued to the United States Air Force in the 1950s after the success that the Fifty Fathoms had shown in aiding with military purposes. However, very few were made and issued, making it a very highly-sought after vintage chronograph today. In fact, one was auctioned off in 2016 at the Phillips Auction for a staggering CHF100,000.
A “Flyback” to the Golden Age of Divers
The latest Air Command remains even more faithful to the original as opposed to the Barakuda, being more indistinguishable when placed beside the original, evoking a heavy nostalgia. What differs from the predecessor, in this case, has more to do with the finishing and materials used as opposed to the aesthetics.
The cases of the original and the latest Air Command feature beautiful straight chamfered lugs, although the latter is slightly upsized to 42.5mm in diameter from 42mm. The dial with a bi-compax layout is also slightly bigger on the latest model, with the Arabic numerals and the other markings being made more prominent for better legibility. Again, like the Barakuda, the indices are coated with “old radium” Super Luminova to achieve the patina look. A cursive “Flyback” typography is also painted at the lower half of the dial in reference to the flyback Valjoux calibre 222 used in the vintage model as well as the newer flyback calibre F388B. This newer calibre is an automatic chronograph and the chronograph operates at 36,000 vph, making it glide seamlessly across the dial.
Feature-wise, the seconds subdial of the original has been replaced in favour of a 12-hour counter. The bezels of both are virtually identical, although the newer one has a ceramic insert compared to bakelite. The crystals topping off the watch are also different, with the new one utilising sapphire instead of acrylic. Turn the watch around and you will be greeted with a brushed red-gold rotor shaped to look like a propeller, which is obviously inspired from the watch’s affiliation with aviation.The Air Command is limited to 500 pieces and is priced at CHF18,500. Just like the Barakuda re-edition, these 500 pieces will fly off the shelves like hotcakes.
To sum it off, the Barakuda and the Air Command re-editions are truly winners from Blancpain and are examples of re-editions done right. Both watches faithfully retain their characteristic features while being updated with contemporary materials and Blancpain’s advanced movements. With a strong trend of brands embracing their heritage, these 2 watches set a high standard on how re-editions should be made.
Banner Images Credit: Underwater Photographer Anuar Patjane