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Blancpain’s Final Fathoms

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Cannes, in the south of France, is probably most famed for its annual film festival, and known besides as a bit of a summer playground. It is not particularly well regarded for its horological chops; it is just a little too pleasant, if anything. Surprisingly, it served as the inspiration for the world’s first dive watch, the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms. Well, not what you see on shore or even the beautiful waterfront setting, but what lies beneath the waves. In 1950, Jean-Jacques Fiechter assumed the role of Blancpain’s CEO, and he harboured a deep passion for diving. In those days, recreational diving was in its infancy, with SCUBA apparatus having only been introduced in 1943 by famed diver and marine biologist Jacques-Yves Cousteau.

Diving was perilous and unpredictable, and Jean-Jacques learned this the hard way. During a dive near Cannees, he found himself 50 metres below the surface, dangerously low on air and without a watch to time his emergency ascent. He later remarked that “passion makes one forget the time.” Thankfully, Jean-Jacques had another passion – watchmaking. Recognising the need for a precise, reliable, and robust dive watch, he embarked on a mission to create the ideal timepiece.

Read More: Bronze Gold: Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Act 3 Debuts in Cannes

The Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Act 3 was revealed in Cannes, France, as the final watch in a year-long celebration for the world’s first true dive watch. There was plenty of speculation prior to this, especially after Blancpain dropped some teasers that proved very slightly misleading (a reference to German silver that gave away nothing). The watch is indeed a time-only 41.3mm dive instrument that does not make space for a date; the 6 o’clock position is instead occupied by the mil-spec water-resistance mark (denoting if moisture has compromised the case) of the military watches of the 1960s.

Going For Bronze

The size of the watch is universally accepted as following the example of the 1953 Fifty Fathoms, but the specific reference this watch looks to sparks debate. Some experts point to 1967 specifically and Blancpain itself only included a reference to a 1964 model, but in reality, the Final Fathoms (as we have taken to calling it) is an unprecedented new model. There are no complicated twists, although there is a movement upgrade, yet the case itself is remarkable, being bronze gold. Perhaps this is a reference to the bronzed look once synonymous with a place like Cannes, as well as the weathered looks of both professional and amateur mariners. If bronze gold sounds familiar to you, you are not imagining things.

Seasoned collectors no doubt recall bronze gold from Omega now, and as early as 2021, when it debuted. The material now makes an appearance at Blancpain; both brands are part of the Swatch Group so this not unexpected. In fact, we feel this is a fair exchange of expertise, given that Blancpain supplies the know- how behind Omega’s groundbreaking Chrono Chime. Visually, the idea behind the Fifty Fathoms Act 3 is clearly to reinforce vintage vibes, as all standard bronze watches usually do. On the other hand, this is not regular bronze… As a quick recap and update on bronze gold, here is what you need to know: The gold in the alloy makesup 37.5 percent of the total material, with copper making up the majority (50 percent). Silver, palladium and gallium make up the remainder.

Read More: Ode To Elegance: Blancpain’s Ladybird Collection is an Innovation of Watchmaking

For anyone who plans to wear this watch, which is limited to 555 pieces worldwide, you should note that some patination can be expected but nothing on the order of standard bronze. Blancpain says it can be worn against the skin, and some social media reports and rumours at the launch event suggest that there may be minor differences between the bronze gold Blancpain is using and that Omega used. Furthermore, it seems the exclusivity of bronze gold will remain with Blancpain for the near term – again this is based on unconfirmed remarks at the launch, by Blancpain representatives. It may be that none of this pans out but the case material bears some serious consideration and we recommend all prospective owners ask as many questions as they want of the product experts at Blancpain.

Tempestuous References

On that note, you might wonder why 555 pieces, in particular. Blancpain points us in the direction of Ariel’s Song from The Tempest (William Shakespeare), where the name Fifty Fathoms emerged in 1953. The line is “Full fathom five thy father lies,” so perhaps 555 is some sort of alliterative tribute… For those who care about such matters, this means that there will be more Act 3 watches out there than Act 1 pieces. This will create interesting collection imbalances but this is hardly raising hackles in the collector community yet.

Now, there is a bit of a kerfuffle about the Fifty Fathoms in general, with Perezscope digging up dead horses just to flog them to death again. Somewhat conveniently, it has been forgotten that only the Fifty Fathoms debuted with a unidirectional bezel, so how it could be a copy of something else is beyond us. That covers our thoughts on this subject but suffice to say also that it is not relevant to the current Final Fathoms model. The case material is, and the characteristics of the design are. On that note, the shape of the case and of the lugs (lug-to- lug measurements are not available but we estimate something in the 50mm+ range) is new, although it obviously is a round watch, basically.

Consequently, if you can typically wear a 42mm watch without any overhang, but that is the maximum, you will find the Final Fathoms challenging. The exhibition caseback showcases a new evolution of movement for Blancpain, with the calibre 1154.P2 featuring an escapement with silicon hairspring and a new escape wheel in antimagnetic alloys – Blancpain did not say what exactly this alloy is, but we remain curious as to why the brand does not simply use the Breguet and Omega solution of more silicon-based parts for the balance assembly. Another solution is nickel- phosphorus, and that might be the alloy here. The goal was to produce an antimagnetic movement that could withstand 1,000 Gauss without the protection of a soft iron inner case; calibre 1154.P2 makes the grade, hence the presence of an exhibition caseback.

Best in Class

Anyway, the movement has 100 hours of power reserve, making it a class leader, and reminding the world at large that Blancpain still leads the way in terms of standard-issue power reserve for mechanical dive watches. The launch event in Cannes was suitably momentous. This was the scene of the original inspiration for the Fifty Fathoms, and it perhaps represents the scene of the dawn of the recreational diving era. The international launch did make a lot of room for the military history of the Fifty Fathoms, and its acceptance as a tool watch, but the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms of the 21st century has transcended those roots. A bronze gold dive watch is not a professional tool but it might still represent professional passions.

On that note, though not necessarily to prove any point, the price of USD 44,800 will disappoint some, and certainly demands due consideration. Ultimately, we think there will be more than enough demand for the Final Fathoms, such that the price will not be an issue. The Final Fathoms is, after all, an important milestone for Blancpain, and there are certainly far more than 555 people who will want one of these fantastic timepieces.

To finish up here with a note on the launch itself, which was a remarkable achievement, just by virtue of the fact that no leaks were published. Interest in the Final Fathoms had not only been boosted by the previous two Acts, but also the Swatch collaboration. Even with all the attendant curiosity swirling around the Final Fathoms, no one published anything ahead of time. For our part, neither WOW Singapore nor Thailand (the two editions covering the event from Cannes) received the embargoed information in advance. Blancpain managed to merge its diving heritage with its art of living concept thanks to the amazing Ille Saint-Marguerite location and the participation of personalities such as Laurent Ballesta. For more on this launch, and the exhibition of Blancpain’s ocean commitments at Cannes, see the event story deeper into this issue.

This article first appeared on WOW’s Legacy 2024 issue

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