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PostPosted: Sun Aug 01, 2010 10:07 am 
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Quick note: The pictures I took in this review are not very good! I dont have my lighting equipment so I will do a proper photoshoot sometime next weekend. In the mean tim I hope you enjoy the review!

Those who know me know that I have a deep love of all things military watch, particularly those used in military deployments back when mechanical watches where the only option, rather than the ones created to military specifications today. I particularly love modern reincarnations of those watches, that are made with state of the art technology and to higher end finishing grades, while still being faithful to the originals. Some of the brands I enjoy are Panerai, IWC, Breitling, Omega, Rolex, and most recently Blancpain with its Fifty Fathoms.

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The Fifty Fathoms has a rich and deep history behind it, not unlike that of Panerai. It’s original and first appearance was in 1953 and what follows is a short summery of various articles, websites, two magazines, and a book that referenced the watch. I have found that there are a number of sources one could access in order to research the watch, but they all seemed concerned with one aspect over others. The following is my attempt at bringing it all together in a concise and compact article/review.

As stated, one of the highlights of the Fifty Fathoms is its history, so I will by going back to the origins of its creation.

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In 1952, The French Ministry of Defense had initiated the creation of an elite combat unit that was later to be named "Les Nageurs de Combat", ( translation: “The Combat Divers” ) and had assigned the task of forming this special task force to two legendary Frenchmen, Captain Robert Maloubier and his lieutenant Claude Riffaud.

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The purpose of this elite unit was to undergo low-profile, high-risk, and sensitive missions with no support of other military units. The process of choosing the appropriate individuals for this team was a long and careful affair, and the caliber of their equipment was also of the very best available.

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The elite unit went on to serve in the French forces and has had a great deal of success, evolving and spawning off other military special forces. Some of their remarkable equipment where the TSM (TRACTEURS SOUS-MARINS or Underwater Tractors) as can be seen in these pictures:




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These devices allowed the Combat Divers to move at great speeds underwater undetected and with significantly more equipment than otherwise possible.



Also here you can see the PSM (PROPULSEURS SOUS-MARINS or Underwater Engines)

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These basically could travel farther and faster than the TSM system but where much more detectable due to their size and noise. Still very effective in their own right.



Captain Robert and his lieutenant attempted to find a wrist watch capable of meeting their stern requirements to serve as the default timing device of the Combat Divers, and repeatedly failed, they eventually approached Blancpain who assigned their top engineers and watchmakers to the task of creating the ultimate diving instrument of the time. Their success is evident today in the legendary status of the Fifty Fathoms AKA the Archetypical Diver’s watch.

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One of the most impressive characteristics of the watch back then was the introduction of a URB (Unidirectional Rotating Bezel) that would facilitate calculation of elapsed time; although common today it was a world first at the time of introduction. Blancpain also added an automatic movement for robustness and accuracy.

Additionally the robust stainless steel case guaranteed water resistance to a then unprecedented fifty fathoms (50 fathoms = 50 pitch-stirrers of 1.8 meters = 91 meters) which was the absolute maximum achievable by divers using air tanks filled with a mix of oxygen and nitrogen, this was before COMEX started mixing oxygen and helium and broke that record.

The Fifty Fathoms went on to serve in the French Navy special forces and was deemed such a success that it went on to be issued to the US Navy Seals, German Bundesmarine, and other military special forces.
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As the Fifty Fathom’s status grew to legendary status marine exploration organizations such as France’s GERS adopted the Fifty Fathoms as well. Notably, the watch could also be seen on the wrists of the crew of the Oscar winning movie The Silent World, similarly to what Agent 007 did to Rolex and Omega and what Sly did to Panerai, the film propelled the Fifty Fathoms to the height of desirability in the civilian market in addition to its military and scientific markets.

Blancpain went on to create various versions of the Fifty Fathoms, most notably the LIP FF for the French market, the US issued and historically important Mil-Spec 1, and others variants with different specifications and case diameters.



Blancpain never totally abandoned the Fifty Fathoms but has never given it as much attention as it deserves in my opinion, concentrating on the other hand on developing its luxury market segment with impeccably decorated watches and highly finished horological masterpieces. That is until the 50th anniversary of the Fifty Fathoms came along, by then the CEO of Blancpain was Marc Hayek, heir to the legendary Nicholas Hayek and an avid sportsman with interest in everything from motor sports to competitive diving. Marc obviously wanted to breathe new life in the almost bankrupt manufacture and had his eyes set of developing the sporting range. Thus in 2003, the Fifty Fathoms was reborn.



The new model embodies the main signature aspects of the original, such as a high water resistancy (relative to the times) the same oversized indices and hands ensuring optimal readability. The design is true to the original as well, with the same black dial and bezel color contrasting against the luminescent indicators. That is not to say the watch has not evolved! On the contrary the new re-edition boasts all the features of a modern high end wrist watch and then some, with not only a sapphire crystal but a cambered sapphire bezel (not a sapphire-covered bezel, a bezel crafted out of sapphire!) for enhanced readability and protection. The visual effect is subtle at first but there is just something breathe taking about it, you have to see it to get its full effect.

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The rotating bezel has always been a key element of the watch; the notched design not only ensures an easy grip but also ads visual interest to the profile of the 45.5mm case. The black date wheel ensures the date vanishes when you are looking at the watch and is only visible when you are looking for it, the vintage styled numerals and thick hands have eye-scorching lume as can be expected of a very good diving watch, the silver highlights contrast beautifully against the subtly textured dial. I particularly enjoy the addition of a red tip to the second’s hand, which infuses the watch with a just enough life against the purposeful yet elegant design.

The finish on the case is superb, and exemplifies the manufacture’s decades of experience. I would have preferred an all brushed finish myself, but still the polished parts look great still.

The movement that comes in the latest edition of the Fifty Fathoms is the in house self-winding beautifully decorated Calibre 1315. Features include an especially dense bimetallic rotor, which facilitates winding efficiency. Also, if you notice from the movement picture below, the absence of a swan-neck regulator is noticeable only by the eagle-eyed, as this caliber utilizes a free-sprung balance regulated by screws around the balance wheel instead (see it now?).


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The entire movement is encased in an anti-magnetic cage. Which I have to say I am not a fan of. Although I understand that this is a valuable feature to people who work around magnetic fields, I personally would most likely find myself staring at the gorgeous movement. Same issue I have with the Big Pilot, at least with the BP I have my Big Ingeneur to satisfy my display back fetish.

See those three gold barrels in the middle there? Those are the three series coupled barrels which result in a very respectable 5 day power reserve. All in all allot of innovation and workmanship has went into this movement, and there is nothing to complain about (other than the fact that you can’t see it)


The rubber line canvas strap the watch comes with is absolutely fantastic! Allot of thought and effort went into it and it is a very unique and purposeful thing that manages to look very good, I like that allot! Another high point is that the watch has a fast strap change system built in! Very nice!

the lume is of coarse very very good, even the documentation has luminous treatment!

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The Fifty Fathoms comes in a water tight plastic and foam case, I have always found it slightly ironic that extreme depth watches tend to come in water tight packaging! Wouldn’t it make more sense to supply the non-water tight watches in that type of packaging? Although I understand that the purpose is to create a sense of functionality to the “tool packaging” and to be fair the watch does come in an inner finely made leather pouch and case, I still prefer the nicely made boxes Panerais, Breitlings etc come in. Then again I find 10 day power reserve automatics odd, so what do I know? J


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Closer inspection of the box shows that it is made of extreme and high tech materials, a little research shows that it can protect its contents in the harshest and most diverse of environment, not just watery situations. The effort that went into this box looks to be allot more than what Omega did with their water tight boxes and what a regular wood box would have required; maybe my first impression was unfair!


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The entire package just comes together to scream of attention to detail and faithfulness to its heritage, every single detail has obviously been agonized over to increase performance and add desirability.

There are a few watches in my humble collection that I believe to be excellent modern interpretations of historically iconic and great watches, the Panerai 233 being a modern watch based on the characteristics of the 1950 with an eye towards the modern consumer, the Ploprof with its ugly-in-an-attractive-way and functional looks true to the original yet with beautiful modern features and a fine finish, the IWC Big Pilot representing a rich history of air war fare yet being produced to the highest standards, the Big Inge with its scientific functionality abandoned for civilian endeavors (the lack of soft iron and the addition of a display back)but roots unforgotten in its design and construction, The DeepSea taking the classic Rolex Sea Dweller design and functionality and throwing both to the extreme with a side of steroids, Blanpain claim that tradition and innovation is not a contradictory term, and that is evident in their approach to the Fifty Fathoms, the watch just fits perfectly in the mix of these re-editions and is a welcome addition to my collection.

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PostPosted: Sun Aug 01, 2010 10:27 am 
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Loved the review Altair! Love the history and the piece itself. Thanks for taking the time to put this together. History like that, to me, adds to the piece itself, helps one form more of a conneciton and appreciation! I want one :mrgreen:

On an aside, the contents of your watch box looks very impressive indeed!

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PostPosted: Sun Aug 01, 2010 10:29 am 
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Fantastic review Ahmed. Really puts this time piece into perspective. Beautiful addition to your amazing collection.

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PostPosted: Sun Aug 01, 2010 11:00 am 
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Great pick up and great review Altair. I love that case that it comes in.


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PostPosted: Sun Aug 01, 2010 11:46 am 
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Great review of a beautiful watch there Altair. I'm a big Fifty Fathoms fan myself, so it's great to see some real world pictures of it.

Oh and your watch-box is "coming along nicely" too! :wink: That is a real who's who's of watchmaking. Fantastic stuff! :thumbsup:

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PostPosted: Sun Aug 01, 2010 1:13 pm 
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Hi Altair,

Great review, and :wowzers thats some collection you have.

The Fifty Fathom case is a standard industrial case from Pel Products.
(see link:http://www.peliproducts.co.uk/images/cl/1300_2.jpg)

We use a lot of them at sea for protecting instruments, and when I first saw your photos, I thought that's a bit cheap for a watch such as the Fifty Fathom, but then thinking on it, no that's just the right type of case for such a watch, the mix of design for a specific job and perfect function, using the same principals as the watch was designed for.


Ian.

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PostPosted: Sun Aug 01, 2010 1:54 pm 
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Wow! Youve set the new standard for what a review should be!

The FF is a real beauty. Its stunning in its simplicity, and has absolutely perfect proportions. VERY nice pickup.

BTW, what do you mean when you say that its not a sapphire covered bezel, but completely sapphire? Ive seen sapphire bezels before, like on the FF and Bremont, but I never realized that there was possibly a difference.

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PostPosted: Sun Aug 01, 2010 3:40 pm 
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Simply superb m8! I really really really like one now please...

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PostPosted: Sun Aug 01, 2010 4:51 pm 
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Great review. While visually the watch doesnt do much for me. The histroy alone makes a watch lover like myself and any other who reads this want 1!

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PostPosted: Sun Aug 01, 2010 5:47 pm 
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As usual Altair, superb!

The lume on that watch is just... :o :o :o :drool:

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PostPosted: Sun Aug 01, 2010 10:10 pm 
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Thanks all, got it on a few after market straps and it is looking SWEET!

Beyond Man wrote:
Fantastic review Ahmed. Really puts this time piece into perspective.


Thanks, I do believe that history and functionality of a piece add allot to the appreciation of a time piece, not just visuals. I wish more people would take the time to consider all aspects of a watch when doing reviews, as it really completes the picture!

As an example, i wouldn't have bought this watch based purely on aesthetics, but its history and the excellent movement make it very desirable to me!

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PostPosted: Sun Aug 01, 2010 10:13 pm 
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The Engineer wrote:
Hi Altair,

Great review, and :wowzers thats some collection you have.

The Fifty Fathom case is a standard industrial case from Pel Products.
(see link:http://www.peliproducts.co.uk/images/cl/1300_2.jpg)

We use a lot of them at sea for protecting instruments, and when I first saw your photos, I thought that's a bit cheap for a watch such as the Fifty Fathom, but then thinking on it, no that's just the right type of case for such a watch, the mix of design for a specific job and perfect function, using the same principals as the watch was designed for.


Ian.


Hey Ian,

I actually do have a large pelican case that I keep my camera equipment in when not in use or traveling, this has a bit more work put into it. I agree that the theme is appropriate for the watch...

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PostPosted: Sun Aug 01, 2010 10:14 pm 
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Awesome review, Altair, great reading and some great info in there!

A very worthy addition to your collection. :D


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PostPosted: Sun Aug 01, 2010 10:22 pm 
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RJRJRJ wrote:
Wow! Youve set the new standard for what a review should be!

The FF is a real beauty. Its stunning in its simplicity, and has absolutely perfect proportions. VERY nice pickup.

BTW, what do you mean when you say that its not a sapphire covered bezel, but completely sapphire? Ive seen sapphire bezels before, like on the FF and Bremont, but I never realized that there was possibly a difference.



The bezel sapphire and dial sapphire are actually separate pieces, not a single sapphire that covers the entire surface. this is especially evident when you look at the watch from the side, as the dial sapphire is domed and the bezel sapphire is cambered and continues to inside the case. this is somewhat difficult to explain whiteout decent pictures (I promise to do some soon) but the watch surface has four different levels starting from the coin edged bezel.

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PostPosted: Sun Aug 01, 2010 10:40 pm 
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Driver8 wrote:
Great review of a beautiful watch there Altair. I'm a big Fifty Fathoms fan myself, so it's great to see some real world pictures of it.

Oh and your watch-box is "coming along nicely" too! :wink: That is a real who's who's of watchmaking. Fantastic stuff! :thumbsup:


Thanks Driver, I actually hadn't planned to buy this watch just yet but as luck would have it a friend of mine did an impulse buy and once he got home decided he could not wear a 45.5mm, the store has a no refunds policy and, get this, does not release the warranty card on Patek Philippe or Blancpain watches for six months due to the hoarding of resellers in my region! So he couldn't sell it to anyone he didn't know.

Long story short, I ended up with the watch at 50% off, though I have to wait 6 months for the papers to be released :D

A bit of good luck after the $%^&storm that is the BS LE II shipping fiasco is a welcome thing indeed!!! :mrgreen:

just a few tweaks to the old collection and I am "there"

Coming in:

PAM 249 and JLC navy Seals Alarm Diver, Navi World "black"

Soon to go:

Breitling Blacksteel, PAM 210, Ananta Automatic


i think i will keep my Steinharts and Oris as beaters, and the Ananta Spring Drive is not going anywhere

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Last edited by Altair on Mon Aug 02, 2010 6:07 am, edited 1 time in total.

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