Without a doubt, the most popular style of traditional watch on the market is the dive watch. With their rugged builds, versatile good looks, and timeless style, dive watches tick a lot of boxes for enthusiasts and casual wearers alike. But the dive watch as we know it today wouldn’t exist were it not for the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms. First unveiled in 1953 as the first watch with a secured unidirectional rotating timing bezel, a patented O-ring seal and double-sealed crown system, and a hefty dose of water resistance, the original Fifty Fathoms created a genre that would soon become an industry standard. Fast-forward seven decades and Blancpain is still making the Fifty Fathoms, though it’s gone quite a bit upmarket in the ensuing years to fit with the brand’s current status as a purveyor of haute horological luxury timepieces. So how does the modern-day Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Automatique and its $15,000+ price tag come across in the metal? Let’s take a look.
At A Glance
Fifty Fathoms Specs
Case Size: 45mm
Lug to Lug: 50mm
Case Thickness: 15.4mm
Lug Width: 23mm
Case Material: Titanium
Water Resistance: 300m
Movement Type: Automatic
Power Reserve: 120 Hours
Movement: Blancpain Caliber 1315
Strap: Sail Canvas/Rubber
Video Review: Blancpain Fifty Fathoms
The Blancpain Fifty Fathoms is so stunning in person that there’s no way to properly replicate its beauty in photographs — but our Fifty Fathoms video review in glorious 4K sure does a pretty good job of it.
When laying eyes on the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms for the first time, it’s immediately clear that this is no ordinary dive watch; that this is something special. The first thing we noticed was the bezel. A bold, glistening, domed sapphire insert, it makes quite the statement, leading your eye to the brilliant blue sunburst dial and contrasting wonderfully with the more muted satin-finished gray titanium case. The word that kept coming to our minds while handling the Fifty Fathoms was “stunning,” and we still can’t think of a better way to describe it.
Large & Light
As we mentioned, the case on this iteration of the Fifty Fathoms (REF: 5015 12B40 O52A) is in titanium, and that was certainly the right choice for this model. That’s because the case measures a full 45mm across and more than 15mm thick. I.e., this is a big watch. But thanks to the lightness of titanium, it doesn’t feel like it. The matte-finished metal was also a good choice specifically because it lacks the sheen of stainless steel or white gold. With the combination of that knockout sapphire bezel insert and the gorgeous shimmering dial work, a shiny metal for the case would make the watch too blingy overall, so again, Blancpain’s use of titanium here was smart.
It’s the attention to detail that is often the difference between expensive watches and very expensive watches, and Blancpain’s outstanding work on the dial really shows why the Fifty Fathoms costs what it does. A stepped dial with two different sunburst finishes, its color effortlessly transitions from black to brilliant blue depending on the light. Its date window is at 4:30, but it’s small and color-matched to keep it from being obtrusive. Its indices are applied white gold surrounds that are filled to the brim with lume, and it boasts sharply finished sword hands that are equally loaded up with lume. Combine this dial lume with the fully-lumed bezel insert, which boasts the best nighttime visibility performance we’ve ever seen on a bezel, and you have a watch that is just as impressive with the lights off as when they’re on.
Subtle & Comfortable
Keeping the watch’s weight down further is its choice of strap. Instead of a full-metal bracelet, the Fifty Fathoms is fitted to an excellent sailcloth canvas strap. It’s a clever choice for a dive watch, given the material’s seaworthy history and ability to repel water, and we’ve quite literally never seen one executed so well. That’s to be expected on a watch at this price level, but it’s still worth noting. The stitching is impeccable, the strap is flexible right out of the box, and it even features a silky rubber lining for greater comfort against the skin. We admittedly weren’t huge fans of sailcloth straps before, as they can be a bit stiff and drab, but this one made us true believers.
Just about every Swiss luxury dive watchmaker crafts their own in-house movements these days — but not like this. Blancpain isn’t just a luxury watchmaker, it’s a legitimate high horology brand. The brand churns out 8-day perpetual calendars, 12-day tourbillons, and even a carousel minute-repeater flyback chronograph. These are some of the most elite mechanical movements in the world, and this kind of capability isn’t often associated with a brand that also makes dive watches. And while the Caliber 1315 inside the Fifty Fathoms is one of the Maison’s simpler movements, it’s still wildly impressive, boasting a triple-barrel setup that allows for a full five days of power reserve. Throw in a solid gold rotor and high horology-level decoration — both visible through the sapphire caseback — and you have something truly special among divers.
On The Wrist
Presence For Days
There’s no way around it: the Fifty Fathoms is a big watch, and if you prefer watches with cases around 40mm or smaller, you may find its 45mm size to be just too much. Having said that, the watch’s lightness and short lugs (it’s just 50mm lug to lug) do make it wear slightly smaller than its dimensions would suggest, and even our testers with wrists smaller than 6.5” found the Blancpain to be rather comfortable and surprisingly wearable. Its wearability has no effect on its presence, however, as it still appears large on the wrist and is quite visually striking. In other words, this is not the watch to wear if you’re trying to fly under the radar.
The Blancpain Fifty Fathoms was the world’s first modern dive watch, and its place in history is secured. But Blancpain’s landmark diver doesn’t deserve to be left in the past alone. The modern iteration is an absolutely incredible timepiece, and we can’t think of a finer grail watch among divers. If you’re looking for the absolute pinnacle of dive watch craftsmanship — and you’ve got a very healthy bank account — there’s simply no beating the diver that started it all.
The 20 Best Dive Watches
Want to see how the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms stacks up against some of the luxury competition? Then check out our guide and accompanying video to the best dive watches on the market.