In 2003, Blancpain celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Fifty Fathoms dive watch. To mark this milestone, the manufacturer released the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms 50th Anniversary reference 2200A-1130-71. This timepiece was released in a limited production run of 150 watches, which Blancpain divided the batch into three separate series of 50 watches each. Series I was sent to the Asian market, Series II was sent to the European market, and Series III was sent to the United States. Offered at retail price of approximately $14,300, all three series promptly sold out, prompting Blancpain to promptly issue a similar unlimited series shortly thereafter.
The Fifty Fathoms 50th Anniversary stayed true to its origins. Just after World War II, the CEO of Blancpain, Jean-Jacques Feichter, was an avid recreational scuba diver. It was the early years of the sport, and Feichter lost track of time during one of his dives. That’s right, he ran out of air. The experience encouraged him to develop a watch design specifically built for the purpose of diving. Feichter and his team at Blancpain were effectively responsible for laying out the key characteristics that define a dive watch, even to this day. These include a rotating bezel, high-contrast luminous markers, automatic winding, and water resistance to significant depths.
Each of these elements is present in the Fifty Fathoms 50th Anniversary reference 2200A-1130-71. The lume used here is greenish in hue, and contrasts well with the black colorway on the bezel and the dial. Arabic numerals indicate the time at 12, 3, 6 and 9. The remaining hour markers are applied rectangles. Just above 6 o’clock the dial is marked by the words “50th Anniversary” and “Series X,” where X corresponds to the market where the watch was sold (as described above). The luminous hour and minute hands have a sword styling. The seconds hand is arrow in shape with a highly decorative counterweight which evokes the nib of a fountain pen, and its tip is marked red. There is a date complication, which marks the first significant departure from the original Fifty Fathoms.
The bezel insert on this particular model is sapphire: a first for the Fifty Fathoms and a trait that assists in scratch resistance as well as the ability to add luminous indices. It can be rotated counter-clockwise to align the diamond shaped “lozenge” zero marker with the current position of its minute hand. This allows the wearer to keep track of the elapsed time—a potentially life-saving feature when scuba diving. Blancpain chose a hearty piece of sapphire for its crystal as well, which assists in achieving a depth rating of 1000 feet, or 300 meters. Given that the world record for scuba diving is 332 meters, the Fifty Fathoms 50th Anniversary offers ample water resistance for almost any dive. Interestingly, this Fifty Fathoms is rated for 166 fathoms.
In order to protect the crown on this reference, Blancpain introduced subtle guards to the case. This update has carried forward through more recent releases of the Fifty Fathoms. A screw-down crown also contributes to its water resistance rating. The case itself is steel, measuring 40mm in diameter and 14mm thick. The manufacturer’s name is engraved on the left side of the case. The series number of the watch is engraved on the caseback along with the watch’s number out of the 50 in the series. The words “Limited Edition” are also engraved on the caseback along with the years 1953-2003.
The Fifty Fathoms 50th Anniversary was two bracelets. The first is an X71 stainless steel link bracelet featuring a push-button deployant butterfly clasp. The manufacturer’s name and logo are engraved on the clasp-adjacent links. Blancpain also included a very unusual rubber strap optimized for diving. The strap has bund styling, molded from a single piece of rubber and long enough to fit over a wetsuit. There are apertures in the strap which allow the wearer to use the crown and/or bezel. They are large enough that they provide access even with gloved hands. The rubber strap is secured with a tang buckle engraved with the manufacturer’s name.
Blancpain included a “stand” to assist with swapping the strap. Inside the legs of the stand there are spare parts for the watch including screws, tubes, pins and “bits.” The stand also includes a tool for swapping the straps. The strap change system was so straightforward that, during a launch event for the timepiece in Thailand, Blancpain’s CEO Marc Hayek demonstrated a strap change underwater while diving with combat dive legend Robert Maloubier DSO MBE.
The Fifty Fathoms 50th Anniversary reference 2200A-1130-71 employs the automatic caliber 1151 movement sourced from Frédéric Piguet. The winding mechanism is unidirectional, which simplifies and slims the movement. Blancpain introduced a silicon balance spring for its variant of the movement. The watch has an impressive 100 hour power reserve achieved through the use of twin mainspring barrels. The movement is set to a frequency of 21,600 beats per hour, or six beats for second. This is less frenetic than the norm for recent movements (usually 28,800 beats per hour). The lower frequency offers advantages including: more resistance to shocks, a longer service interval, and longer power reserve. The movement is finished with Geneva striping and perlage.
Blancpain spared no creativity in designing the packaging for the Fifty Fathoms 50th Anniversary timepiece. It is held in a cylindrical box with a handle. The manufacturer was clearly inspired by the lights used in low visibility conditions or technical dives such as underwater cave expeditions. The lid of the box is held in place by two bailing latches, devices which are often used in boats to secure hatches or cladding of some sort. In the Fifty Fathoms 50th Anniversary reference 2200A-1130-71, Blancpain delivered a timepiece which celebrated and extended the legacy of the very first dive watch. It is no surprise, then, that collectors eagerly purchased this limited run of 150 timepieces. So beloved are these watches that they rarely appear for resale and, when they do, they are once again eagerly acquired by collectors. Within the family of Fifty Fathoms references the 50th Anniversary design holds a special place in the dive watch community.