Blancpain unveils the absurd X Fathoms

Blancpain just unveiled the X Fathoms watch in Dubai, the scuba diving capital of the world. Looking at the watch you’d never figure out what it does – it a mechanical depth gauge. Admittedly the 9918B calibre is technically interesting with some unusual features. But even if you know what it is you probably won’t know how to use it. Intuitive seems not to have been part of the design brief. A flexible metal membrane on the case back deforms with pressure at increasing depth, which activates the depth guage which works up to 90 m. The first 15 m are indicated by a one scale, and the excess beyond 15 m by another scale. This diagram is supposed to aid understanding of the watch but it’s five minutes of your life you will never get back.

This depth guage has what Blancpain calls “an exceptional +/- 30 cm precision”. To achieve this Blancpain used a rack asymmetrical toothing manufactured by the LIGA process of lithography like that used to make silicon. The balance spring is silicon incidentally. Blancpain uses different colours for the various scales on the dial, but I am mystified by the choice. Blue is the colour that is visible at greatest depth, up to 80 or 90 m if my memory is correct. Orange goes at relatively shallow depth. But Blancpain uses blue for the 0-15 m scale and orange for the 0-90 m scale. All of that means the case is 24 mm high – the same as the strap width of a 44 mm Panerai watch. The case is a similarly modest 55.65 mm but Blancpain considerately made the case titanium.

The cuttlefish strap, however, deserves special mention for having an entire paragraph dedicated to it (bold text added for emphasis): “The strap fitted to the X Fathoms is the most complex injected rubber strap ever conceived. The reasons behind its development are both functional and aesthetic. Its variable geometry structure is composed of 14 articulated parts… Its shape resembles that of a cuttlefish and the incisions invoking the gill slits of manta rays highlight the underwater vocation of this watch.” While a mechanical depth gauge is useless in the professional sense, it is an interesting technical achievement. IWC is most famous for this, with the Deep Two and much missed Deep One. While simpler, those watches were more understandable. This Blancpain is just way out there. – SJX

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