Blancpain Introduces Fifty Fathoms “70th Anniversary Act 1”

The historical diver gets a subtle refresh.

Twenty twenty-three marks the 70th anniversary of Blancpain’s landmark dive watch, the Fifty Fathoms. Introduced in 1953, the diver was revived in 2003. Kicking off the commemorative editions is the Fifty Fathoms “70th Anniversary Act 1”, the first instalment in a year’s worth of anniversary models.

Like the current model, the “Act 1” is inspired by the vintage model, but sports dimensions patterned after the original from seven decades ago, with a reduced case diameter of just over 42 mm.

Initial thoughts 

The familiar form of the modern dive watch is due in part to the Fifty Fathoms – whether that or the Rolex Submariner was launched first is an endless debate – so it is unsurprising that Blancpain’s current catalogue includes a vast array of Fifty Fathoms-inspired timepieces. Thankfully, Blancpain has done something to cater to watch enthusiasts with the anniversary model that has a smaller diameter, perhaps in response to criticism that the closest equivalent in the line-up is 45 mm wide (Blancpain does offer dive watches with smaller cases, but they are either limited editions or the Bathyscaphe).

Even though the anniversary watch is broadly similar to the standard Fifty Fathoms in terms of design, it has been refined and arguably improved, especially on the dial. Blancpain skipped the easy route of copying the earlier model and scaling it down. Instead the designers commendably captured the spirit of the original with the vintage typography under 12 o’clock, while using modern elements like the applied, resin hour markers (basically blocks of plastic impregnated with Super-Luminova).

But that is one element I wish was different, the date window between four and five o’clock. The date is an entirely superfluous element on a dive watch, especially so on a watch that is heavily inspired by a historical model. Hopefully, this will be done away with in the following anniversary models as several more will be launched over the year – explaining why this is labelled “Act 1”.

At the time of writing Blancpain has yet to announce the pricing for this, but we can safely assume it will be priced well above the US$14,500 of the standard, 45 mm model.

Lastly, the distribution of “Act 1” is notable for being online-only. It will only be available via Blancpain’s website in late January, with the 210-piece run split evenly between customers in three regions, namely the Americas; Asia; and Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. The online, direct-to-consumer truly caught on during the pandemic and such launches often sold out. But that was then and it remains to be seen if demand continues at the same pace now.

Keeping it original 

The new Fifty Fathoms is a careful and modernise reinterpretation of the original from 1953, which was conceived by the then-chief executive of Blancpain, Jean-Jacques Fiechter (1927-2022). According to Blancpain lore, Fiechter devised the watch after a brush with death when, not having a watch on his wrist underwater, he ran out of oxygen during an amateur dive excursion in the south of France. Later, with the input of French navy combat divers Robert “Bob” Maloubier and Claude Riffaud, Fiechter designed a watch that would also meet the requirements of military.

The original Fifty Fathoms from 1953

The anniversary watch is a tribute to that original, more or less. At 42.3 mm in diameter and 14.3 mm in height, the case has been reduced to almost the dimensions of the original, making it much smaller than the standard model that is a large 45 mm. 

The rest of the watch is mostly identical to the standard model. The case is polished stainless steel with broad, chunk lugs, while the bezel has a sapphire insert over a luminous scale. At first glance the dial looks similar, but it is notably different. It has the same metallic black finish with sunburst brushing, but the applied numerals are luminous resin blocks. These tweaks should make the new Fifty Fathoms more wearable and legible.

As with most other Fifty Fathoms models, the “70th Anniversary Act 1” is powered by the in-house cal. 1315, the mainstay of self-winding movement line-up. It’s a large-diameter workhorse with three barrels that provide a longer-than-average power reserve of 120 hours. And for the anniversary, Blancpain has added a platinum rotor with commemorative markings in relief.

Key facts and price

Blancpain Fifty Fathoms “70th Anniversary Act 1”
Ref. 5010A/B/C-1130-NABA

Diameter: 42.3 mm
Height: 14.3 mm
Material: Polished steel
Crystal: Sapphire
Water resistance: 300 m

Movement: Cal. 1315
Functions: Hours, minutes, seconds, and date
Winding: Self-winding
Frequency: 28,800 beats per hour (4 Hz)
Power reserve: 120 hours

Strap: NATO-style fabric strap

Limited edition: 210 pieces, with 70 examples for each of three regions, EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa), the Americas, and Asia
Availability: Via the Blancpain website beginning late January 2023
Price: To be announced

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Louis Vuitton Announces Prize for Independent Watchmakers

Recognising and rewarding talent.

Independent watchmaking has been gaining rapid momentum in the last three years. Young and talented watchmakers have emerged to seek recognition (and sometimes riches) in the mould of Philippe Dufour, Kari Voutilainen, and François-Paul Journe. Now the field is about to get the nod of approval from the luxury-goods establishment, with Louis Vuitton having announced the Louis Vuitton Watch Prize for Independent Creatives. Conceived to promote “horological creativity”, the award begins in 2023 with a broad remit. It is open to anyone in watchmaking and watch design, and even from fields related to horology.

Initial thoughts

As the world’s largest luxury brand, Louis Vuitton has unsurprisingly been making high-end watches for some time – last year was the 20th anniversary of its first mechanical wristwatch. Following its acquisition of Geneva movement maker La Fabrique du Temps in 2012, the brand’s ambitions have grown, resulting in impressively complicated watches like the Tambour Carpe Diem, a minute repeater with automaton. From that perspective, the Louis Vuitton prize is a natural extension of the brand’s progress as a watchmaker, a way for Louis Vuitton to make known its commitment to high-end watchmaking. 

The fact that Louis Vuitton is using its considerable resources – the brand’s 2021 revenue was in the region of €15 billion – to support independent watchmakers is a welcome development. The prize money is substantial, reputedly in the low six figures, which will be helpful for new watchmakers, especially one-man operations, who tend to have a tough time getting started in ordinary times (the hyper demand enjoyed by the industry during the pandemic was an exception).

The Tambour Carpe Diem, the winner of the Audacity Prize at the 2021 GPHG

Also important is the fact that the prize is open to one and all. When Jean Arnault, the Director of Watches at Louis Vuitton, announced the prize on his personal social media account, he stressed the competition is inclusive; everyone and anyone who wants to participate will be able to submit an application.

While the fact a mega luxury conglomerate is seeking to recognise fine watchmaking of the smallest possible scale might raise some eyebrows, Mr Arnault has taken care to ensure the credibility of the prize with a jury composed of industry veterans that include journalists and prominent watch collectors, similar to that of the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Geneve.

The Louis Vuitton Watch Prize might just emerge as the best avenue for emerging watchmakers to get their name out there while gaining much-needed financial support, hopefully allowing them to push the envelope and create some genuinely incredible watches.

The competitive process

According to Louis Vuitton, the competition begins with prospective candidates submitting their respective creative projects to the dedicated prize website, which is open from now until May 2023. By September 2023, a committee of industry experts will be convened by Louis Vuitton to whittle down the submissions to 20 semi-finalists who will be announced online. 

The committee will then deliberate and evaluate the semi-finalists along five criteria: design, creativity, innovation, craftsmanship, and technical complexity. In December 2023, the committee will elect from its ranks a five-member jury that will select the five finalists. The final audition and interview of the finalists by the jury will take place in Paris in January 2024, followed by the announcement of the very first winner of the Louis Vuitton Watch Prize for Independent Creatives.

At work in La Fabrique du Temps Louis Vuitton in Meyrin, Geneva. Image – Louis Vuitton.

The winner of the prize will receive a monetary grant and a one-year mentorship at the La Fabrique du Temps Louis Vuitton (LFDT), the brand’s watchmaking division. Guided by LDFT founders Michel Navas and Enrico Barbasini, the prize winner will embark on a mentorship catered towards his or her creative style. Along with this, the winner will receive support from a dedicated team at Louis Vuitton that will assist with his or her brand’s business fundamentals, namely marketing, legal aspects like copyright, and even the financials of a startup.

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