The History of Blancpain's Fifty Fathoms and Aqua Lung Watches

Among the most iconic names in this industry is Blancpain, a brand that has left an indelible mark on the world of dive watches. In this blog post, we will delve into the fascinating history of Blancpain
Blancpain Aqua Lung Vintage

 Blancpain Aqua Lung Vintage


The world of luxury watchmaking is rich with history, innovation, and remarkable craftsmanship. Among the most iconic names in this industry is Blancpain, a brand that has left an indelible mark on the world of dive watches. In this blog post, we will delve into the fascinating history of Blancpain, the evolution of its Fifty Fathoms series, and the significance of the Aqua Lung watch. This journey through time will appeal to watch enthusiasts, history buffs, and the diving community alike.

The Genesis of Blancpain

Blancpain, founded in 1735 by Jehan-Jacques Blancpain in Villeret, Switzerland, holds the distinction of being the world's oldest watchmaking brand. Over the centuries, Blancpain has built a reputation for innovation and excellence in horology. The brand's commitment to craftsmanship and precision has made it a revered name in the industry.

The Evolution of Blancpain

Blancpain's journey began with traditional watchmaking, focusing on creating high-quality timepieces. However, the brand's trajectory took a significant turn in the mid-20th century when it ventured into the realm of dive watches. This marked the beginning of an era that would see Blancpain revolutionize underwater timekeeping.

The Birth of the Fifty Fathoms

The story of the Fifty Fathoms series is intertwined with the history of modern dive watches. In the early 1950s, Blancpain introduced the Fifty Fathoms, a watch that laid down a set of features that would become the definitive blueprint for modern dive watches. Spearheaded by Jean-Jacques Fiechter, an amateur diver and the CEO of Blancpain at the time, the Fifty Fathoms was born out of a personal need for a reliable dive watch.


Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Vintage  on strap
Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Vintage 


The Vision of Jean-Jacques Fiechter

Jean-Jacques Fiechter, a member of the Club Alpin Sous-Marin in the south of France, had specific requirements for this new watch. These included water resistance, a robust double-sealed crown, a self-winding movement, a contrasting dark dial with luminescent indications, a secured unidirectional rotating bezel, and anti-magnetic protection. By 1954, Fiechter had filed patents for several innovative features, including the locking rotating bezel, a double caseback, and a double 'O' ring crown.


Blancpain patent from 1959

Blancpain Patent From 1959

The Fifty Fathoms in Action

Capable of diving to depths of 100 meters, the Fifty Fathoms quickly caught the attention of professional divers. In 1953, Blancpain delivered watches to the French combat swimmers' unit (Nageurs de Combat), led by Captain Robert Maloubier and Lt. Claude Riffaud. The Fifty Fathoms soon became an essential part of their equipment. It was adopted by the U.S. Navy Seals (MIL-SPEC 1) and other elite diving corps, and the watch was even worn by Jacques-Yves Cousteau in the award-winning film "The Silent World" in 1956.

Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Vintage close Up of Dial
Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Vintage close Up of Dial


A Brief Hiatus and a Grand Return

Between the 1980s and the 2000s, the Fifty Fathoms was taken out of mainstream production. However, the watch made a triumphant return in 2003, thanks to Marc A. Hayek, a diver and the then-CEO of Blancpain. Hayek relaunched the Fifty Fathoms for its 50th anniversary, ensuring that the watch retained its status as an insider's choice among divers and watch enthusiasts.

The 70th Anniversary Celebration

As the Fifty Fathoms celebrates its 70th anniversary, Blancpain has introduced a series of limited edition pieces to mark the occasion. These watches will be released in three series of 70 watches across three markets: the Americas, EMEA (Europe, Middle East, and Africa), and Asia-Pacific. Each series will carry its designation on the dial at six o'clock. The new 42.30mm diameter case pays homage to the early 1950s models, while the in-house automatic calibre 1315 movement ensures robustness and precision.

The Fifty Fathoms Tech Gombessa

One of the standout releases in recent years is the Fifty Fathoms Tech Gombessa. Created by Marc A. Hayek and Laurent Ballesta, a wildlife photographer and marine biologist, this dive watch is a testament to Blancpain's commitment to innovation. Cased in grade 23 titanium, the Tech Gombessa measures 47mm wide and 14.81mm thick, featuring a helium escape valve and an integrated strap. The watch houses a new calibre with a triple-barrel-powered movement, offering a solid five days of power reserve and exceptional anti-magnetism.

The Tech Gombessa underwent five years of intensive testing, with Ballesta wearing four prototypes during the Gombessa V and Gombessa VI missions. These experiences led to refinements like the integrated rubber strap with a central lug system and big block luminous orange indices. The Bakelite-esque bezel, with luminous numerals, adds a touch of the original Fifty Fathoms design, making it a remarkable timepiece for extreme dives.

Blancpain Aqua Lung Vintage Case Back
Blancpain Aqua Lung Vintage Case Back

The Blancpain and Swatch Collaboration

In an unexpected yet exciting turn of events, Blancpain collaborated with Swatch to create a collection that marries the Fifty Fathoms' DNA with Swatch's SISTEM51 technology. Following the success of the MoonSwatch, this collaboration brings together color, bio-ceramics, and the heritage of both brands. The result is a unique blend of performance and style, adding a touch of glamour to the world of dive watches.

The Aqua Lung Dive Watch

The Aqua Lung dive watch, developed by Blancpain in the early 1950s, is another significant milestone in the brand's history. Part of the Fifty Fathoms line, the Aqua Lung was one of the first serious dive watches ever produced. This watch holds historical importance, as it was used by the French, U.S., German, and Israeli Navy.

Blancpain Aqua Lung Vintage Movement
Blancpain Aqua Lung Vintage Movement

The Legacy of Jacques-Yves Cousteau

Many people associate the birth of sport diving with the explorer, filmmaker, and scientist Jacques-Yves Cousteau. Cousteau's famous AquaLung brought underwater exploration to the masses. However, it's worth noting that nine years before Cousteau's "The Silent World," Austrian scientist Hans Hass had already conquered the depths using modified military gear. Hass's work, including his first film "Humans and Sharks" in 1947, showcased the beauty and importance of the oceans.


Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Vintage With Packaging
Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Vintage With Packaging

The Tribute to the Aqua Lung

Blancpain's Tribute to the Aqua Lung pays homage to this iconic dive watch. While it's not clear how many pieces will be made, this limited edition model is highly attractive. With a mainstream feel, the Tribute to the Aqua Lung retains the same case and movement as the standard Fifty Fathoms watch. It features a steel case, a 45mm width, and an in-house automatic movement with several days of power reserve. The blue-tinted nautilus style automatic movement on the rotor adds a unique touch.

The original Aqua Lung model from the 1950s remains a collector's item. Blancpain has taken steps to replicate the dial while maintaining the feel of a modern watch. The resulting dial is simple and utilitarian, yet elevated by the high-end features and construction of the timepiece. The curved sapphire over the bezel and the exquisite finishing on the case make this watch a timeless classic.

Blancpain Aqua Lung Vintage on its side
Vintage Blancpain Aqua Lung Watch


The history of Blancpain's Fifty Fathoms and Aqua Lung watches is a testament to the brand's pioneering spirit and dedication to excellence. These watches have not only stood the test of time but have also set the standard for modern dive watches. From their inception in the 1950s to their continued evolution and innovation, Blancpain's dive watches remain a symbol of luxury, precision, and adventure.

Blancpain storefront in Zurich Switzerland
Blancpain storefront in Zurich Switzerland

For watch enthusiasts, history buffs, and the diving community, the legacy of Blancpain's Fifty Fathoms and Aqua Lung watches is a fascinating journey through the annals of horological history. As we celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Fifty Fathoms, it's clear that Blancpain's commitment to innovation and craftsmanship continues to shine brightly.

Whether you're a seasoned diver or a watch collector, the allure of Blancpain's dive watches is undeniable. Their rich history, technical prowess, and timeless design make them a cherished addition to any collection. So, as we look to the future, we can be certain that Blancpain will continue to push the boundaries of watchmaking, ensuring that the legacy of the Fifty Fathoms and Aqua Lung lives on for generations to come.

Modern Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Store Display
Modern Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Store Display 
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