It’s been a while since Blancpain did a Fifty Fathoms Tribute watch. Remember the Tribute to FF Aqualung with its tasteful scripted Aqualung logo, or the Tribute to FF No Radiations with its not so subtle red and yellow No Radiations logo - some pretty cool special editions released for the FF connoisseur.
So now what’s this on the usually sober dial of one of the world’s most iconic dive watches? You’d be forgiven for thinking the design team at Blancpain had gone a bit bonkers and put a massive beach ball motif slap bang in the middle of the FF’s face.
A movement indicator perhaps? To understand what the large half white, half yellow circular disc is on the 2017 Fifty Fathoms MIL-SPEC we need to go back 60 years to 1957 when Jean-Jacques Fiechter, a sport diving pioneer who also happened to be head of Blancpain who had already addressed one of the major challenges of scuba-diving by inventing the divers bezel.
Obsessed by diver safety, Jean-Jacques Fiechter decided to incorporate an additional feature for his dive watches: a circular water-tightness indicator. If, by chance, water was to leak into the watch case, a disk at 6 o’clock would signal the problem by changing its color from white to red.
We have to remember that the seals on dive watches were not what they are today with Teflon-coated O-rings etc. This water-tightness indicator was present on the dial of the Fifty Fathoms model called the MIL-SPEC 1, which was introduced in 1957-58 to meet the strict requirements of the military.
In the late 50s, the US Navy tested a variety of different watches with the aim of drawing up specifications for a divers watch to be used in their underwater missions. Following those tests, the Fifty Fathoms became the standard-issue watch on the wrists of US combat swimmers, as well as the reference point for future production to take place in the US.
Meanwhile, Blancpain obtained contracts to equip members of the elite UDT and the Navy Seals with MIL-SPEC 1 watches. Later on, in the early 1960s, those evolved into the MIL-SPEC 2 and, under the Tornek-Rayville name, the TR-900. The water-tightness indicator became a requirement of the US Navy, and was incorporated in all these models.
The 2017 Tribute to Fifty Fathoms MIL-SPEC’s black dial features indexes in SuperLuminNova and a water-tightness indicator echoing the designs of the 1950s MIL-SPEC 1. The unidirectional rotating bezel covered in scratch-resistant Sapphire, a Blancpain innovation which first appeared in 2003 with the 50th Anniversary Fifty Fathoms, protects the luminescent indications underneath.
Like other models in its family the 2017 Tribute to Fifty Fathoms MIL-SPEC’s is water resistant to 30 bar, which is equivalent to 300 meters. It is limited to 500 examples and is offered with a NATO strap, sail cloth strap, or steel bracelet with a secure buckle.
Powering it is Blancpain’s in-house automatic winding caliber 1151, comprising 210 components including two series-coupled mainspring barrels and offering a four-day power reserve. Nestled into its 40mm Stainless steel case, the movement as well as its solid gold winding rotor with a NAC coating (a platinum alloy) and Blancpain logo, are visible through the clear sapphire case-back.