In the late 1950s, Jean-Jacques Fiechter, longtime Blancpain CEO and originator of the brand’s now-iconic Fifty Fathoms divers’ watch, introduced a new innovation that enabled that timepiece to meet the strict standards for U.S. military use. That feature — a circular water-tightness indicator on the dial — has been resurrected in the new Tribute to Fifty Fathoms MIL-SPEC, the latest vintage-inspired take on the Fifty Fathoms.
This watch’s historical predecessor made its debut in 1957-58, and was designed specifically to pass a battery of tests conducted on a variety of watches by the United States Navy, which was seeking a timepiece for use on underwater missions. The original Fifty Fathoms MIL-SPEC-1 shortly thereafter became standard issue equipment for American combat swimmers, including, eventually, the U.S. Navy SEALs’ elite Underwater Demolition Team (UDT). Future versions of the watch produced in the early 1960s, called the MIL-SPEC-2 and the Tornek-Rayville TR-900, were also used by the U.S. Navy, which by then had declared the water-tightness indicator as a requirement. The indicator, on a large disk at 6 o’clock that changed its color from white to red if liquid leaked into the case, was a follow-up invention to several others Fiechter and Blancpain had introduced in the Fifty Fathoms models — among them the first interior O-ring sealing system for casebacks, the first blocking mechanism for a rotating dive-scale bezel, and the now-ubiquitous unidirectional diving bezel.
The modern re-interpretation of the MIL-SPEC is powered by a Blancpain in-house, automatic movement, Caliber 1151, which stores a lengthy four-day power reserve in its two series-coupled mainspring barrels. Visible through a sapphire window in the back of the 40-mm stainless steel case, its other attributes include a solid gold winding rotor, coated with the platinum alloy NAC and engraved with a Blancpain logo; and its balance spring made of low-density, shock-resistant, magnetism-impervious silicon.
Aside from the 1950s-inspired indicator disk, the watch exhibits other hallmark features of Blancpain Fifty Fathoms watches, including a black dial with large, luminous indices for legibility deep underwater, and a unidirectional rotating bezel covered in scratch-resistant sapphire — a Blancpain innovation that made its debut on the 50th Anniversary Fifty Fathoms models in 2003. Of course, the case boasts a level of water-resistance suitable for professional and military diving: 300 meters, an upgrade from the 91.45 meters (AKA 50 fathoms) of the original model. The Blancpain Tribute to Fifty Fathoms MIL-SPEC comes on a NATO or sail cloth strap (price: $14,000) or a steel bracelet with a secure buckle ($16,200). Limited to 500 pieces, it will be available at retail in Fall 2017.