With Blancpain’s handsome Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe spending the last few release cycles in the limelight, it was only time that the brand’s original combat diver get its due. This year, for Baselworld 2017, Blancpain is paying tribute to the Fifty Fathoms Mil-Spec 1 Watch, the original UDT-issued dive watch specially designed with a working “watertightness,” or humidity, indicator directly on the dial.
Due to their hard service life, surviving vintage examples of issued Mil-Spec Blancpain divers are extremely rare, and thus highly coveted amongst vintage collectors. It should thus come as no surprise that Blancpain revisit this interesting series of watches from time to time, especially with the vintage craze (still) seemingly at an all-time high. And while we have yet to see the iconic “Tornek-Rayville” TR-900 pulled from the archives, it’s indeed been a hot minute since Blancpain has paid tribute to a Mil-Spec – all the way back to 2010, to be specific, when we were presented with the limited “No Radiation” edition.
However, this mid-century Blancpain Mil-Spec 1 with the watertightness indicator predates both those examples and is the earliest combat-issued diver from Blancpain when it was introduced in 1957. As a pioneer in pressure-sealing and dive timing through the acrylic unidirectional bezel, the Blancpain Mil-Spec watches would later serve as a reference point for dive watch development, ultimately paving the way for many other significant innovations through the brand’s relationship with the United States Navy.
One such innovation on the original Blancpain Mil-Spec (a signature that would later become a standard feature for many military-issued watches) that has been faithfully re-created on the Blancpain Tribute to Fifty Fathoms Mil-Spec is the fully-functional humidity indicator at 6:00. Just like the vintage version, in the event of moisture ingress, the upper half-circle of the indicator changes from white to orange, thereby matching the lower half and letting the wearer know the watch had been compromised. Granted, dive watches used to be much more susceptible to fogging or outright flooding – and even though the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms was considered a leader in watertightness at the time, the indicator was still a handy barometer for displaying the overall health of the watch’s seals. Now, the odds of this indicator ever seeing action on a fully modern, 300-meter resistant dive watch seems pretty unlikely, but it’s still great to see Blancpain staying true to a key feature on the original.
Shakudo itself isn’t a method, but more a material. It’s a metallic alloy that’s mostly copper with about 4-10% gold. What is special about the metal is that it can be treated to achieve a black patina which in many ways resembles lacquer. Why is this significant? It’s about having the ability to engrave something with a rich amount of detail as well as a good deal of visual comparison. Black against the copper color provides that amount of comparison but without the special black patina properties of shakudo that black may only be reached with the addition of black colour. The addition of these pigment (using lacquer for example) reduces the capability for an artist to flaunt nice detail.Thus, shakudo permits for the screen and engraving of exceptionally fine detail in small spaces with an amazing level of comparison. In other words, images engraved in shakudo really pop. These two Do blancpain watches hold their value Replica Villeret Shakudo watches provide unique demonstrations of the technique, meaning that there is variety in this set.
Blancpain has wisely opted to spec this Blancpain Tribute to Fifty Fathoms Mil-Spec with a 40mm case and the brand’s in-house manufactured Caliber 1150 – an ultra-slim, twin-barreled automatic movement with a four-day power reserve, and a silicon hairspring which grants superior anti-shock and anti-magnetic advantages. It’s an interesting choice, particularly because other Blancpain Fifty Fathoms and Bathyscaphe variants have traditionally used the larger 1315 with its 120-hour reserve, but given the real estate restrictions of the smaller case, it does make perfect sense – the 1150 is, after all, the same movement selected for the recently announced 38mm Blancpain Bathyscaphe Oceans Commitment. Size notwithstanding, the movement and its beautiful platinum alloy-coated gold rotor are still visible through the exhibition caseback – a far cry from the purpose-built utilitarian roots of the watch it’s paying tribute to, but the 1150 is too nice of a movement to not show off whenever possible.
The Blancpain Tribute to Fifty Fathoms Mil-Spec watch will be limited to 500 pieces, and will be sold on either a NATO strap, rubber-backed sailcloth as pictured, or Blancplain’s stainless steel bracelet. The price starts at $14,100. blancpain.com