March 3, 2023    |    

70th Anniversary Of The Fifty Fathoms

Blancpain marked the 70th anniversary of the Fifty Fathoms by hosting celebrations at the Rangiroa Atoll in French Polynesia during the Tamataroa mission. The brand introduced a new model of the iconic modern diver’s watch that is specifically designed to cater to the technical diving requirements of today. The new watch, called “Tech Gombessa,” is a result of a collaborative effort between Blancpain’s President and CEO, Marc A. Hayek, and Laurent Ballesta, the founder of the Gombessa project. This innovative timepiece can now measure up to three-hour immersion times, a first for the industry. The launch of “Tech Gombessa” coincides with the 10th anniversary of the Gombessa initiative, which Blancpain supported by becoming a founding partner in 2013. This also inaugurates a new line of Blancpain’s diver’s watch collection.


Seventy years ago, the first modern diver’s watch was born – the Fifty Fathoms. Conceived by Jean-Jacques Fiechter, then CEO of Blancpain and a passionate scuba diver, the watch was a game-changer in the world of watchmaking. Fiechter, a pioneer in the nascent discipline of scuba diving, understood the importance of tracking time underwater and designed an instrument to meet his needs. The Fifty Fathoms was immediately embraced by the diving community and became an indispensable tool for elite divers and underwater explorers, contributing to the development of the sport and promoting the discovery of the ocean world.

In 2023, as the Fifty Fathoms celebrates its 70th anniversary, Blancpain has introduced an innovative anniversary diver’s watch, marking a reboot of its birth. Over the years, diving has undergone significant evolution, particularly in terms of extended immersion times. While the original Fifty Fathoms in 1953 met the requirements of Fiechter and the most experienced divers of the time, modern divers capable of spending several hours underwater have new requirements for time measurement.


Blancpain’s current President & CEO, who is also a passionate scuba diver with years of experience in highly technical closed-circuit dives, understands the needs of extreme divers. Drawing on the rich heritage of the 1953 Fifty Fathoms and his own experiences, he collaborated with Laurent Ballesta, a diver, photographer, and underwater biologist, to design a new mechanical instrument. This innovative timepiece was specifically intended to meet the needs of extreme divers, including the members of the Gombessa Expeditions who conduct research involving long-duration deep dives. Blancpain provided support to these deep-sea adventurers who joined forces in the multi-year Tamataroa mission, dedicated to studying the behavior of the great hammerhead shark, Sphyrna mokarran, in French Polynesia. The project is led by a committee of passionate deep-sea divers, including Blancpain’s CEO, Marc A. Hayek, and Laurent Ballesta. The team conducted technical dives on the Rangiroa Atoll to observe and gather information on this species, with the aim of contributing to the implementation of management measures to promote its conservation.


The latest addition to the Fifty Fathoms collection, the Tech Gombessa watch, was presented for the first time in the context of the Tamataroa mission. This watch is specifically designed to measure the duration of up to three-hour-long tech dives or exits from a saturation system. Conceived by the two divers, Marc A. Hayek and Laurent Ballesta, five years ago, this watch has undergone extensive testing. In 2019, Blancpain began the development of the project, focusing on the movement and the unidirectional rotating bezel. Unlike the bezels on conventional diver’s watches, the bezel on the Fifty Fathoms Tech Gombessa features a three-hour scale and is linked to a special hand that completes one full turn in three hours. The markers on the bezel and the hand are coated with a white luminescent material that emits a green glow. This innovative device is a world first, and a patent has been filed for it. It is the heart of the 13P8 self-winding movement, which meets the same criteria of reliability and robustness that have made the Fifty Fathoms the ultimate diver’s watch for 70 years.


After determining the ideal combination of bezel and movement for the new diving watch, the next step was to focus on the exterior design. The challenge was to create a timepiece that embodied the iconic Fifty Fathoms style while incorporating advanced technological features. To achieve this, Blancpain’s design team opted for a black ceramic bezel inlay with a stronger curve, tilted towards the dial for improved legibility. A spherical crystal was used to eliminate any visual distortion, enhancing readability. To ensure optimal visibility in low light conditions, the dial has a new finish in absolute black, which captures almost 97% of the available light. Luminescent block-shaped appliques in orange with blue emission were chosen for the hour-markers, reflecting the colour codes of the hands for easy differentiation between time and diving information.

For the case, Grade 23 titanium was selected, the purest form of titanium known for its exceptional strength, anti-allergenic properties, and light weight. Despite its 47mm diameter, this material provides a comfortable fit, and the watch features central lugs attached from the inside of the case middle and integrating the strap for the first time in Blancpain’s history. The case is water-resistant up to 30 bar, or approximately 300 metres, and includes a helium valve for saturation diving in hyperbaric chambers. The valve’s notches are identical to those of the winding and time-setting crown, which facilitates simultaneous adjustment of the hours, minutes, and dive-time hands. The crown is screwed down and protected by a new trapeze-shaped guard that matches the lugs for a visually consistent design, as is customary in all Fifty Fathoms timepieces.


Every detail of the back of the watch has been meticulously crafted. The lower part of the case middle is bevelled, distinguishing it from the rounded ‘bassine’ shape that characterizes other Fifty Fathoms models. The notches used to screw in the case back have also been reworked for added robustness. The anthracite-coloured oscillating weight bears the Gombessa Expeditions logo and boasts an innovative shape with three large openings, providing a clear view of the movement. The black rubber strap is securely fastened to the back of the lugs and reinforced with internal titanium, ensuring its shape over time. It comes with an extension for wearing the watch over a tech-diving suit and a buckle with an extremely wide and ergonomic pin for a secure hold on the wrist and easy fastening of the extension.

To complete the package, the Fifty Fathoms Tech Gombessa is presented in a special Peli box that is water-resistant and shock-resistant, as well as reusable and configurable. The box includes a rest for the watch, a strap extension, a travel pouch, a magnifying glass, and a set of dividers and cutting tools, allowing for easy compartmentalization for future use.


Although the details of the Tech Gombessa watch may appear seamlessly integrated, they were actually the result of numerous adjustments made during a multitude of tests in real-life conditions. Marc A. Hayek personally tested several prototypes of the watch during his dives, as did Laurent Ballesta and the divers of the Gombessa Expeditions throughout the watch’s evolution. As part of the Gombessa V and Gombessa VI missions, four prototypes were worn on the wrists of aquanauts for nearly 50 days at a depth of 120 metres. These expeditions, which took place in the Mediterranean in 2019 and 2021 respectively, combined saturation diving with closed-circuit rebreather diving for the first time. The divers lived in a 5 m² hyperbaric chamber for an entire month on both occasions, emerging daily to explore the depths and test several versions of the helium valve.

The Fifty Fathoms Tech Gombessa watch has successfully met the high demands of the Gombessa divers and has been adopted as the official timepiece of their expeditions. Its launch commemorates the 70th anniversary of the Fifty Fathoms and celebrates ten years of collaboration between Blancpain and Laurent Ballesta, whose Gombessa project was founded in 2013 with the support of the Manufacture as a founding partner. The addition of this instrument to the Fifty Fathoms collection also marks the debut of a new line, the Fifty Fathoms Tech, which will feature all Blancpain watches dedicated to technical diving.


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