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.
At 9 o’clock, you’ve got the sub-dial that suggests daily, and at 3 o’clock you have the sub-dials that reveal that the date and power reserve. At 6 o’clock, there’s a month indicator and moon phase screen, and to the left of it about 8 o’clock you have the year index. Ultimately, there’s the flying tourbillon which makes one turning every minute at 12 o’clock. The movement within is the self-winding IWC caliber 51950, which relies upon the Caliber 51900 found in IWC’s additional tourbillon watches like the Portugieser Tourbillon Mystère Rétrograde however with the innovative 82-part endless calendar module manufactured by Kurt Klaus. This movement also contains IWC’s Pellaton winding system and contains a generous power book of 168 hours, or 7 days. It is observable through a sapphire display caseback and comes with a special commemorative 18k gold rotor.The additional tourbillon see that IWC has especially prepared for its 150th anniversary would be the Portugieser Constant-Force Tourbillon Edition “150 Years.” This comes in a slightly larger 46mm wide Portugieser design situation and is only accessible platinum. Like the earlier Portugieser Perpetual Calendar Tourbillon Edition “150 decades,” this watch also has heat-treated blue hour and minute hands. This is an updated version of past Constant-Force Tourbillon watches — Portugieser and other models — combined with the “perpetual moon phase display. “The Portugieser Constant-Force Tourbillon Edition “150 Years” includes a considerably less busy dial. At 1 o’clock there is a moon phase display that just needs to be corrected by means of a day following 577.5 years. Beneath the moon phase display at roughly 4:30 is a power reserve indicator. Finally, we’ve got the highlight of this opinion, the large tourbillon featuring a constant-force mechanism that delivers power in impulses to the escapement. In theory, this should enhance the chronometric performance of the motion.
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