Those who read the first instalment of this series last year will notice that I did not purchase any of the other pieces on my list. Of course, the fact that reference 5443 is a manual-winding rectangular watch struck the Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso, Rado True Square and Nomos Glashütte Tetra off my list. This does not mean that there are no other targets in my sights, although I confess to being circumspect about what I discuss publicly. To continue something of a tradition at WOW Singapore though, I will once more advocate for a piece by a brand that I have long championed — this time, it is Blancpain. What might surprise some of you is that it is a traditional Fifty Fathoms, not a Bathyscaphe variant.
Like a number of brands, Swiss and otherwise, Blancpain has a lot of depth in the dive watch range, including two very different base models in the Fifty Fathoms, and the Bathyscaphe (the full name is Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe, but I will just use Bathyscaphe in this story to avoid confusion). Despite its more contemporary and muscular look, the Fifty Fathoms watch is the direct descendant of the original Fifty Fathoms from 1953. The Bathyscaphe is not a newcomer either, debuting at the end of the 1950s and targeting the recreational diver, which explains its smaller scale. At 45mm, the Fifty Fathoms was always completely impossible for me to wear, especially because it is quite a thick fellow, at 15.4mm crystal-to-caseback. If I planned to wear it on top of a wetsuit, it will be just fine, but otherwise, the watch simply wears me. While there are Fifty Fathoms watches in smaller sizes, these are all limited editions, and I take too long to pull the trigger to ever play that game.
On the other hand — literally — if you are considering this as a watch for someone else, you should still consider the size issue. This is a watch that really pops, as it were, and that is part of its functional appeal — it looks like it was meant to be worn over a wetsuit as a professional instrument. It should be noted that the unidirectional bezel adds to this look, with its domed sapphire crystal insert. As far as iconic dive watches go, there is nothing like the combination of sapphire crystal in the bezel and sapphire crystal over the dial.
If — and it is a big if — Blancpain introduces a more reasonably sized Fifty Fathoms, like the No Rad editions, then it is not only my pick for a dive watch in 2023 but also a buy recommendation for anyone interested in dive watches above S$10,000; with an exhibition caseback, it could well be worth the gold price even… In any case, a showcase for calibre 1153, with all its fine finishing touches and 120 hours of power reserve is absolutely required. If you must have a closed caseback, Blancpain does have you covered, but I cannot recommend it. Subjective matters aside, the price range is certainly the main limiting factor here, once the sizing issue is dispensed with and purist ideology is sorted.
The canny amongst you will know that 2023 marks an important milestone for the Fifty Fathoms — well, you will have noticed if you are any good at reading and maths! Blancpain — and Swatch Group — have been signalling that the 70th anniversary is a big deal, with Hayek Jr even hinting that perhaps some kind of Swatch collaboration could be in the works… I guess this one will be called the DeepSwatch but here at WOW, we anticipate big things. Or rather, more modestly sized propositions.
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