Blancpain invented the world’s first modern dive watch back in the 50s, and remain at the forefront of mechanical dive watch technology. Now, in 2023, they’ve changed the game again with a rather trippy, rather high-tech piece of horological brilliance.
2023 marks the 70th anniversary of the Fifty Fathoms: Blancpain’s most iconic model and arguably the world’s first modern dive watch. Borne out of a collaboration between then-Blancpain CEO Jean-Jacques Fiechter and French Navy combat divers Captain Robert “Bob” Maloubier and Lieutenant Claude Riffaud, the Fifty Fathoms standardised many of the features we now expect of mechanical dive watches, such as a double-sealed crown and a rotating, locking bezel.
The Fifty Fathoms hasn’t changed terribly much since the 50s – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, we suppose – but actually, that’s exactly what Blancpain’s done with their latest creation, the Fifty Fathoms Tech Gombessa (ref. 5019-12B30-64A).
Even those who aren’t particularly familiar with dive watch designs might notice something funny about the Tech Gombessa straight away: its timing bezel. Rather than the traditional minute markers, the Tech Gombessa has a bit of a weird layout. What the hell do the 1:30 and 2:30 mean?
These unusual markings are no affectation, and they hint at the particularly special complication that’s central to the Tech Gombessa. You’ll notice that it’s got four hands. That long, green lume-tipped hand? It’s actually a three-hour hand: that is, it completes one full rotation in three hours.
That’s why the bezel has such unique markers – they’re designed to time that three-hour sweep. The Tech Gombessa is actually the first timepiece capable of measuring immersions of up to three hours, a valuable complication for technical diving (e.g. decompression diving).
But that’s not the only thing unique about the Tech Gombessa. While its form factor superficially resembles the classic Fifty Fathoms, first appearances can be deceiving. First of all, it’s crafted from grade 5 ELI titanium: a light yet extremely tough material that’s perfect for such a technical watch that ensures that it’s comfortable to wear despite its hefty 47mm case diameter and 18.4mm case thickness.
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Secondly, it’s got a helium release valve at 10 o’clock (another very tech diving-focused feature) as well as a unique case design whereby its rubber strap is screwed into the back of its lugs. This means the strap is extra secure, but it also makes the watch appear lug-less – again, aiding in making it not so meaty on the wrist. It’s also water resistant to 300m, which is kind of par for the course here.
The Caliber 13P8 movement that powers the Tech Gombessa is an impressive beast, too. Obviously, the aforementioned three-hour hand is an impressive complication, but it’s also got a 5-day power reserve and an anti-magnetic silicon balance spring. The best bit? It features a unique ‘skeletonised’ rotor that features three large openings for admiring the movement. Neat.
Not only does the Tech Gombessa celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Fifty Fathoms, its release also commemorates the 10th anniversary of Gombessa Expeditions, a unique oceanographic initiative that Blancpain supports. Blancpain has really put its money where its mouths are when it comes to supporting marine science and conservation over the years with its Blancpain Ocean Commitment initiative, and Gombessa is a core part of that.
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Gombessa’s missions, which focus on studying some of the rarest, most elusive marine creatures and phenomena on Earth, have been at the cutting edge of marine science as well as technical diving, and it was Gombessa’s founder Laurent Ballesta who helped develop the Tech Gombessa with Blancpain over the last five years.
Indeed, Ballesta and Gombessa’s aquanauts tested four prototypes of the watch for an almost 50-day trial period at a depth of 120 metres as part of the Gombessa V and Gombessa VI missions. The result? A truly superlative dive watch.
One of the inconvenient truths of the luxury watch industry is that very few actual divers these days would ever use a mechanical watch while diving. They’re anachronisms: modern divers use digital dive computers.
But the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Tech Gombessa is a luxury mechanical dive watch you could actually justify diving with. It’s been developed with proper, hard-core divers; is tough as nails yet comfortable to wear, and features a complication that no other mechanical dive watch has. It’s straight-up revolutionary.
In short, it’s an exciting piece of kit. Find out more about the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Tech Gombessa, the Blancpain Ocean Commitment and Gombessa Expeditions at Blancpain’s online boutique here.