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.
Of course, if that is not enough flexibility, you still have a divers extension.That’s a lot of length which may be added (or removed) in a few seconds.Believe it or not, the Earth Sea is actually my favorite dive watch in the entire world, no qualifiers. It is just so much more fun-loving than the deadly serious Rolex Submariner or the Grand Seiko SBGA029. So, as a longtime fan of this PO, I believe I’ve a little bit of additional perspective about the Master Chronometer version.Naturally, becoming a Master Chronometer necessitated a motion upgrade. On a practical level, the 8900 is practically identical (as far as I could tell) into the 8508, the additional silicon-imbued 8500 (most 8500s had acoustic components also) that surfaced Omega’s newfound resistance to magnetism. The key difference is in the individual METAS testing that certifies that magnetic immunity. But METAS extends even further than that, promising features like the power reserve and water resistance. Because the 8900 is analyzed to more strict standards than other 8500s, it stands to reason that it likely outperforms them as well, if merely in virtue of superior modification and weeding out poorer performers that could have otherwise survived the COSC but neglected METAS.It would’ve been simple and completely forgivable to just update the movement, throw a few Master Chronometer verbiage on the dial and call it a day, but that’s not exactly what Omega did. It manages to subtly improve this classic in virtually every way. The 8500 was already among the very best mass-produced movements on earth and now it’s even better. I really like the inclusion of an easy micro adjustment system on the bracelet. I especially love that I can find the blue model in steel now. Obviously, you do not have to receive it from blue. As is always the case with Omega, you get a nice variety of models to choose from, including fresh full ceramic versions.
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