Blancpain. Stainless Steel Diver’s Wristwatch with Center Seconds
Model: Bathyscaphe MC4
Mechanical jewelled movement Rayville calibre AS 1187/94, matte black dial, applied luminous triangle and dot numerals with Arabic 12, luminous hands, outer minute divisions, sweep center seconds, stainless steel circular water-resistant-type case, black bezel calibrated for 60 units, screw down crown, screw back engraved “Antimagnetic, Waterproof, Shockprotected”, case dial, and movement signed
In the early 1950’s, the French Combat Diving School was instructed to set up a unit of elite dive soldiers, “Les Nageurs de Combat”, and needed a wristwatch for the divers to coordinate time on missions. Unfortunately, they could not find a watch already produced that would suit their needs. Two commanders, Captain Robert Maloubier and Lieutenant Claude Riffaud came up with a list of features they needed in a wristwatch, and went to various watch companies to see if any would produce it. Specifically, they wanted a watch with a black dial, large, bold numerals and clear markings, and an outer rotating bezel. The bezel needed to be able to align with the large minute hand to easily show remaining oxygen time. Lastly, all of the markers needed to clearly glow in the dark. None of the watch companies showed any interest; however, Blancpain CEO Jean-Jacques Fiechter, himself an enthusiastic diver, decided to create the watch. In 1953, Blancpain debuted the Fifty Fathoms wristwatch, which would become known as the original modern dive watch. Measuring 41mm, the Fifty Fathoms was extremely large for the time.
Three years later, in 1956, Blancpain introduced the Bathyscaphe model, measuring 34.5mm, more in line with the typical watch diameter of the time. This model was suitable for everyday wear but still reserved diving as first priority, as indicated in the model name. A bathyscaphe is a self-propelled vehicle used for deep-sea dives, capable to diving deeper than a person in gear and even able to go deeper than submarines. The word “bathyscaphe” takes part of its name from the ancient Greek word “bathys” for deep, and a “scaphe” is a light bowl-shaped boat. The Bathyscaphe model found a following among civilian divers, oceanographers, and marine researchers.
The first bathyscape was designed by Auguste Piccard, a Swiss oceanographer who launched a vehicle named the Trieste in 1953. Manned by Auguste’s son, diver Jacques Piccard, and Navy Lieutenant Don Walsh, it reached a depth of 3,150 meters (10,300 feet), and was their most successful venture. The Trieste was purchased by the U.S. Navy in 1958, who in turn upgraded it with a new cabin with the hope of reaching the floor of deep ocean trenches. Under their direction, on January 23, 1960, the Trieste reached the deepest point known to man, the Challenger Deep in the Marina Trench in the South Pacific Ocean. Located about 11,000 meters (36,198 feet) below the ocean’s surface, this point is deeper than the height of Mount Everest. The Trieste would remain the only manned dive to reach this point for 52 years until James Cameron led the DeepSea Challenge expedition in March 2012.
The Blancpain Bathyscape is a prime example of a dive watch which belongs to an important lineage of iconic watches that are tied to significant historical events that contributed to our exploration and understanding of this planet. The present watch is a fine specimen, with perfectly aged luminous material that still stands out clearly against the black dial and bezel. The case and lugs retain thick proportions, and the Blancpain engravings on the back are all crisp. Aesthetically appealing, the original Blancpain Bathyscaphe is a quintessential part of any collection of military and dive watches.