Blancpain. Stainless Steel Diver’s Wristwatch with Center Seconds
Movement: Automatic movement Rayville calibre AS 1902
Case: Stainless steel circular water-resistant-type case, with screw back and screw down crown. Case has some light scuffing.
Dial: Matte pewter grey dial, with applied silver markers and tritium dots, outer minute divisions, sweep center seconds, black bakelite bezel calibrated for 60 units. Bezel show no sign of cracks.
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 it was followed later by a 37mm model. Thes watches were 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 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 the much rarer 37mm model, with perfectly aged luminous material wide hands that still stands out clearly against the grey dial and black bakelite bezel. The case and lugs retain thick proportions. Aesthetically appealing, the original Blancpain Bathyscaphe is a quintessential part of any collection of military and dive watches.