1 of 150 Blancpain ‘Barakuda’ Fifty Fathoms
No, this is not the proverbial Swatch group reissue. Blancpain’s Fifty Fathoms is arguably the most influential dive watch of all time and inarguably the first ‘modern’ dive watch (by modern, I mean a uni-directional rotating bezel with substantial water resistance). While borne to meet the needs of the French Naval Combat Divers, the innovative design evolved. Fifty Fathoms were issued to the US Navy (under Tornek-Rayville), Bundeswehr & Bundesmarine, and—perhaps lesser known—Polish Navy. One of the rarer variants is before you here: the 150-example Barakuda. As if that weren’t enough, it’s the strongest example I’ve seen in years.
Captain Robert Maloubier and Lieutenant Claude Riffaud of the French Combat Diving School required a watch for their most elite divers to measure elapsed time at depth. The market didn’t seem very wide to most of the Swiss watchmaking houses. Only Jean-Jacques Fiechter of Blancpain, a diver himself, saw the practical commercial appeal of a water-resistant watch. Fiechter managed to design a dive watch with Fifty Fathoms, or ~90m, of depth rating. The watch they created together was a massive 41mm to accommodate is rotating bezel, a first. The luminuous dial had to be visible with an easily-distinguished 12 marker. Water resistance was accomplished through a screw down case back and reliability of timing was ensured through an automatic caliber. The crown would not have to be adjusted or wound to keep time. This was crucial, because Blancpain could not include a screw-down crown. The technology existed, but Rolex held its patent. The result was a free crown with gaskets, not to be adjusted whilst diving. Issued and civilian examples of different iterations may exist. The model proved wildly popular, particularly after Jacques Cousteau wore his in ‘Silent World’. But it didn’t stop there.
This Barakuda was a latter iteration of the Fifty Fathoms, first issued to the Bundesmarine (German Navy). Barakuda were a German diving firm to who Blancpain supplied specialized diving parts with these bright, heavily-lumed, two-tone indices. The red accent in toward the dial’s rehaut was intended to contrast and provide extra legibility at depth . . .in an era where that was necessity. I just love how typically Germanic it is to be supplied with the most innovative tool watch in the word in period and metaphorically say, ‘yes, but we must improve it!’ From records, it is believed that 150 Barakuda dials were ever produced across civilian and issued watches.
This example is, not to be dramatic, unreal. The 40mm case is stout with full factory lines. It has the correct crown for its production, with the slight spherical extremity. Its dial is absolutely perfect, with light gracefully ageing of both the tritium plots and red accent application. The handset is un-degraded in full. It was given a complete service at Blancpain HQ in 2014 where records were made, including a fun radioactivity report for its radium bakelite bezel (uncracked, by the way). It comes with that analysis from a well-regarded Dutch retailer.
Find this Barakuda here from Bulang & Sons listed as POA.