Lip-Signed Blancpain Fifty Fathoms
If you didn’t know, the original Fifty Fathoms was developed in collaboration with the French Combat Diving School, a tool needed for the most elite units of the French Navy (later Commando Hubert). Captain Robert Maloubier, who was previously a British Special Operations secret agent during WWII (and had an enviable mustache) and Lieutenant Claude Riffaud worked tirelessly with CEO of Blancpain Jean-Jacques Fiechter to create the world’s first modern dive watch. But perhaps lesser known in this late hour of watch enthusiasm, France’s Lip played a major role in developing the radium these earliest divers relied on. That story is contained within this one dial, a radium Lip-signed Fifty Fathoms from ’54, just a year after debut.
Lip will be familiar to many of you as a Parisian watch retailer and later manufacture in Besançon. That effort was run by Fred Lipmann, who later changed his name legally to Fred Lip. Fred’s father, Ernest, worked with Marie Curie (yes, that Ms Curie). A forward-thinking watchmaker, he asked her to find a material capable of being visible in the dark. The two of them discovered radium in 1898 and created the first phosphorescent dial in 1904. Because of this connection, Blancpain had developed its earliest radium dials with a little help from Fred Lip. In ’54, Lip and Blancpain signed an agreement to allow Lip to be the sole distributor of the Fifty Fathoms through its 2000-some shops. Those that sold in France had dials like you see here, a double signature with a whole lot of history wrapped up in it.
The diver that signature sits in set the mould for nearly all which would come after. But its details are quite unique. For example, its crown is sealed using a pressure gasket and not screw-down. The technology existed, but Rolex held the patent. This example also sports a fairly uncommon ‘Incabloc Automatic’ circular signature at 6. This form of shock protection for the balance pivots and staff was really quite innovative for its time and needed, given the use case. The water resistance, shock resistance, automatic winding, and luminous bakelite rotating bezel were strong technological advances in period that saw the Fifty Fathoms sell widely and become lore. This one is just that bit more special for its French, and radium, connection.
That, and the fact that it’s an incredible example. The dial is one of the best I’ve ever seen. The radium tone, the bezel, the lacquer. They’re all lovely. Its case is strong equally and the caseback is signed Lip as it should be. There’s a very small crack in the bakelite at 12 that should be noted. It’s a spectacular watch, and will likely not hang around long.
Find this Lip Fifty Fathoms here from Roy & Sacha Davidoff listed as POA.