INTRODUCING: The Blancpain Tribute to Fifty Fathoms No Rad Limited EditionZach Blass
Limited editions of Blancpain divers are hot commodities in today’s marketplace, so when they are announced it’s best to act fast if you’re looking to secure one for your collection. They also have the added benefit of speaking to a wider spectrum of wrists, taking on a smaller 40.3mm case diameter reserved for limited editions. The Blancpain Tribute to Fifty Fathoms No Rad Limited Edition is a tribute to the brand’s famed Fifty Fathoms that proudly boasted the fact that it did not use any radioactive compounds to increase the visibility of the diver.
The Original Fifty Fathoms No Rad was born from the realisation that radioactive compounds such as radium could be very harmful to the health of those who interacted with the material. Many military watches of the era utilised radium and, as the health concerns arose, these organisations were looking for watches that could provide legibility without exposure to dangerous materials. Blancpain, ahead of the curve, introduced the Fifty Fathoms No Rad in the mid 1960s as a clear assurance that no harmful radioactive compounds were used in the watch.
According to Blancpain, “In the early 1960s, radium – a radioactive element used in watchmaking for its luminescent properties – was declared harmful to health. To reassure professional divers, as well as experienced amateurs who purchased their Fifty Fathoms watches from specialist equipment providers, Blancpain thus decided to clearly indicate that its timepieces were radium-free – and hence harmless. The special symbol consisting of three red segments on a yellow background with a black cross was accompanied by the words ‘no radiations’ designed to ensure that the message was easily understood.”
While there is a new two part documentary produced by Blancpain on the history of the Fifty Fathoms, which we will cover soon on the site, we also recommend you check out Jeffery Kingston’s Horological Society of New York lecture “Fifty Fathoms: The Conception and Evolution of the Modern Diving Watch”. During his overview, he covers all aspects of the Fifty Fathoms history as well as touches upon the No Rad model that Blancpain has paid tribute to with this new release. Interestingly, he discusses all the government trials the watch had to undergo (similar to how the Omega Speedmaster had to endure to pass NASA’s tests). For example, the watch had to be pressure-resistant up to 175 pounds per square inch and also had to survive the 40″ tube test: a test where the watch was laid flat, a 40″ inch tube was then pressed straight against the crystal, and then a 5/8th inch steel ball was dropped into the tube to fall vertically right on the crystal to see if it could take it. Ouch…
The Blancpain Tribute to Fifty Fathoms No Rad Limited Edition
For those like me who appreciate a more compact diameter, you’ll be glad to know the Blancpain Tribute to Fifty Fathoms No Rad has a case diameter of 40.3mm – a diameter reserved only for limited-edition Fifty Fathoms divers. The case is relatively slender as well, coming in at a very manageable 13.23mm thick. The case, secured by a screw-down crown, is water-resistant to 300 metres, which means the diver is more than capable of taking on adventures into the ocean. While a tribute release, the Blancpain Tribute to Fifty Fathoms No Rad Limited Edition is by no means a 1:1 tribute – but it remains very faithful nonetheless. The slight differences are the product of modern fabrication.
The case shape is slightly different than the original, particularly noticeable at the lugs of the watch. The original had longer slimmer lugs, where as the modern tribute has shorter stubbier lugs to the eye. Part of this is because the new version has a larger sapphire timing bezel than the original which, of course, did not have a sapphire insert. The Blancpain text found on the 9′ side of the case was not present on the original, the stamp is more so a product of the modern design language of the collection. The Blancpain Tribute to Fifty Fathoms No Rad Limited Edition is also more a tribute to the civilian version of the diver, which could be found with polished or brushed lug hoods, as military models had only brushed matte surfaces to ensure light reflections would not reveal their soldiers’ positions to the enemy. With this modern take, the lug hoods are mirror polished and exude the elegance and luxury the Blancpain brand is associated with today.
The dial is also very faithful as well, with only minor differences. The “Blancpain Fifty Fathoms” font is modernised in style and the No Radiations logo is not faux-patinated – like the hands, markers, and timing scale of the bezel – instead coloured in a pristine dark yellow. The matte black dial is very inline with divers of the era, a faithful deviation from the modern trend of gloss dials. The white hands have faux-tina toned luminescent fillings that, again, match the bezel scale as well as the baton and circular markers that indicate the hours. The minute track is, however, printed with white hash marks, just like the original Fifty Fathoms No Rad. Also matching the original is the date aperture at 3′, with a white border that frames the black on white date disc within.
To retain the period correct aesthetic, the watch has been paired with a Blancpain branded tropical rubber strap. The strap has ample pin holes for the wearer to size the watch to their wrist via the pin and buckle system. The tropical rubber strap really ties the watch to its heritage and roots, and is more in line with what would have been issued to the military for use.
Inside the watch is the manufacture Blancpain caliber 1151. This is a movement utilised in both sport and dress watches (even classique watches from Breguet) which means not only is it robust enough for a daily wearer but also impeccably finished. The bridges and the curved architecture are bevelled very well, likely by machinery, but nonetheless are extremely attractive to the eye. You also have well executed Cotés de Geneve to the bridges as well. The rotor has been styled to match the rotor shape of the vintage divers, but as a modern watch you get the luxury of having it executed in blackened 18K gold. The mass of the gold results in more efficient winding, a great feature for a daily wearer movement. The 1151 movement boasts four days, or 100 hours of power reserve, and hosts a modern upgrade that we can all appreciate even though the watch is a tribute model: a highly anti-magnetic silicon hairspring.
Blancpain Tribute to Fifty Fathoms No Rad Limited Edition pricing & availability:
The Blancpain Tribute to Fifty Fathoms No Rad is a limited edition of 500 pieces, available now via Blancpain boutiques and authorized dealers. Price: $14,100 USD