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Article: The Truth Behind the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms and Rolex Submariner

The Truth Behind the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms and Rolex Submariner

The Truth Behind the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms and Rolex Submariner

The Rolex Submariner and the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms are two iconic dive watches that have captured the hearts of watch enthusiasts and collectors worldwide. However, the history and development of these timepieces have been subjects of debate and misconceptions. This article delves into the origins, common myths, technical details, pricing, and the truth about whether one company copied the other.

The Origins of Iconic Dive Watches

 

Rolex Submariner


Rolex introduced the Submariner in 1953, positioning it as the world’s first watch with a water resistance of up to 100 meters (330 feet). The Submariner was a groundbreaking achievement in the world of horology, designed not only for divers but also as an elegant timepiece suitable for everyday wear. Rolex's development of the Submariner was driven by René-Paul Jeanneret, an experienced diver and a member of Rolex's board of directors, who envisioned a watch that was both functional underwater and stylish on land.

 

Blancpain Fifty Fathoms

A watch on a wrist Description automatically generated with medium confidence
Blancpain claims that the Fifty Fathoms was launched in 1953, and since 2007, it has been marketed as the first modern dive watch. However, this assertion has been contested. Evidence suggests that the Fifty Fathoms was actually launched in 1955, not 1953. The watch was developed following a request from Captain Robert Maloubier and Lieutenant Claude Riffaud of the French Navy, who needed a reliable timepiece for their underwater missions. Blancpain's then-CEO, Jean-Jacques Fiechter, an avid diver himself, took on the challenge, resulting in the creation of the Fifty Fathoms.

Debunking the Myths

Blancpain Fifty Fathoms: A Guide to the World's First Modern Dive Watc |  Teddy Baldassarre
Myth 1: The Fifty Fathoms Was the First Modern Dive Watch
Blancpain’s claim that the Fifty Fathoms was the first modern dive watch is disputed. Historical records from Swiss horological journals do not mention a Blancpain dive watch in 1953 or 1954. The first significant public appearance of the Fifty Fathoms was at the Basel Watch Fair in 1955, which contradicts Blancpain’s narrative. On the other hand, the Rolex Submariner was indeed launched in 1953 and received widespread attention in horological publications globally.

Myth 2: Patent Filings and Trademark Registrations
Blancpain has presented documents to support its claims, but none date back to 1953. The patent for the Fifty Fathoms’ features was filed on June 19, 1954, one month after the Submariner was presented at Basel. This timeline suggests that Blancpain’s development followed Rolex’s lead. Additionally, the trademark registration for "Fifty Fathoms" was filed on June 11, 1954, with the first commercial use noted as August 30, 1954, further indicating a later launch than claimed.

Another important thing to consider related to the patent is that even the earliest Fifty Fathoms examples supposedly made in 1953 have 'Patents + Pending' markings. ‘Patent pending’ is a designation whose usage is only legal once a patent application has been submitted. It becomes evident that all the mentioned watches claimed to be from 1953 are actually from 1954 or later, certainly from a time after the patent application was filed.

Myth 3: Inspiration and Design
Some of the earliest Fifty Fathoms watches had dials resembling those of the Rolex Submariner, including the use of triangular, circular, and square markers. It is plausible that Blancpain was influenced by Rolex’s design, especially considering the close-knit nature of the diving community and the fact that Jacques Cousteau, a prominent figure in underwater exploration, wore a Rolex Submariner as early as 1953.

Another important document put forth by Blancpain is a letter from February 5, 1955, written by Lieutenant Claude Riffaud and addressed to the director of Spirotechnique, a supplier of diving equipment to the Navy. In the old days, it was common knowledge among collectors that the Fifty Fathoms had been designed by the French Navy and that Blancpain (Rayville S.A.) just produced the watches according to the specifications. The main driving force behind the project were Captain Bob Maloubier, a highly decorated WW2 hero, and Lieutenant Claude Riffaud. Together they established the first dedicated French underwater unit known as ‘Nageurs de Combat’. Maloubier explained on several occasions how they designed the watch, then proposed it to a French watch company who declined to make it and later finally met with Blancpain who agreed to produce the watch for them. Since September 1953, ex-naval officer Jacques Cousteau was wearing a Rolex Submariner. It's not a stretch to think that Maloubier saw the same watch on the famous explorer's wrist.


Design and Aesthetics

rolex gmt 16750
The Rolex Submariner is renowned for its timeless design, featuring a clean dial with circular, triangular, and rectangular markers, and the iconic Mercedes hands. Its unidirectional rotating bezel, introduced to measure dive time accurately, became a standard in dive watch design.

The Blancpain Fifty Fathoms, while similar in function, often features a larger bezel and a distinct placement of the date window between 4 and 5 o’clock. Blancpain has also introduced various limited editions, which sometimes overshadow the availability of standard models.

Technical Specifications
Rolex Submariner:

  • Movement: Caliber 3235, featuring 201 components and 31 jewels. It operates at a frequency of 28,800 vibrations per hour (vph) and offers a power reserve of approximately 70 hours​ (Watch & Bullion)​​ (Exquisite Timepieces)​.
  • Water Resistance: Rated at 300 meters (1,000 feet).
  • Case: 904L stainless steel, 41mm in diameter and 12.5mm thick.
  • Bezel: Unidirectional rotating Cerachrom bezel, known for its scratch resistance and longevity.
  • Bracelet: Oystersteel bracelet with the Glidelock extension system for easy adjustments.

Blancpain Fifty Fathoms:

  • Movement: Caliber 1315, comprising 227 components and 35 jewels. It beats at a frequency of 28,800 vph and boasts an impressive power reserve of 120 hours​ (Watch & Bullion)​​ (Exquisite Timepieces)​.
  • Water Resistance: Typically rated at 300 meters (1,000 feet), though some models can go deeper.
  • Case: Stainless steel, 45mm in diameter and 15.5mm thick.
  • Bezel: Unidirectional rotating bezel with a domed appearance.
  • Bracelet: Available in various materials, including stainless steel, canvas, and leather, providing versatility in style and comfort.

Pricing


Rolex Submariner:
Retail Price: The retail price of the Rolex Submariner Date ref. 126610LN is approximately $9,150 USD​ (Watch & Bullion)​​ (Fratello Watches)​.


Secondary Market: Due to high demand and limited availability, the Submariner often sells for a premium on the secondary market, with prices ranging from $12,000 to $15,000 USD depending on condition and rarity​ (WristClean)​.


Blancpain Fifty Fathoms:

Retail Price: The Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Automatique (ref. 5015 1130 71S) has a retail price of around $14,500 USD for the stainless steel version with a sail canvas strap. The titanium version is priced at approximately $15,700 USD, and the stainless steel version with a bracelet is about $17,200 USD​ (Exquisite Timepieces)​​ (Fratello Watches)​.

Secondary Market: The Fifty Fathoms does not typically command as high a premium as the Submariner on the secondary market, but limited editions and certain desirable models can still fetch prices above retail.
Market Position and Legacy
Rolex has managed to maintain the Submariner’s iconic status through consistent quality and strategic marketing. The Submariner is not only a tool watch but also a symbol of luxury and prestige.

Blancpain, despite its rich history, has struggled with brand management, particularly with the Fifty Fathoms. The need to reintroduce the watch in the early 2000s and the focus on limited editions indicate challenges in maintaining a steady market presence.

Conclusion

Is Audemars Piguet overrated? - Chrono24 Magazine
The Rolex Submariner and the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms are both legendary dive watches with unique contributions to the world of horology. While Rolex's Submariner has a well-documented and uncontested history, Blancpain's Fifty Fathoms has been surrounded by myths and contested

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