the isle of horseshoe crabs
of the mechanical watch
A unique version of the Fifty Fathoms created for the German Barakuda dive supply house is reborn.
“It was a different world.”
With these five words, Fiechter, who co-led Blancpain together with his aunt, Betty Fiechter, insightfully captured the state of scuba diving in the years immediately after the end of the war. Equipment that today is taken for granted either simply did not exist or was in the early stages of development. Fiechter’s contribution to this paucity of diving material was his development of the first modern diving watch, the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms which he created in 1952. It was a near disaster that propelled him to create a diving watch. During a dive on the Côte d’Azur, Fiechter lost track of time and ran out of air. Only an emergency sprint to the surface, which not only violated the rules mandating a pressure stop but also risked possible fatal injury, saved his life. His epiphany was the realization that the diving world needed a reliable watertight diving instrument that could be used to time a dive. He poured his experiences as a diver into the conception of just such an instrument with inventions to seal the caseback and crown (both patented), a rotating bezel protected against inadvertent movement to time the dive with the minute hand, large white luminous numerals on a black background for legibility underwater and automatic winding to protect the crown. The Fifty Fathoms was the result, which, in addition to fulfilling his vision, was adopted by military diving corps around the world. So penetrating were his insights, that the Fifty Fathoms has defined the entire genre of diving watches ever since.
Fiechter’s energy and efforts focused on a timing instrument, while other dive pioneers in these early days devoted themselves to the different core elements of a diver’s kit. One such early trailblazer was Hans-Joachim Bergann in Germany. One year before the end of the war, Bergann began training to become a German Navy diver. When the war concluded, Bergann kept many articles of his equipment in order to continue diving as a hobby. As his gear wore out, he gravitated to the idea that he could fabricate equipment for himself and others. His first project was swim fins. Initially he was refused permission to manufacture the fins by the English Control Office which governed such matters in post-war Germany. The Control Office considered the product to be too military in nature and, therefore, forbidden to Germans.
The initial prohibition was later relaxed and Bergann entered the business of fin production followed by masks, snorkels, and, later, wetsuits and scuba equipment. He named his enterprise “Barakuda”. By the late 1950s, Barakuda with its catalog sales and distribution through third-party dive shops had grown to become the largest and most complete supplier of diving equipment and services in Europe.
Of course, occupying a prominent position on Barakuda’s sales list of essential diving gear was a timing instrument. Today diving watches are sold in Blancpain boutiques and watch retailers alongside all the other timepieces from the Blancpain collections. Beginning in the early 1950s, however, as a specialized piece of underwater gear, Fifty Fathoms watches were sold in dive shops together with the other core elements of a diver’s kit. The first dive equipment supplier to carry the Fifty Fathoms was Aqualung in France. Barakuda was not far behind in featuring Blancpain watches in its equipment collection. Over the years, several versions of the Fifty Fathoms watches were included in its general catalog of equipment. The most distinctive, however, was a special version commissioned by Bergann which is now referred to as the “Barakuda”. Linking the watch firmly to Bergann’s diving equipment business, the caseback of the watch was engraved with the name “Barakuda”.
The Barakuda reflected many elements of Fiechter’s conception of a fully-featured diving instrument, as it incorporated a rotating bezel for dive timing secured against inadvertent movement; large luminous markings against a black background for legibility under water; as well as automatic winding to minimize wear on the crown seal. Recognizing that, although it was a fully-featured diving instrument, many would want to wear it as an everyday watch, the Barakuda also included a date window at 3 o’clock. The Barakuda’s dial was unique as its indexes positioned at 5-minute marks resembled flags with a combination of yellow and red segments.
Modern Blancpain has fully captured the spirit of the original Barakuda with a new re-edition. Aesthetically, all of the dial-side visible elements carry over: the form of the hands, the red and yellow colors of the 5-minute markers on the dial, the date window at 3 o’clock. Its vintage spirit is reinforced by the patina of the “old radium” colored Super-Luminova. The only difference is the bezel. In common with the other Fifty Fathoms timepieces in the collection, today’s Barakuda sports a bombé sapphire bezel, a feature unimaginable at the time of the original model. Not only does the bombé shape bring extraordinary visual depth to the markings, but, as sapphire is second only to diamond in hardness, it is scratch resistant. In common with other models in the Fifty Fathoms collection, the Barakuda is fitted with a domed sapphire crystal.
The 40.3 mm stainless steel case houses Blancpain’s in-house 1151 caliber. Its two mainspring barrels endow the watch with a 100-hour power reserve, performance far exceeding movement designs of a half century ago. In common with Blancpain’s other in-house calibers, the Barakuda’s movement has a free sprung balance with inertial regulation. This approach enhances running precision and shock resistance.
In Fiechter’s era, protection against magnetism could only be achieved by means of fitting the watch with a soft-iron inner case which functioned as a shield. Technology has opened the doors to a more elegant solution. The component most vulnerable to magnetism was the balance's traditional metallic hairspring. Blancpain has been in the vanguard in its adoption of silicon hairsprings across its full range of movements. Silicon is a-magnetic, meaning that it is not vulnerable to magnetic fields that the watch may encounter, thus obviating the need for a soft-iron inner case shield. Therefore, the new Barakuda movement with its silicon hairspring resists magnetic fields and, since it does not need an inner case shield that would cover the movement, is fitted with a clear sapphire caseback offering a view of the finely finished mechanics. The visible winding rotor of the Barakuda is special. Fashioned in gold and designed with a shock-absorbing form, it has been given a dark NAC (a platinum alloy) coating signaling its sporting heritage.
History reasserts itself with the new Barakuda’s strap. In common with its ancestor, it is tropical in style. Fashioned in specially formulated supple rubber to conform to the wrist and embossed with a subtle basketweave pattern, it features small diamond-shaped openings on the outside and larger diamond ribs on the skin side to facilitate breathing through the strap.
The Barakuda is a limited edition with but 500 pieces for the world.
In the heart of the Philippines, an island and its totem-animal become symbols of survival and ecological restoration…