A retrospective 20 years after its rebirth
FIRE BENEATH THE SEA
Lightness and strength: three new Grade 23 titanium Bathyscaphes.
One of the world’s most renowned architects of his time, Frank Lloyd Wright, spoke of his then revolutionary natural style:
“This natural architecture seeks...lightness and strength so completely balanced and logical that it is a new integrity.”
Of course, he was speaking of architectural design, but the thought translates perfectly to the bringing of titanium to watchmaking. Lightness and strength. To that one can add beauty, resistance to corrosion, and non-allergenic properties. It is with those insights that we can speak of three new Grade 23 titanium Bathyscaphes and the titanium bracelets that can be fitted to them. Although all three—the Automatique, the Quantième Complet Phases de Lune, and the Chronographe Flyback— have been in the Fifty Fathoms Collection for several years in other materials, they take on an entirely new personality when fashioned in titanium.
The Automatique was the first model of the modern Bathyscaphe family to be introduced. It offers a display of hours, minutes, large seconds, and date. Its new color scheme is echoed in its two Grade 23 titanium stable mates and sets it and them apart from the previous versions. Both its delicately brushed with a vertical pattern dial and unidirectional rotating ceramic bezel are carried out in a gray tone that subtly contrasts with the brushed gray hue of the case and bracelet. As with its predecessor Automatique versions, it is fitted with Blancpain’s in-house 1315 caliber. The attributes of the 1315 movement distinguish it from all other dive watch counterparts: a free sprung balance with silicon hairspring, three mainspring barrels, a 5-day power reserve, a sophisticated soleil finish with fine anglage, extra-large jewels, and a gold automatic winding rotor with a NAC (a platinum alloy) finish. Thanks to the non-magnetic properties of the silicon hairspring, the movement is highly resistant to magnetism while at the same time being open for viewing through the clear sapphire case back.
BATHYSCAPHE QUANTIÈME COMPLET PHASES DE LUNE
The 1970s hurled the entirety of the Swiss watch industry into crisis. Inexpensive quartz watches from Asia threatened to extinguish fine mechanical watchmaking. Efforts to compete with quartz by making mechanical watches less expensive and by removing complications had proven itself to be a failing strategy. Blancpain saw things differently. A mechanical watch was a form of art and an homage to exquisite handcraft and tradition. Instead of making its timepieces more simply, Blancpain re-introduced complications. The first being a complete calendar with indications of the date, day of the week, and month paired with a moon phase. It reinvigorated mechanical watchmaking by returning to historical roots and restoring the charm and interest of traditional fine timepieces. Upon seeing this early ‘80s Blancpain, the public came to understand that a beautiful handmade timepiece was an entirely different object from an industrialized quartz watch. Blancpain’s success with its calendar/moon phase was immediate and illuminated the path that led the entirety of the Swiss watch world out of the near mortal crisis that it had faced. The style of this ‘80s Blancpain became emblematic for the house and endures today throughout the collections, including the Fifty Fathoms with this Bathyscaphe model.
This now signature Blancpain arrangement of the complete calendar moon phase with the date shown on a ring and indicated by a large hand, day of the week and month in windows, and moon phase at the 6 o’clock position has been brought to the Bathyscaphe. Adding this calendar and moon phase complication leaves undiluted the diving watch spirit that has marked the Bathyscaphe since its introduction in 1956. The color palette of the new titanium version is identical to the Automatique version with a gray dial and, in the same shade, a unidirectional rotating gray ceramic bezel. The pattern of the dial is a subtle sunburst brushing, departing from the vertical pattern of the Automatique.
The movement—in-house caliber 6654— features a free sprung balance fitted with a silicon hairspring and two mainspring barrels. Power reserve is 72 hours. The calendar complication is unique to Blancpain in that it is fully secured. Generally, throughout the watch world, calendar complications are vulnerable to breakage if the owner attempts to set the calendar during those hours when the calendar is in the course of its daily automatic change. The caliber 6654 is secured against that risk. If an adjustment is made manually during the period when automatic changes are occurring, the automatic elements are disconnected, thus eliminating the risk of harm to the movement.
BATHYSCAPHE CHRONOGRAPHE FLYBACK
Historically, chronographs were not part of the diving milieu. The reason was that the pushers used for starting/stopping/return to zero, essential for every chronograph, were not water-resistant. Indeed, the inability at that time to adapt chronographs to the water environment led Blancpain’s then Co-CEO, Jean-Jacques Fiechter, to design the rotating bezel for use in timing dives, which was one of his several ground-breaking inventions that were core to the original Fifty Fathoms.
Today, however, sealed chronograph pushers have been invented, enabling the creation of diving chronographs. When diving chronographs first appeared in the Fifty Fathoms collection in 2007 with the Fifty Fathoms Chronographe Flyback and, later, the Bathyscaphe Chronographe Flyback, Marc A. Hayek, Blancpain’s CEO, emphasized that all of the timepieces in the Fifty Fathoms collection had to be fully useable underwater, and that the chronograph was a fitting member of the collection thanks to its modern sealed pushers.
The gray hue of the dial and unidirectional ceramic rotating bezel mark the new titanium Bathyscaphe Chronographe Flyback. The light touch texturing of the surface of the dial found in the other titanium models has been brought to this new model, with the main portion of the dial featuring a soleil pattern and the subdials a fine circular pattern.
As with the predecessor Bathyscaphe Chronographe Flyback versions in ceramic and steel, the self-winding movement is the in-house caliber F385. It beats at the ideal frequency for a chronograph: 5 Hz. This neatly divides each second into tenths. In line with Blancpain’s movement practice, the F385 features a free sprung balance with a silicon hairspring. The letter “F” of the caliber signals that it is a flyback chronograph. Ordinary chronographs require three button pushes to stop a timing event, return to zero, and then start a new timing event. The flyback function reduces this to a single button push. Pushing the button at the 4 o’clock position accomplishes all of these functions with one action.
All three of the new titanium Bathyscaphes offer the option of a Grade 23 titanium bracelet. The design of the bracelet reprises Blancpain’s classic 71. Originally introduced in the early ‘90s, the 71 became renowned for the comfort of its fit to the wrist. The new titanium version has a refined brushed finish on all sides. Blancpain has introduced a new system for attaching the bracelet links to each other. Each link, on the inside, is fitted with dimples. Those dimples serve to ease the process of sizing the fit of the bracelet. No special tools are required. Turning those dimples with an ordinary screwdriver allows for the removal or addition of links to adjust the bracelet’s length.
The material of choice to combine high strength, light weight, corrosion-resistance, and wearability.