Last year we were thrilled by the introduction of Blancpain‘s vintage-inspired Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe dive watch so when I heard that they had released a chronograph version I was both excited and a little worried. As Blancpain nailed the balance and proportions of the Bathyscaphe three-hander, I was worried that the inclusion of a chronograph feature might throw the original design off balance. UPDATE: As of October 2014 Blancpain has released a new limited edition (of 250 pieces) ref. 5200-0240-52A version of the Bathyscaphe Chronograph as the Blancplain Ocean Commitment Bathyscaphe Chronographe Flyback with a blue dial and bezel in a ceramic case.
After seeing the new Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe Flyback Chronograph in person, I’m pleased to report that the chronograph version is gorgeous and retains the flair and presence established by the preceding three-hander. With a brand new manufacture movement and some serious dive-ready credentials, the new Bathyscaphe Flyback Chronograph is a fitting follow up to one of our favorite sport watches of 2013.
Still sporting the same 43.6 mm case width and a chronograph-housing height of 15.25 mm, the Bathyscaphe Flyback feels great on wrist and certainly looks the part for a dive chronograph. Available in steel with a grey dial or full brushed ceramic with a matching black dial, there’s not a bad choice in the entire Bathyscaphe range.
Additionally, the steel version of the chronograph (or now the three hander) can be optioned with a matching steel bracelet. The bracelet is heavy and very nicely made, with a brushed finish and a button-release butterfly clasp.
For our money, the Bathyscaphe Flyback is best on the sailcloth strap or the high-quality nato. For boney wrists like mine, I’d recommend the sailcloth option as it was instantly comfortable and kept the head of the Bathyscaphe in an ideal and flat position.
Price notwithstanding, there is a lot to love about this new limited-edition entry to the Fifty Fathoms line — that is likely why the watch is currently enjoying dip watch lover “sleeper hit” status post-Baselworld. Largely released without significant fanfare, part of this Blancpain Tribute to Fifty Fathoms Mil-Spec watch’s allure are its conservative measurements and loyal adherence to the design codes of their original Mil-Spec. However, a key dimension of its allure is probably Blancpain’s inclusion of a critical quality of the first: a working replica of this “watertightness” moisture index at 6:00. Back in the morning “when sex was safe and diving was harmful,” dive watches weren’t the rugged, reliable tools we are familiar with today. Though paramount to a diver’s security, the earliest examples were still prone to damage by shock, plagued with poor visibility in low light, and constructed with instances ill-equipped to handle great sea depths. Unsatisfied with issued watches that could not (quite literally) function under stress, French combat swimmer corps commanders Captain Robert Maloubier and Lieutenant Claude Riffaud hunted out the grandfather of the Fifty Fathoms, Jean-Jacques Fiechter, that had been already hard at work on a design that would address these very symptoms.But the opinion that became standard-issue to the UDT teams commanded by Maloubier and Riffaud wasn’t Fiechter’s first provincial Fathoms layout, but one that contained an additional safeguard: a quirky watertightness indicator that could alert the wearer if their view was compromised. Now, it’s well worth noting that such an index is a little bit like a smoke detector — it merely points out the obvious, and does little to prevent the flame. But back in 1957 when the design was initiated and shortly adopted on all dive watches issued to combat swimmers, a diver only needed to know if his view could be reliable or not.
The dial is beautifully executed with a slight dome and the same jewel-like applied markers we loved on the three-hander. Aside from a red-tipped chrono seconds hand, the Bathyscaphe Flyback is a monochromatic affair, with the steel version sporting a lovely sunburst finish on its grey dial.
The bezel is identical to that of last year’s introduction, with a good grip, unidirectional travel and a ceramic insert with a LiquidMetal scale. The new in-house flyback movement places running seconds at six with a 12 hour register at nine and a 30 minute register at three.