Blancpain is telling the story of the 70th anniversary of its Fifty Fathoms dive watch in three acts.
Act three, we are told, will come in the autumn.
Today, the curtain has been raised on act two in the form of a brand new Fifty Fathoms, designed for professional divers, that has a never-before-seen complication: a three hour counter to measure the length of time people can spend underwater using modern day rebreather tanks.
Blancpain’s Mark Hayek is as close as a full time CEO can be to a professional diver, and says his passion for underwater discovery was transformed when he first tried on rebreather equipment.
These units strip carbon dioxide out of exhaled breath and makes it breathable again with no bubbles escaping to the surface.
This dramatically lengthens the amount of time a diver can spend underwater.
So, while the earliest dive watches, with 45 minute countdown bezels designed to tell divers when they needed to resurface, today’s rebreather tanks mean the 45 minute limit is obsolete.
In fact, the time anybody can spend underwater is limited only by how the individual feels. A person need only surface when they feel exhausted or too cold to continue.
The fact that this eradicates the need for a watch with a countdown of three hours did not come up in the launch presentation of a new Fifty Fathoms Tech Gombessa, which has a new complication that does precisely that.
The watch was introduced via video link from Rangiroa Atoll in French Polynesia, where the latest Gombessa marine conservation project is taking place.
Gombessa is a series of projects, run by photographer and underwater biologist Laurent Ballesta and supported by Blancpain, that study some of the rarest, most elusive marine creatures and phenomena on Earth. In the case of the Rangiroa Atoll project, the team is studying hammerhead sharks.
The Fifty Fathoms Tech Gombessa was tested at the dive site, where rebreather tanks allow specialists to spend many hours underwater (up to nine hours at a time, according to Mr Ballesta), among the hammerhead sharks.
The beauty of the rebreather is that divers can spend long periods among the wildlife they are studying without disturbing them by constantly needing to descend and ascend, and also without creating bubbles that might alter their behavior.
The Fifty Fathoms Tech Gombessa will tell divers when they have been down for three hours, just in case their computerized timer lets them down or they become exhausted.
“You can get cold and tired after three hours, but the limit of how long you can dive for is more about the physical condition of the diver,” Mr Ballesta says.
You get the picture. Nobody really needs a three hour counter any more than they need a 45 minute counter on a regular divers’ watch.
But above the water, the Fifty Fathoms Tech Gombessa makes a serious statement. “I’m among the rare breed of endurance divers trained to use rebreather tanks,” the 47mm wrist ornament screams.
If its practicality is questionable, its beauty is not.
The watch has the blackest of dials that traps almost 97% of the light. This provides the perfect background to contrasting applied luminescent hour-markers and hands in orange with blue emission.
It comes in a 47mm titanium case, with its 13P8 automatic movement, which has twin barrels delivering five days of power reserve; all protected by a helium escape valve, and visible through an exhibition case back so you can see the Gombessa logo on the movement’s rotor.
The ultra black dial is ringed by the the three hour bezel in black ceramic with pale green markers.
The Fifty Fathoms Tech Gombessa, worn on a rubber strap, is on sale now for CHF 26,300, including tax.