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Thread: Review: Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Tribute to Mil-Spec

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    Master yonsson's Avatar
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    Review: Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Tribute to Mil-Spec


    History
    The first modern dive watch, the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms was released 1953. It was requested by the French military and made in accordance to their specific demands. The watch needed a one way lumed and graded bezel to measure elapsed time under water, it needed to be shock proof and it needed to be waterproof to the maximum recommended depth for diving at that time (50 Fathoms= 91,44m).

    These demands are now standard in the watch industry and in accordance with the ISO6425 which specifies the standards for modern dive watches.


    Blancpain also incorporated a screw lock case back, double gaskets for the crown and automatic winding to reduce stress on the crown gaskets.



    1957 Blancpain releases the Mil-Spec 1, a diver’s watch with a moisture indicator at the lower part of the dial. This moisture indicator was crucial for the divers in order to know that the watch was functional.

    1961: SSIH (now Swatch Group) buys Blancpain.

    1981: JCB (Jean-Claude Biver) leaves Omega and buys the dormant brand Blancpain together with Jacques Piguet for CHF22000.

    1982: Blancpain "Moon Phase". Blancpains commercials proclaims:
    "Since 1735 there has never been a Blancpain quartz watch and there will never be one"

    Blancpain put all their effort in complicated watches and watch movements during the 80s when the other brands draw the conclusion that quartz watches were the future. When Rolex, Audemars Piguet and othe luxury watch brands had some quartz models, Blancpain still stuck to an all mechanical lineup.

    1985: Blancpain launches a Perpetual Calendar wrist watch.

    1988: Blancpain presents 6 new models, all with master complications considered to be hard to make: Ultra slim, moon phase, perpetual calendar, split second chronograph, tourbillon and a minute repeater. This proved that Blancpain was a high end watch brand to be reckoned with.

    1992: Blancpain was sold back to SSIH for CHF 60 000 000, but JCB stays as CEO until 2002 when JCB turns over the position to Marc Hayek.

    After that, JCB went to Hublot which is another fairytale of how Hublot was saved from bankruptcy and lead to success.
    Now JCB is CEO of Tag Heuer and we can already (2016) see how he has influenced the brand to move upscale.



    1999: Blancpain releases "Concept 2000", three watch models with Fifty Fathoms looks, but it was not until 2003 when Blancpain celebrated their 50 anniversary that they released a 40mm Fifty Fathoms model with a sapphire bezel. The model looks similar to the original model but with a modern movement and updated materials. They sold out quickly and Blancpain received lots of requests for a larger sized unlimited version. The 40mm version is now very sought after and expensive,
    It was made in 3 batches of 50.

    Blancpain met the demand 2007 with the launch of the 45mm Fifty Fathoms Automatique, the FF Tourbillon and the FF chronographe. Today I will review the FF Automatique (5015-1130-52).


    More history here:
    http://people.timezone.com/jmerino/history50.pdf

    And here:
    http://www.watchtime.com/cms/wp-cont...ncpain_fin.pdf

    Factory visit:
    http://blog.dreamchrono.com/2014/04/...factory-visit/

    https://youtu.be/gaZS2Xlc2mY
    Another video telling the history of Blancpain.





    Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Tribute to Mil-Spec


    Reference number: 5008-1130-B52A
    Diameter: 40,3mm
    Thickness: 13,23mm
    Lug/lug (vertical measurement): mm
    Strap: 20mm "Sailcloth"
    WR: 300m
    Edition: 500 numbered limited edition.



    Movement


    Blancpain cal 1151
    100 hours power reserve
    Frequency: 21600 vph
    Number of barrels: 2
    Jewel count: 28
    Number of movement parts: 210


    Cal 1151 is (mostly) developed and produced in-house. Many parts are finished individually by hand the traditional way and even the tools used for finishing the movments are traditionally made by hand. Each watchmaker has his/hers own set of personal tools. One single watchmaker is responsible for all the assembly and adjustment of one movement from start to finish. There is of course a collaboration present between the different manufacturers within the Swatch group. Frederic Piguet who at an earlier stage made movments for Blancpain are now under the “same roof” as Blancpain.

    The automatic movements have two barrels which combined results in a power reserve of 100 hours. The calibre 1151 is an upgraded version of the calibre 1150 which to some extent is used by other manufacturers like Audemars Piguet, Vacheron Constantin and Breguet. When used by other manufacturers, its limited to 70 hours power reserve.

    Calibre 1151 has a free sprung balance wheel with adjustments made by screws on the balance wheel. In contrary to some beliefs, this has nothing to do with shock resistance. This system increases accuracy, the less interference there is of the hairspring, the better the accuracy. This system combined with a silicon hairspring, provided by Nivarox (part of Swatch Group) results in a very accurate movement. The silicon hairspring is known for its great properties and one of those is the increased resistance to magnetism compared to a regular hairspring. One result of this fact is that the movement doesn’t need to be protected by a soft iron “cage” and that is why the Tribute to Mil-Spec has a crystal see through case back.

    Another upgrade is the NAC (a platinum alloy) coating to the solid 18k gold rotor. Gold adds weight which makes for effective winding of the movement and the NAC-plating looks very cool, especially in contrast to gold rotors which are often used in the watch industry to signal class and high quality.

    The movement is adjusted to 6 positions and the accuracy is so far extremely good (+-0 seconds/7 days). More info on the movement and Nivarox can be found here:
    http://www.ablogtowatch.com/inside-n...atch-industry/

    http://forums.timezone.com/index.php...0&rev=&reveal=
    http://www.watchprosite.com/?page=wf...061&pi=2634866



    Case

    The case of the Tribute to Mil-Spec looks very much like the case of the regular 45mm version, the most obvious difference is that the Mil-Spec has a 40,3mm case compared to the 45mm regular version of the Fifty Fathoms. The crown guards are sharp instead of round and the case (except the caseback) appears to be identical to the concept 2000 models and the 2003 anniversary model.



    The left side of the case has the well known and “love it or hate it” BLANCPAIN engraved and the crown is signed “B” for Blancpain. The case and lugs are round and the overall impression of the package is soft and round appearance which is enhanced by the domed crystal and domed sapphire bezel inlay.


    The crown looks proportionate to the case in photos but is quite small and a little tricky to operate. It screws in securely and the winding and time setting is smooth as silk, but it doesn’t inspire the same sense of security as on the 45mm version (which has a very thick crown tube).
    The movement doesn’t feature a hacking function which will likely surprise some, but the seconds hand can be stopped by using some back pressure like on the well-known Seiko 7s26 movement.



    The sapphire bezel inlay (introduced 2003) brings us back to the Fifty Fathoms of the 50s/60s when acrylic bezel inlays were common. Integrated in the black sapphire are luminescent markers (super luminova). The inlay has a close resemblance to the 2003 anniversary model but the Mil-Spec has minute markings 1-15 (just like the 45mm FF) and has a darker colour of the lume. The black parts of the bezel are completely black, not grey, but the camera enhances the reflections which makes for a somewhat foggy/grey look at photos from some angles.
    The crystal only features anti reflection coating on the underside and the reflections are neither too many nor too few.



    Caseback


    I always complain when a manufacturer uses see through casebacks since I don’t like the look and don’t like the contact with the crystal to my wrist but this one looks pretty nice.

    Peeping through the back makes for some great daydreaming material and it’s easy to let the thoughts wander away to the swiss alps and to the watchmakers table where someone spent hours making all the individual parts of this particular movement look just right.



    Strap and clasp

    The Tribute to Mil-Spec is sold on nato strap, sailcloth or bracelet. The bracelet looks like the one used for the anniversary model and the sailcloth is a 20/18mm version of its larger counterpart used for the regular 45mm FF-model. The sailcloth strap is very nice and there is well proportioned in thickness as opposed to on the 45mm version where the watch feels a little top heavy on the sailcloth.

    It would have been nice to see the clasp logo exchanged for the current indices logo from the 45mm FF to a logo in the style of the 12 o clock logo on the Mil-Spec dial.


    One annoying thing however is that the sailcloth strap is very short, especially considering that it’s fitted on a diver’s watch. I’m usually on the second outmost hole on this strap and I don’t consider my 18 cm wrist massive. I believe there are long versions available of this strap but that IMHO should have been the standard choice.

    Another strange thing is the short distance between the case and the springbars. The original (1.3mm) friction pins used originally are so close to the case that’s its near impossible to fit anything other than a very thin nato strap from zuludiver. Forget about using other springbars thicker than 1,3mm, they won’t fit. The original springbars are probably secure but the whole setup feels strange on a diver’s watch.



    Lume


    The luminous compound used is superluminova and the glow is OK but not spectacular in any way, its not as good as on the 45mm FF. The colour of the lume is slightly darker on the bezel than on the dial and hands, most likely to pay tribute to the vintage acrylic bezels which usually gets the same tint in colour. Usually this would have made me go crazy but I think it looks OK this time around.
    A nice thing to take notice of is the very thin white border on the indices. That line combined with the glossy and puffy lumed indices makes for a nice vintage look which feels like a very thought through design decision. All in all, the colours look very nice and discrete and at the same time successfully pays tribute to the vintage models.



    A closer look

    The Tribute to Mil-Spec is a watch you will not tire quickly to study. Both the dial and the bezel has a deep black colour in most light conditions and the sunburst effect of the dial can only be seen in direct sunlight. It is a joy and a pain to photograph. If you take it out for a walk in the sun and shoot ten photos, then you will most likely end up with ten completely different expressions. In some light conditions, you can almost make the printing on the dial disappear, and all you will see is a mirrorlike sunburst dial looking back at you.

    The flat hands have a high gloss polish which glimmers nicely when you move your wrist. The hands are symmetrically perfect to the dial, have the “correct” length and are very legible. I like the fact that the seconds hand has a generous sized arrow head and has generously applied lume. The tip of the seconds hand is slightly hidden by the crystal when you look straight at the watch and the same goes for the minute track. The reflections from the crystal sometimes makes the dial look a little domed which I love.


    There has been some negative comments about the fact that the Mil-Spec has a date but I absolutely love the date-window. The date-wheel fills up the asymmetrical date-window beautifully and the date looks very discreet thanks to the black background of the date-wheel.
    The functional moisture indicator is not perfect when studied in detail and the white part is grainy and has tiny dots which are not 100% white. This is the only part of the watch which isn’t executed perfectly. The first day I stared at It all the time with a little annoyance but now I actually think it adds some character.



    On the wrist



    The 45mm Fifty Fathoms is border lining on too big for most people and the Tribute to Mil-Spec has a completely different feel on the wrist. It’s extremely comfortable for everyday wear on my 18cm wrist and it easily slips under the scuff of my shirt. It’s thin and discreet but still has a presence. It’s not the slightest top heavy and the curved short lugs helps the watch to stay put.




    I prefer to wear the Mil-Spec on my soft customized all fabric zuludiver nato since it adds a little height and makes the watch look a little larger.



    Conclusion

    When the Tribute to Mil-Spec was presented at Baselworld 2017 it kind of sneaked up on me. The crave grew larger and larger and eventually there was no stopping me, I had to have it. I was a little worried about the 40,3mm case being too small but I felt like I had to try it out. The painted dial of the Mil-Spec and the new hands makes the Mil-Spec feel a lot less dressy than the 45mm FF and combined with the smaller size I was a little afraid that the watch would feel too boring on the wrist.

    Everything is executed to the highest quality. It exudes class and at the same time manages to keep the tool-aspect. The size is very versatile for everyday use but still big enough to pass as a diver’s watch. The moisture indicator has of course gotten a lot of attention from the press but personally I just see it as bonus decoration (even if it’s functional), the Tribute to Mil-Spec is a great watch with or without is.

    There are some small points of improvement of course, there always are. The length of the strap, the logo on the clasp which makes no sense with this dial and the irritating short distance between the springbars and the case. Overall however, I consider The Tribute to Mil-Spec to be very close to perfect and it is a small watch with a very big personality.
    Last edited by yonsson; 21st September 2017 at 13:48.

  2. #2
    Master
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    That is absolutely stunning and a great review too. Congratulations and enjoy the watch in the best of health

  3. #3
    Master
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    Fabulous watch, fabulous review Johan . It's interesting looking at the images and your observations regarding the lume, such a shame in my opinion that it isn't as good as the regular FF, but maybe some will warm to this for the vintage appeal. I also wonder why they have gone waway from the standard screw bars to spring bars, it's a fact that the regular screw bars can be a pain when trying to fit a different strap, but as you say this again has the same problem that the distance between the case and the spring bars prohibit a lot of strap fitment options, why not just stick with the screw bar option which in my opinion is a stronger option especially on a dive watch . I also see from your brilliant pictures that the edge of the bezel has a pronounced bevel edge over the standard FF, and the non hack movement on a basic three hander !

    Overall I like it, but I'm about 1500 on the list at Blancpain so unless someone else close to me gets one ( I think LTF is way above me on the list ) I won't see one in the flesh for some time . Thank you for taking the time to post your thoughts and the wonderful images .

  4. #4
    Grand Master
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    That's an absolutely lovely watch and a great reissue.
    My friend has slightly taken the edge off it by calling it the pokemon so I have a bit of a dose of what has been heard cannot be unheard but I love the size.
    Really enjoyed the review :)

  5. #5
    Craftsman Arcam's Avatar
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    Fabulous detail and write up, thanks for sharing.

    Sent from my SM-N910F using Tapatalk

  6. #6
    Really nice watch.

    Great write up / pics.
    Andy

  7. #7
    Master sean's Avatar
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    Not a watch that interests me in the main, but that doesn't matter because it was a great review to read anyway! Thanks.

  8. #8
    Master yonsson's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by dietcokeman View Post
    Fabulous watch, fabulous review Johan . It's interesting looking at the images and your observations regarding the lume, such a shame in my opinion that it isn't as good as the regular FF, but maybe some will warm to this for the vintage appeal. I also wonder why they have gone waway from the standard screw bars to spring bars, it's a fact that the regular screw bars can be a pain when trying to fit a different strap, but as you say this again has the same problem that the distance between the case and the spring bars prohibit a lot of strap fitment options, why not just stick with the screw bar option which in my opinion is a stronger option especially on a dive watch . I also see from your brilliant pictures that the edge of the bezel has a pronounced bevel edge over the standard FF, and the non hack movement on a basic three hander !

    Overall I like it, but I'm about 1500 on the list at Blancpain so unless someone else close to me gets one ( I think LTF is way above me on the list ) I won't see one in the flesh for some time . Thank you for taking the time to post your thoughts and the wonderful images .
    Thanks for your kind words!

    I think Blancpain were a little lazy to use the old case and the old friction pin springbars knowing the systems limitations. Blancpain might have a good reason for the springbar system but as an owner I prefer to be able to swap straps easily and without issues/limitations. Converting to thicker no shouldered regular springbars is impossible, only 1,3mm springbars will fit.

    When summer comes I plan to swap the nato for a Hirsch Pure rubber which is closest to a BP-rubber in style (to my knowledge there are no 20mm BP rubber straps available) but Im a little worried it might not fit. Perhaps Blancpain don't think owners will try to swap straps themselves.

  9. #9
    Master
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    Perved on this post. Gorgeous pics, v informative. Cheers.

  10. #10
    Master
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    Quote Originally Posted by yonsson View Post
    Thanks for your kind words!

    I think Blancpain were a little lazy to use the old case and the old friction pin springbars knowing the systems limitations. Blancpain might have a good reason for the springbar system but as an owner I prefer to be able to swap straps easily and without issues/limitations. Converting to thicker no shouldered regular springbars is impossible, only 1,3mm springbars will fit.

    When summer comes I plan to swap the nato for a Hirsch Pure rubber which is closest to a BP-rubber in style (to my knowledge there are no 20mm BP rubber straps available) but Im a little worried it might not fit. Perhaps Blancpain don't think owners will try to swap straps themselves.
    I think you may be right and I would also like to option of easier strap changing on the standard FF I own . I also have a Annual Calender FF which due to the taller case, makes the lug hole position lower on the rounded case profile so it's slightly easier to fit other strap options. So with the smaller and thinner case of the MIL SPEC I assume that the lug holes are even higher on the rounded case profile and so even harder to get a strap on, so using the spring bars gives a little more clearance . Just a thought .

  11. #11
    Master Chinnock's Avatar
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    Great review, many thanks

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    Master yonsson's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by dietcokeman View Post
    I think you may be right and I would also like to option of easier strap changing on the standard FF I own . I also have a Annual Calender FF which due to the taller case, makes the lug hole position lower on the rounded case profile so it's slightly easier to fit other strap options. So with the smaller and thinner case of the MIL SPEC I assume that the lug holes are even higher on the rounded case profile and so even harder to get a strap on, so using the spring bars gives a little more clearance . Just a thought .
    The standard case also has a little notch on the bottom of the case which helps a little. That type of notch would have helped on the Mil-Spec but I'm guessing there's no room for it.
    Last edited by yonsson; 21st September 2017 at 12:13.

  13. #13
    Craftsman
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    As others have said, great review and thank-you for posting.

    I am a really big fan of the design language for the all the various incarnations of the modern FF. The hands on this are very similar to those on the Aqua Lung that I had, that went off to Bryan a little while ago. I think this size would be absolutely perfect for me (the 45mm was a little too extreme for me) but, unfortunately, it is now my bank balance that is way too small for any new Blancpains.

    The date window is great. The 4:30 location means they don't have to compromise any lume plots. However, I think I would still have preferred the watch without it.

    Enjoy it and I hope you find a that the rubber strap fits it

  14. #14
    Master -Ally-'s Avatar
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    So much want.

    Nice review !

  15. #15
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    Fabulous review.

    I've said before I'd prefer it to be a smidgen bigger, but for those seeking a BPFF who've always been deterred because it was 45mm, it's excellent. The finish of the moisture indicator though is something I couldn't live with. I appreciate this is 'real' but no one will ever 'use it', so BP could have created the effect without it actually serving its original purpose, which, in a different material would have enabled a quality finish.

  16. #16
    Master ingenioren's Avatar
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    Mycket bra Johan, and excellent watches - I have 3 of my original 5 left !

    Fell in love with the brand when the 'infamous' Polly Peck owner's assets were sold off at auction in London, a.o. a lovely Leman


    Love'em

    Cheers, Peter

  17. #17
    Master flugzeit's Avatar
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    Fantastic review! Thanks for the effort and for your reflections.

    -flugzeit

  18. #18
    Master
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    Quote Originally Posted by ingenioren View Post
    Mycket bra Johan, and excellent watches - I have 3 of my original 5 left !

    Fell in love with the brand when the 'infamous' Polly Peck owner's assets were sold off at auction in London, a.o. a lovely Leman


    Love'em

    Cheers, Peter
    Did you buy one/some from the auction?

  19. #19
    Master ingenioren's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by stefmcd View Post
    Did you buy one/some from the auction?
    No afraid not.... at the time (1993) I considered 1400 pds far too much for a watch..... (which it went for, plus costs)



    0

    The writeup, quote ::

    Click to follow
    The Independent Online


    AUGUST, and the auction season has reached its Nadir. Personal property of the troubled businessman, now residing in northern Cyprus, has been removed from his flat at 80 Eaton Square, London SW1, into a bankruptcy sale at Christie's South Kensington, Friday (10.30am).Asil Nadir shows his wristwatch taste with an 18ct gold Blancpain automatic est pounds 800- pounds 1,200 - superior to and less controversial than another in his collection. A perspex paperweight contains details of Polly Peck International's pounds 20m multicurrency facility arranged by the Kansallis Banking Group ( pounds 50- pounds 80). Plus furniture, books and hi-fi equipment.....
    unquote




  20. #20
    Great review and photos, a really nice watch and a great size.

  21. #21
    Quote Originally Posted by sarky View Post
    Fabulous review.

    I've said before I'd prefer it to be a smidgen bigger, but for those seeking a BPFF who've always been deterred because it was 45mm, it's excellent. The finish of the moisture indicator though is something I couldn't live with. I appreciate this is 'real' but no one will ever 'use it', so BP could have created the effect without it actually serving its original purpose, which, in a different material would have enabled a quality finish.
    Fabulous review and thanks for taking the trouble.

    I could not abide a “painted on” moisture indicator and see the “imperfect” nature of it as part of it being real and would be very happy to have something so useful and functional.


    Sent from my iPhone using TZ-UK mobile app

  22. #22
    Craftsman Blueboy1's Avatar
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    Stunning watch and photos, I've always liked the vintage BBs.

  23. #23
    Great review and a potential new Blancpain grail.

  24. #24
    Journeyman
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    Thanks for a great review of a truly great watch....the fifty fathoms has been a favourite of mine for a while but the size and price have put it out of reach for now.... I'd always assumed this one was also 45mm! but now I'll have to start seriously saving plus I love the moisture indicator looks really cool and a bit different!!!
    Enjoy the watch !!!

  25. #25
    Master
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    Great review of a stunning watch (I had always wondered what the white circle was!)

    Although a completely different league, my Borealis FF homage is 40mm and a perfect size for me. I haven't seen the 45mm Blancpain in the metal, but can easily imagine it would be too big for many.

    ATB

    Jon

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