Watches of Knightsbridge, January 28 2017
Sold for: £18,750
When the National Geographical Society magazine published an article in 1953 about Jacques Cousteau exploring the Grand Congloue island off Marseilles, demand for the newly-perfected SCUBA took off like a rocket.
And it was no coincidence that Rolex chose that year’s Basel watch fair to unveil its now-legendary Submariner model, which was one of the world’s first professional dive watches. But not the first. That honour, in all likelihood, went to Blancpain’s Fifty Fathoms that was released a few months earlier, purely for military use by the French Navy.
Cousteau, however, wore a Fifty Fathoms for the making of his award-winning film 1957 The Silent World, quickly creating a civilian market for the watch that prevails to this day.
And vintage versions are, of course, highly collectable – as demonstrated by the sale of this 1960s example for more than double its low estimate. A quintessential tool watch, the Fifty Fathoms has been made in a variety of guises, but this clean, clear original is considered by many to be the best – especially with the inclusion of the yellow and red radiation symbol, a military requirement designating the use of radium paint to make the dial markings luminous. This one, however, has the symbol crossed out to indicate a switch to non-harmful tritium.
In summary: A true tool watch classic which is still entirely wearable today and – if correctly maintained – suitable for the use for which it was originally intended. And far less obvious a choice than a Submariner.