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Was Tim wrong about Blancpain Fifty Fathoms?

Updated: Jun 27, 2021

When Tim challenged me about the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Milspec Hodikee edition, I should have known that it wouldn’t be as easy as talking for one hour on his YouTube live stream channel.

Copyright Hodinkee

Instead, I am now being exploited, in true “Archie Luxury” style, to write an article for his webpage - something that I have no talent for and I apologize in advance for my crappy English - I can’t do better.

I will not bore you with the military roots and the genesis of the Fifty Fathoms - just in short - it was developed in 1952 along with military specifications (hence the name “MIL-SPEC”) and was released by Blancpain in 1953 - the same year that Rolex released their Submariner ref. 6204.

It seems to be common agreement among experts - and I am far from being one - that the Blancpain was some months earlier in that race. I will leave the controversial debate about who summitted Mt. Everest first, Rolex or Smith’s, to a later day, although it appears that the evidence points to Smith’s as holding at least a share of that claim.

A bit later, the US Navy reached out to Blancpain with the request for a dive watch with a moisture indicator that Blancpain had previously developed.

copyright mumblypeg at watchuseek

What is that big fat fugly Blop on the dial?

This moisture indicator is the most prominent part of the MILSPEC Editions, so please allow me to explain how it functions:

To indicate if water/moisture has entered the watch, Blancpain used an undisclosed material that turns its color from white to an orange-brown tone when it is getting humid or wet. So the white half of the circle is the indicator part and the orange half serves as a baseline or Control line - just like they do with current Covid instant tests.

If it wasn’t like that you would be left alone to guess if the indicator already had that brownish tone before or if it has changed color because of intruding moisture.

So, in short, if the dot is full orange/brown - your watch is fiked!

How does the “normal” FF compare to the 2nd Hodinkee FF Edition?

The “normal“ Blancpain Fifty Fathoms is an impressive beast by all standards!

A 45 mm case is as thick as Tim’s belly and as jingly-jangly as it can get - it has more polished surfaces than the number of empty shelves in Archie’s fridge!

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To make it even worse, Blancpain has decided to put their full company name on the 9’’ side of the case where it prominently reminds you of the maker every time that you are checking the time!

But the watch has its positive sides, and that is the movement! The Blancpain 1315 has an impressive power reserve of 120 hours (5 days) which is made possible by using three mainspring barrels!

The Blancpain Fifty Fathoms MIL-SPEC Hodinkee LE:

The Hodinkee LE has a sleek and slim 40.3 mm case, it lacks the pathetic Blancpain engravement on the case flank and the case, plus the case back ring is brushed non-reflective matte!

The dial features the rare and gorgeous humidity indicator and is completely done in non-reflective matte black! To keep things simple and balanced, they have decided to get rid of the ugly date window. The dial markers are also simplified by replacing the trapezoid markers with dots and the Arabic numerals with squares.

The case back is transparent on the Hodinkee Edition and features the Blancpain/Hodinkee stamped black rotor.

The only negative that I can see on this is the fact that the much smaller 1154 movement has

*only* two barrels, which are good for *just* 95 hours.

Something which sticks out like one of Archie’s Horns on the Hodinkee LE is the hour hand!

You may have noticed that the hour hand is far too long compared with virtually any other watch. I have heard rumors that the model that Hondinkee used for their photo production was different in that regard (hour hand) to the watches that AD's received stock of, when the LE was officially for sale. I have been hearing that all Hodinkee LEs were rushed back to Blancpain Service centers to have them changed to the hour hand that was published on the Hodinkee press photos. My personal take is that the hour hand is an obvious and glaring mistake, and I’d really love to hear the full story on it, but it makes the Hodinkee LE even more special in my opinion.

Copyright Hodinkee

I have been walking up and down and tried to envision possible arguments made by Tim against the Hodinkee LE, and here they come:

"Well, brushing that case instead of polishing, they even save money. The same can be said for the lack of the date window, and they are even saving the effort and cost to put that ugly engraving on the case flanks.“

And my reply would be: "Yes if you only scratch the surface, you may be right. However, making the dial without the date window adds cost; you have to design the new layout and then produce a very limited number of those. You even have to add additional stock just in case that a replacement is needed in 20 years."

The modern Blancpain company was always positioned as a luxury brand, so polishing the case obviously appeals to the masses. Diehards such as me and some others may prefer a matte dial and case, but we are obviously in the minority. So, when Hodinkee makes a LE by basically leaving things out, it does not necessarily mean that they do so to save cost. They are doing it to make the product better in the end, and that’s what you are paying for.

Just take the current Rolex OPs as an example: people are willing to pay significantly more money for them, while a Datejust 36 offers more value, like a date function, a white gold bezel, and so on. So, OPs may be cheaper to make by leaving out the date function - but people still enjoy them over the technically better Datejusts. And that’s exactly what those Hodinkee Editions are all about: making the "off the rack“ product better, and that adds value for the collectors of these things - not the extra function or feature.

Another potential criticism could be that Hodinkee is using the smaller - and probably cheaper - two barrel movement for virtually the same price compared to the superior FF 45 mm.

Again, it’s about improving things, and I for my part have been waiting for years for them to come up with the 40.3 mm Milspec, and the strong prices on the secondary market shows that not many collectors are taking issue with it.

But admittedly - because we can’t compare FF 45 mm vs 40.3mm directly - the price difference from a Bathyscaphe 38 mm (1150 Date) to the 43 mm Bathyscaphe (1315) is US $1,000, and I am sure that Tim will bring this up.

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