We take a detailed, hands-on look at the just released Blancpain Tribute to Fifty Fathoms No Rad diver watch, with many detailed photographs including one vintage piece with superb providence. Limited edition of 500 pieces.
Review: Blancpain Tribute to Fifty Fathoms No Rad
Ref. 5008D-1130-B64A. Retail price is SGD 19,500 inclusive of GST. At time of publishing, we were told that all allocation for the Singapore boutique have been reserved, and this model is officially sold out in Singapore!
The historical Fifty Fathoms No Rad
The most intriguing feature of this watch is the No Rad designation. Which is a rather curious designation to apply to a product – proclaiming that it is free from dangerous radiation. But the circumstances when it was introduced was during a time when the dangers of radiation and the use of radium in dials have just got recognition as a health hazard, and this is an affirmation to tell the divers that the watch is safe to wear.
The watch was first introduced in the mid-1960s as a diving instrument used by German Navy’s Combat Swimmers, had the characteristic feature of being stamped with a “no radiations” logo indicating that Blancpain was not using luminescent materials composed of radium.
The Fifty Fathoms itself has a strong historical link to being one of the first professional diver watches to be built. The link stretches back to 1953, when the French Combat Swimmers (link to the this story and our review of the Blancpain “Nageurs de Combat” re-issue in 2019) were the first to use the Fifty Fathoms for their underwater missions.
The Fifty Fathoms were treasured for their water tightness, legibility, safety and robustness, and became an indispensable piece of standard diving equipment.
Other combat units followed, including the German military, which in the mid-1960s acquired the Fifty Fathoms RPG 1 model, now better known as “BUND No Rad”. This name refers to the term “Bundeswehr” (armed forces), engraved on the back of the watches that equipped the “Kampfschwimmer”, the elite German frogman commando unit, until the early 1970s. The distinguishing attribute of the RPG 1 model was the “no radiations” logo, featured for the first time on the dial of a Fifty Fathoms. A Christie’s auction sold one in 2017 for USD 22,000. The RPG 1 model comes without a date indication.
This is not the first re-issue of the Fifty Fathoms No Rad, in 2010, Blancpain introduced a Fifty-Fathoms with “BUND No Rad” insignia, also limited to 500 pieces. This current new release is closer to the original release (see the photograph of Nick Hayek’s watch) than the 2010 re-issue, which was a 45mm case, very polished and with a glossy dial and regular handset.
The case, dial and hands
The new release is a superb attempt by Blancpain to release an accurate rendition of the original watch. The original Fifty Fathoms is a collector darling, in almost any dial styling. The No Rad in particular holds a treasured place among many collectors who are intrigued by the logo and the added splash of colour to the dial.
This issue has a three piece stainless steel case measuring 40.30mm in diameter and modest (for diver watch) 13.23mm case thickness. The case shape remains the same as the standard Fifty Fathoms lineup, and comprise of a large unidirectional bezel protected by sapphire glass. The bezel is black with a vintage cream coloured SuperLuminova markings for the minutes, 5 minutes and the cardinal points of 15, 30, 45 and a triangle for the 60. We take this as a rather standard design for a dial watch these days, but the original Fifty Fathoms of the 1953, this was a radical design feature.
The dial itself is matte black, with the same creamy SuperLuminova (a colour which is interestingly known as “old radium”), featuring dots for the hour markers except for 6 and 9 o’clock which are bars, and 12 o’clock which is a diamond shape. The 3 o’clock position is omitted, and in its place a dial aperture is placed. The hands are javelin style with the same old radium SuperLuminova infill. And the center seconds hand is arrow shape with lume infilling on the business end. And smack above the 6 o’clock marker is the No Rad marker.
The No Rad logo is a special symbol comprising of three red segments on a yellow background with a black cross was accompanied by the words “NO RADIATIONS” designed to ensure that the message was easily understood.
Even the soft rubber tropical style strap is period correct to the original, and stamped with a cross hatch pattern.
The overall look of the dial is very legible, and clear. And makes reading in light and dark easy. Apologies, we forgot to take a lume shot. The vibe of the watch has a very vintage feel, and is further enhanced by box style sapphire glass, which looks like the plexiglass covers used in those days. with the characteristic visual distortions at the box corners which stand slightly proud of the bezel. All adding to this vintage feel. This is a very good thing, as the vintage Blancpain Fifty Fathoms are in high demand among collector circles.
The movement: Blancpain Caliber 1151
Unlike the vintage Fifty Fathoms, the new Tribute to Fifty Fathoms No Rad is equipped with a sapphire glass back. And for good reason. Beating within is the Blancpain Caliber 1151, which is a beauty to behold. This is a workhorse slim movement used in many Blancpain watches, including many Fifty Fathoms (including the also famous MIL SPEC) and Extra Plate watches. The movement is thus well tested in the field and is a robust and reliable component, critical to the diver.
This is a modern movement featuring 100 hours of power reserve with automatic winding. The movement beats at 28,800 bph featuring a silicon hairspring and is beautifully finished. All haute horlogerie elements are addressed, with Côtes de Genève, anglage, perlage executed very well. The rotor is pierced with a cartouche shaped aperture as a nod to the historical timepieces.
We are intentionally leaving out the Competitive Landscape section as it is particularly difficult to make comparisons. If we compare to other dive watches of the same depth rating, the field is enormous, and the candidates are well known. If we make comparisons to the original tribute piece, then only the vintage watches and the 2010 re-issue qualify.
This is an amazing remake of a historically important diver’s watch. And the pains that Blancpain has taken to make this recreation is superb. The result is a watch which contains all the design DNA of the originals, but yet is thoroughly modern and up to date in its specifications. For example, fifty fathoms is about 91m, but the current watch is rated to 300m. And sapphire crystals are used, with an advanced movement using a silicon balance spring providing 100 hours of power reserve.
The watch looks remarkably beautiful, with the strong vintage vibes making a good argument for its handsomeness. The splash of colour from the No Rad logo remains as attractive now as it did on the vintage pieces.
All the photographs, except where credited to others, were photographed in the Blancpain boutique in Marina Bay Sands with the Leica SL2-S with the Sigma 105mm f/2.8 DG DN Macro Art L Mount lens. Lighting by Profoto strobes.
Blancpain Tribute to Fifty Fathoms Tribute No Rad specifications
Model: Tribute to Fifty Fathoms No Rad
Dial: Matt black
Case Material: Stainless steel
Case Dimensions Diameter: 40.3mm, Thickness: 13.23mm, Lug-width: 20mm
Crystal: Sapphire Case Back Sapphire
Movement: Caliber 1151, self-winding manufacture movement, power reserve: 100 hours, 21,600 bph, jewels: 28
Water Resistance 300 meters
Strap: tropic style rubber strap
Functions: Time, Date, unidirectional diving bezel