Blancpain kicked off the new year with the first of several editions to mark the 70th anniversary of its landmark dive watch, the Fifty Fathoms. While the first anniversary watch was essentially a no-frills, vintage-inspired diver, the next one is the opposite.
With a diameter of 47 mm, the Fifty Fathoms “Tech Gombessa” is one of the largest watches ever made by Blancpain. While it still bears some resemblance to its brethren in the Fifty Fathoms line, it is distinct in terms of design (and size). And it also features a complication that’s new for the brand: a three-hour hand and corresponding elapsed-time bezel for extended-duration dives. In fact, the Tech Gombessa is the first in the new Tech Gombessa line of dive watches for professionals.
I expected a reissue of the original Fifty Fathoms for its 70th anniversary (as I’m sure did everyone else), so the first edition wasn’t a surprise. I had also hoped for something more modern, which is somewhat of an understatement for the “Act 2” of the anniversary line-up.
The Tech Gombessa’s design is clearly inspired by the original, but with lots of updates, for better or worse. While the elapsed-time bezel is fairly conventional ceramic insert, the dial is big, bold, and orange, though the mixture of modern orange typography with the vintage-style logos and lettering feels conflicted.
The case is oversized with no lugs, instead the case goes directly into the case, which should help with ergonomics. The size, however, feels excessive. While Blancpain hasn’t revealed the technical drawings of the case, it doesn’t seem like the size is a necessity going by either the movement or the depth rating. Even if it is for reasons of legibility, the 47 mm diameter still seems too much.
Surprisingly, the Tech Gombessa isn’t the largest Blancpain dive watch ever. The brand debuted an even larger and chunkier watch over a decade ago: the X Fathoms was 55.6 mm and incorporated a mechanical depth gauge. However, the X Fathoms doesn’t seem to have made it to commercial production, or at least not in any meaningful quantity.
No doubt the tangible execution of the Tech Gombessa is high quality, as is typical of Blancpain. But the US$28,000 price tag seems as oversized as the case. That’s more than double a standard Fifty Fathoms in titanium.
The Tech Gombessa has but one complication, a three-hour hand that is novel but mechanically simple since it’s just a matter of an additional, short gear train for the extra hand – so it doesn’t justify the price much. In comparison, the Rolex Deepsea Challenge has a far more sophisticated and complex case and bracelet, but costs about 20% less.
Designed in partnership with French marine biologist and underwater photographer Laurent Ballesta of Gombessa Expeditions, an ocean conservation exercise funded by Blancpain, the Tech Gombessa caters to Mr Ballesta’s requirements underwater, most notably with its three-hour hand and elapsed time bezel. The three-hour hand allows technical divers to measure the extended periods spent underwater when diving with a rebreather, a device that recycles exhaled air.
Another feature for professional divers is the helium escape valve for saturation diving. Gases with molecules smaller than oxygen can enter the watch case after time in a hyperbaric chamber, so they have to be vented before decompression to prevent the crystal from being forced off by the expanding gases inside the case.
According to Blancpain, the Tech Gombessa was rigorously tested in the field: “Four prototypes were worn on the wrists of aquanauts for an almost 50-day trial period at a depth of 120 metres as part of the Gombessa V and Gombessa VI missions… in the Mediterranean in 2019 and 2021 respectively… [that] combined saturation diving with closed-circuit rebreather diving for the first time.”
While the design takes many cues from the simpler Fifty Fathoms models, the case has been scaled up and streamlined. Made of grade 23 titanium, an especially pure titanium alloy, the case measures 47 mm in diameter and 14.81 mm tall. It’s essentially a cylinder with no lugs, so the rubber strap is secured to the case via screws on its underside.
Just like the case, the dial retains the traditional Fifty Fathoms look but with a much bolder style that combines a black dial with vivid orange markings and hands. The applied hour markers are actually orange resin impregnated with Super-Luminova.
The Tech Gombessa is powered by the cal. 13P8, a variant of the workhorse cal. 1315 found in other Fifty Fathoms models. It is a three-barrel automatic movement with a long power reserve of 120 hours. Specific to the Tech Gombessa is a grey-coated 18k gold rotor with the Gombessa Expeditions emblem on its centre.
Key facts and price
Blancpain Fifty Fathoms 70th Anniversary “Tech Gombessa”
Diameter: 47 mm
Height: 14.81 mm
Material: Grade 23 titanium
Water resistance: 300 m
Movement: Cal. 13P8
Functions: Hours, minutes, seconds, three-hour dive-time hand and helium escape valve
Frequency: 28,800 beats per hour (4 Hz)
Power reserve: 120 hours
Strap: Rubber strap with buckle
Limited edition: No
Availability: At Blancpain boutiques and retailers
Price: CHF26,300; or US$28,000
For more, visit Blancpain.com.