“Introduced back in 1953, the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms was the world’s first true diving watch, that went on the market.”
Affordable Alternatives To The Blancpain Fifty Fathoms
- Spinnaker Fleuss Charcoal ($310)
- Le Forban Malouine ($490)
- Helson Skin Diver ($699)
- Baltic Aquascaphe ($705)
- Squale Sub-39 Black Arabic ($1,284)
- Squale x Drass Galeazzi ($1,190)
- Longines Legend Diver ($2,600)
- IWC Aquatimer Automatic ($5,200)
The Blancpain Fifty Fathoms
Introduced back in 1953, the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms was the world’s first true diving watch, that went on the market. Its name, Fifty Fathoms was a direct hint to the watch’s purpose, since it referred to a British measurement of depth. 50 Fathoms equaled a depth of around 91 meters (298ft), which at the time, was the deepest depth that any watch could go. And while many credit the iconic Rolex Submariner as the first real dive watch, the actual truth is that, even though, both the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms and Rolex Submariner launched in 1953, only the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms had a unidirectional bezel and could safely be used for diving with compressed air, at the time. And the Submariner wasn’t even close to achieving a depth rating of 91 meters. And ever since its launch, the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms earned the respect and love from the watch community, especially from those who have a particular interest in diving watches.
But over the past decades, we saw that the Fifty Fathoms was subjected to quite a few design changes. Originally known for its oversized, unidirectional bezel, its understated and clean dial, as well as the long, straight lugs, the Fifty Fathoms of today takes on many roles. Take for example the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Flyback Chronograph, or the Fifty Fathoms Bathyscape Quantième Complet Phases de Lune, both of which aren’t really utilizing the original diving purpose of the Fifty Fathoms. Back in 1953, nobody would have ever thought to wear a watch with a moon-phase complication just to go scuba diving, and honestly, I wouldn’t have either. Anyway, while Blancpain may have altered the design and purpose of some of their Fifty Fathoms models, there are still a lot of variants that have direct ties to its original form, like the Fifty Fathoms No Rad, the Barakuda, the Bathyscaphe, or the Automaqtique. And in my opinion, those models are the reason why the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms is one of the most sought-after and respected dive watches in modern times.
History Lesson About The Blancpain Fifty Fathoms
I briefly touched on the Fifty Fathoms history in the previous paragraph, but I want to go a little bit further into the details on that topic. Because it’s important to know the historical significance that the original Blancpain Fifty Fathoms brought into the watch industry. And to do that, we have to turn back the time, all the way to 1952.
In 1952, the French government established the French “Nageuers de combat”, a highly elite, military combat swimmer unit. This tactical unit, also known as the “frogmen”, was headed up by Captain Robert “Bob” Maloubier and Lieutenant Claude aspirant Riffaud, who managed to set up a skillful, persistent, fearless, and fearless team of highly trained special forces soldiers. Basically, these guys were the French version of the Navy Seals. And even though they were already using tools such as compasses, depth gauges, and some sort of watches, they needed a perfect time-telling tool that wouldn’t fail them even in the deepest and roughest of waters. And so, Captain Maloubier sat down and drew a first sketch of the watch he was in desperate need of.
And while drawing the first sketch was fairly easy, this, unfortunately, was not the case when it came to actually reach out to watch manufacturers and getting them to produce a wristwatch like this. Countless manufacturers rejected his proposal, someone even called it, and I quote; “a portable clock without any future.”. Well, that hasn’t aged well, has it? But then finally, he gets in contact with Blancpain and Jean-Jacques Fiechter, who at the time, was the CEO of Blancpain. Luckily for them, he was also an avid diver himself and agreed to realize this watch. A watch with a black dial, large, luminous numerals, and clear markings, as well as an outer rotating bezel – the first version of the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms.
The first model of the watch was released in 1953 and was designed to be waterproof up to a depth of 50 fathoms, which, as mentioned earlier, translates to 91 meters or 298 feet. With its 42mm round case, the watch was of rather larger proportions, which, in an era of small dress watches, was quite unusual and caused some heads to turn. The Blancpain Fifty Fathoms was powered by an automatic and antimagnetic movement, which eliminated the need to wind the watch from time to time and made it way more flexible when it came to military operations. After the Fifty Fathoms proved itself to be a very reliable and helpful tool, several other naval forces equipped their divers with the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms, including the Israeli, Spanish, German, and US special forces.
Over the next two to three decades, Blancpain changed the design of their Fifty Fathoms over and over again, adapting it to the current market situation. Then, the quartz crisis hit, and Blancpain had to temporarily suspend their production of mechanical watches, which also included the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms. But then, in 1999, Blancpain made a comeback and introduced a brand-new edition of the beloved Fifty Fathoms. And ever since then, they didn’t stop innovating and releasing new versions of the most iconic dive watch on the surface of this planet.
I hope you enjoyed the short history lesson about the Fifty Fathoms, but let’s get to what this article actually is about. Affordable alternatives to the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms. With prices ranging from $8,000 all the way to around $15,000, the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms really can’t be labeled as an affordable wristwatch anymore. And since not everyone is able to spend such an amount on a wristwatch, we are going to look at more affordable alternatives, that share some of the same cool and refined looks of the typical Fifty Fathoms. This will be done as a part of the series “Affordable Alternatives”. A series of articles, in which we will go through the most prestigious and sought-after luxury watches, that cannot be bought at a retail price and/or are just too expensive for the average watch enthusiast, and we will make a list of affordable alternatives. Usually, the prices of the watches in these lists range anywhere between $100 to $10,000, since I assume, that in this range, we will find something for every budget.
Enough with all the talking, let’s get started with the watches!
Spinnaker Fleuss Charcoal ($310)
The first pick of the day comes from the Hong Kong-based watch company Spinnaker. The Spinnaker Fleuss Charcoal.
The watch features a brushed stainless-steel case, which measures 43mm in diameter, 13mm in thickness, and 51mm from lug to lug. Compared to other watches on this list, this is quite large, but then again, the original Blancpain Fifty Fathoms had a 42mm case, so the size of the case shouldn’t be the only deciding factor on this one. What most definitely should be a part of your decision process is how the dial and bezel were designed. And let me tell you this, for a watch that only costs around $300, the dial and bezel combination punches way above its weight. Starting with the black dial, which, with its charcoal texture, the luminous Arabic numerals on 6, 9, and 12 o’clock, and the wide-index-shaped hands, reminds me a lot of the dial design of the original Blancpain Fifty Fathoms. Speaking of which, the black, vintage-inspired diver bezel of the Spinnaker Fleuss, basically shares all the same distinctive design features with one of the Fifty Fathoms. Honestly, I don’t think that’s a coincidence. But again, that’s fine, since they both play on completely different levels, and aren’t even come near to competing in the same market.
The watch is powered by the automatic Seiko NH35 movement, which provides approximately 41 hours of power reserve.
To sum it up, if you are looking for a diving-capable watch, that shares the same distinctive vintage design aspects as the original Blancpain Fifty Fathoms, but are not planning to spend more than $350 on it, then this watch is a real winner.
Specifications: Price: $310, Case Size: 43mm, Thickness: 13mm, Lug-to-Lug: 51mm, Lug Width: 22mm, Water Resistance: 150m, Movement: Automatic Seiko NH35 movement, Power Reserve: 41 Hours, Crystal: Sapphire
Le Forban Malouine ($490)
The seasoned reader of this blog will probably recognize this watch and maybe it even reminds them of past articles. And they would be right to assume so. The watch that I’ve picked out next, the Le Forban Malouine, was already featured in other articles on this blog, like the “Best 3-Watch Collection Under $1000” article. But for those of you that are new here, first of all, welcome, and second, let me introduce the brand Le Forban to you. Because trust me, this is a story you want to hear.
But in order to do so, let’s turn back the time to 1969 when Le Forban was famously known for making highly durable dive watches, which gained the respect of watch collectors and enthusiasts worldwide. But Le Forban wasn’t targeting their watches specifically at collectors, their watches were primarily made to be worn by sailors of the French navy. Seems familiar to another watch that we looked at a few paragraphs above? That’s right, Le Forban and Blancpain share more than you would initially suspect. But unlike Blancpain, Le Forban, unfortunately, didn’t manage to keep their reputation over the years. Sometime after its launch, the brand got lost and disappeared from the radars. But fortunately, this wasn’t the last time we heard of the brand. In 2019, exactly 50 years after its initial launch, the brand was revived and immediately reintroduced two of its most iconic models. The Malouine and the Brestoise.
The Le Forban Malouine features a stainless-steel case, which measures 39mm in diameter, 12.75mm in thickness, and 45mm from lug to lug. Thanks to its modest case proportions, the watch will wear very conservatively and comfortably on your wrist, which is an added plus point in my opinion. But as nicely proportioned as the case may be, the real star of the show is without any doubt the dial. The black lacquered dial features harpoon-style hands, high-contrasting Arabic numerals, and indexes, as well as a date window at 3 o’clock. Complementing the diving spirit of the Malouine is the 120-click unidirectional aluminum bezel, as well as the domed sapphire crystal, that sits on top of it all.
The Le Forban Malouine is powered by an automatic Miyota 8215 mechanical movement, which provides around 42 hours of power reserve. And while it may be a reliable movement, I would have loved it, if they had built in a Seiko NH35A or something a little bit more exciting. But hey, for a price of just $490, you can’t really complain about things like that, right?
Specifications: Price: $490, Case Size: 39mm, Thickness: 12.75mm, Lug-to-Lug: 45mm, Lug Width: 20mm, Water Resistance: 150m, Movement: Automatic Miyota 8215 movement, Power Reserve: 42 Hours, Crystal: Sapphire
Helson Skin Diver ($699)
Moving on to the Helson Skin Diver. Founded by a group of enthusiastic divers, sports fanatics, and watch enthusiasts, Helson brings together a diverse range of people from Europe and Asia. Their aim is to create reliable dive watches that can be bought at reasonable prices. And in order to fulfill their claim, they combine durable materials with reliable mechanical movements from Miyota and ETA.
The Helson Skin Diver features a brushed stainless-steel case, which measures 41mm in diameter, 14.5mm in thickness, and 52.35mm from lug to lug. For those of you that already had the chance to see the Helson Skin Diver, you know the close resemblance it has to the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms. Take for example the straight, long lugs, which are nearly identical to the ones of the original Blancpain Fifty Fathoms. But it doesn’t end there, nearly every single detail and design aspect are nearly identical to the ones of the original Blancpain Fifty Fathoms. Just look at the dial composition, the hands, the hour markers, the bezel, and even the way the logo is portrayed on the dial.
But to say that this watch is just a homage or even a replica of the Fifty Fathoms is not entirely correct. While when we compare the aesthetics of the two, this certainly is true, the Helson Skin Diver clearly has the intention to honor the rich and incredible history of the first-ever dive watch. They don’t just copy a successful design and market it as their own, as you would see with typical replica watches. They actually care what they produce, which is clearly visible in the finishing quality of the case, as well as in the automatic ETA 2824-2 movement, which they built into power the watch. All in all, I think I have seen enough indicators that prove that Helson cares about their timepieces and aren’t just in the business of copying and profiting.
So, if you have $699 to spend, and are in the market for a Fifty Fathoms similar watch, then the Helson Skin Diver is a great choice!
Specifications: Price: $699, Case Size: 41mm, Thickness: 14.5mm, Lug-to-Lug: 52.35mm, Lug Width: 20mm, Water Resistance: 200m, Movement: Automatic ETA 2824-2 movement, Power Reserve: 38 Hours, Crystal: Acrylic
Baltic Aquascaphe ($705)
First up is the Baltic Aquascaphe. Featured by many watch blogs, magazines, and YouTubers, this watch definitely deserves a spot on this list. Inspired by the vintage dive watches that were used in the 60s, the Baltic Aquscaphe is designed to pay tribute to past times, while simultaneously catering to the needs of modern divers. With its sapphire bezel insert and clean dial, the watch features a unique combination of vintage and contemporary aesthetics. But the watch doesn’t just look like a diver. With its 200 meters of water resistance, this watch is highly capable of accompanying you on your next dive trip, as well as on other nautical trips.
Baltic as a brand was founded back in 2017 and therefore is relatively new in the industry. But the story behind their watches is quite unique and very touching, so I don’t want to withhold this cool story from you. Let’s roll the tape. Inspired by the watch collection of his past father, the founder of Baltic, Etienne Malec, decided to create his own watch brand in order to honor his dad’s legacy. The name Baltic was chosen as a tribute to the birthplace of his father, which was in north Poland, on the shores of the Baltic Sea. Great story, isn’t it?
But let’s take a closer look at the specs, shall we? The Aquascaphe features a well-proportioned, 316L stainless steel case, that measures 39mm in diameter, 12mm in thickness, and 47mm from lug to lug. Topping off the polished case is a double domed sapphire crystal, which makes this package perfect for rough and unpredictable conditions. For the movement, Baltic chose the automatic Swiss-made Soprod C125 caliber. This self-winding movement has a power reserve of 42 hours, a date- and a GMT functionality.
If you are looking for a vintage-inspired dive watch that originates at around the same time as the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms, but you don’t want to spend more than $800, this watch will be perfect for you.
Specifications: Price: $705, Case Size: 39mm, Thickness: 12mm, Lug-to-Lug: 47mm, Lug Width: 20mm, Water Resistance: 200m, Movement: Automatic Miyota 9093 movement, Power Reserve: 42 Hours, Crystal: Sapphire
Squale Sub-39 ($1,284)
Next up is the Squale Sub-39. For those of you that aren’t familiar with the brand Squale, let me introduce them to you. Squale was founded back in 1946, in Neuchatel, Switzerland. Known and loved for their reliable divers and nautical timepieces, the Swiss watchmaker supplies their watches to various brands and even armed forces, like the Folgore Brigade which consists of battalions of paratroopers that are part of the Aeronautica Militare Italiana (Italian Air Forces) and the Italian Navy’s Diving Corps, also known as the Marina Militare Italiana. But you are not here today to learn about the Italian military, are you? Thought so, let’s dive (pun intended) into the specs and details of the Squale Sub-39.
The Squale Sub-39 features a stainless-steel case, which measures 39mm in diameter, 12mm in thickness, and 48.5mm from lug to lug. Compared to the typical Blancpain Fifty Fathoms, the Squale Sub-39 is of very conservative proportions, which is something that I highly appreciate. Complementing the polished stainless-steel case is the beautiful crisp black dial, which features white Arabic numerals, a vibrant orange minute hand, a date window on the 3 o’clock position, as well as the iconic Squale lettering just above the 6 o’clock position. Adding to the 60s diver look, is the 120-click, unidirectional bezel, which is made from black steel and features the diver’s typical 15,30, and 45 markers, which help you to determine how long your oxygen tanks will last underwater.
The Squale Sub-39 is powered by the Swiss-made Sellita SW 200-1, 26 jewels automatic movement. The movement has a 4 Hz beat rate (28,800BPH) and provides approximately 38 hours of power reserve.
And there you have it. For $1,284, you will get a Swiss-made, highly reliable, and beautiful watch, which makes a perfect affordable alternative to the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms.
Specifications: Price: $1,284, Case Size: Square 39mm, Thickness: 12mm, Lug-to-Lug: 48.5mm, Lug Width: 22mm, Water Resistance: 300m, Movement: Automatic Swiss-made Sellita SW 200-1 movement, Power Reserve: 38 hours, Crystal: Sapphire
Squale x Drass Galeazzi ($1,190)
And while we are on the topic of Squale: Let me introduce you to the Squale x Drass Galeazzi, a watch that I featured in the “Affordable Alternatives To The Rolex Submariner” article. And for those of you that can remember what I wrote there, you know that this watch was created to celebrate the magnificent partnership between Squale and Drass Galeazzi, a company that specializes in manned underwater technology. This limited timepiece was sold out rather quickly, but now some of them are repapering on the grey market, perfectly in time for you to get one.
Let me tell you, this watch is a beauty. The Squale x Drass Galeazzi is a unique blend of vintage-inspired design, modern materials, and a great underwater performance, with 500 meters of water resistance. To achieve this level of water resistance, one would think that the case must be gigantic and very heavy. But surprisingly, this watch is of rather modest proportions, measuring 40mm in diameter (42mm with bezel), 16mm in thickness, and 49mm from lug-to-lug. And while I tend to agree that the thickness of 16mm is just a little bit too much, we have to take into account that the 500 meters of water resistance demand a certain level of bulkiness. But in the end, if you have slimmer wrists and don’t like bigger watches, maybe go with the Squale Sub-39, which will wear more comfortably.
When I first saw this watch, it immediately reminded me of the Fifty Fathoms. And one of the main reasons why it did, is the vintage-inspired diver bezel, which is made from sapphire glass and has the same glossy, roundish look to it as the Fifty Fathoms. But the bezel is not the only thing that bears some resemblance to the world’s first dive watch. The matte black dial, with its beige hour markers, arrow-shaped second hand, and the index-styled hour and minute hands, also plays a huge role in that. It’s just that I can’t shake the Fifty Fathoms feeling when looking at this watch. And this is exactly why it makes for such a perfect pick.
To sum it up, if you like vintage-inspired dive watches, especially those that bear a close resemblance to the Fifty Fathoms, then this watch is perfect for you.
Specifications: Price: $1,190, Case Size: 42mm, Thickness: 16mm, Lug-to-Lug: 49mm, Lug Width: 20mm, Water Resistance: 500m, Movement: Automatic Sellita SW200 Élaboré movement, Power Reserve: 38 Hours, Crystal: Sapphire
Longines Legend Diver ($2,600)
Coming up next is a special dive watch from Longines. The Legend Diver. With the combination of its contemporary all-black look and its vintage design aspects, this watch immediately caught my eye, and I’ve never let go of it ever since.
Designed to pay tribute to Longines’ first ever dive watch, which was introduced in 1958, the Longines Legend diver features the iconic Super-Compressor case style of the 60s, which at the time, was the go-to case style if you planned to create a dive watch. Therefore, it shouldn’t come as a big surprise that Longines went down the same road and equipped their first dive watch with one of those twin-crowned stainless-steel cases. Fast forward to the past year, when Longines decided to revive a part of their history and introduced the Longines Legend Diver.
The modern version of the watch features the same super compressor case as we saw them in the 1960s, but Longines enhanced the design to adhere to modern standards. How did they do that? Well, first, they applied a black PVD coating to the 42mm stainless steel case. Then, the all-black look is further strengthened through its black dial, which features polished silver-plated hands, a black inner bezel, as well as a well-placed date window at 3 o’clock. Inside of the blacked-out case beats the automatic in-house L888 caliber, which beats at 25,200 BPH, and provides a power reserve of 72 hours.
Thanks to its design, rubber strap, and water resistance of up to 300 meters, this is a perfect choice for those of you who are in search of a perfect dive watch, that has some of the histories of the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms.
Specifications: Price: $2,600, Case Size: 42mm, Thickness: 12.7mm, Lug-to-Lug: n/a, Lug Width: 22mm, Water Resistance: 300m, Movement: Automatic in-house L888 movement, Power Reserve: 72 Hours, Crystal: Sapphire
IWC Aquatimer Automatic ($5,200)
And last one but not least, the IWC Aquatimer Automatic, which is the smallest dive watch in all of IWC’s collection (to be fair, IWC is not that famous for their dive watches). It pays tribute to the first ever Aquatimer, which was released back in 1976.
The IWC Aquatimer features a brushed stainless-steel case, which measures 42mm in diameter, 14.1mm in thickness, and 50mm from lug to lug. When you compare the case sizing’s of both the original Blancpain Fifty Fathoms and the IWC Aquatimer, you will notice that they actually are quite similar. I think just from a proportion’s standpoint, the IWC Aquatimer probably comes closest to the look and feel of the Fifty Fathoms. But we are not here today to just compare sizes, right? So, how close does the aesthetics of the Aquatimer come to the original design of the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms? Well, not that much, I’m afraid. While the actual dial compositions are somewhat similar, the bezel, which arguably is the most prominent design characteristic of the Fifty Fathoms, is completely different on the Aquatimer. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that on the Aquatimer, the bezel is actually on the inside, and controlled via a second crown that is built into the case on the 9 o’clock position. Speaking of which, the crowns of the watch are screw-down, which, since it is a dive watch, after all, makes a lot of sense. Therefore the 300 meters of water resistance, that the watch brings with it, shouldn’t come as a big surprise either.
Powered by the automatic IWC 30120 Calibre, the watch provides around 42 hours of power reserve, which is okay, but not that exciting. That being said, for its $5,200 price tag, the watch has a lot to offer and is certainly worth your hard-earned bucks.
Specifications: Price: $5,200, Case Size: 42mm, Thickness: 14.1mm, Lug-to-Lug: 50mm, Lug Width: 22mm, Water Resistance: 300m, Movement: Automatic IWC 30120 Calibre movement, Power Reserve: 42 Hours, Crystal: Sapphire
As I demonstrated with this list, there are several great affordable alternatives to the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms. Each one of them has its own rich history and its own distinctive design features, making every single one of them worthy of having in your collection.
And in case you made it this far, thank you for taking the time and reading the article! I hope I was able to help you.