Let’s talk affordable alternatives to the Blancpain Fifty fathoms. It is one of the kings of dive watches. Even the red hat toting Jacques Cousteau owned one and he was one of the foremost marine explorers and conservationists of his day. So, it’s little surprise that even today divers still take Cousteau’s opinion on wrist gear seriously.
The history of the watch is quite simple. Blancpain developed it in 1953, at a time when the extent of human technology could just about reach depths of 100m. Hence the name Fifty Fathoms, a measure of depth equivalent to around 91m. Plus, it remains a staple of modern Blancpain.
Although the classic version has been joined by the contemporary Bathyscaphe like the recent release in titanium, and quirky alternatives like the Tribute to Fifty Fathoms No Rad. However, with the classic Fifty Fathoms on sail cloth strap costing £12,100, and more on NATO or bracelet, the price can be prohibitive.
Fortunately, the iconic design has inspired plenty of other watchmakers. Here are 6 of the best affordable alternatives.
Undone Basecamp Classic, £285
If you’re willing to sacrifice having a cool name on your watch and a Swiss heart beating at its centre, then the UNDONE Basecamp is the most affordable alternative on this list. It’s technically more of a field watch than a diver. But that’s not a problem because it’s arguably in line with the minimalist aesthetics of the Fifty Fathoms.
Although, it only has 100m water resistance, which is the bare minimum of a certified diving watch. Plus, the calibre housed inside isn’t too crazy. The workhorse Seiko NH35 automatic movement has a 41-hour power reserve and is fine.
Case/dial: 40mm diameter x 15mm height, stainless steel case, black or blue dial | Water resistance: 100m | Movement: Seiko TMI NH35A calibre, automatic, 24 jewels | Frequency: 21,600 vph (3 Hz) | Power reserve: 41h | Functions: Hours, minutes, seconds, date | Strap: Black NATO fabric | Price: £285, available at UNDONE.
Le Forban Sécurité Mer Malouine, £350
Le Forban Sécurité Mer make it no secret that the Malouine is inspired by legendary diving watches of the mid-century. And at the top of that list of influences is the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms. A sleek bezel, large numerals and clean dial are all elements shared by both watches. The Malouine even has the same central disc and peripheral hour scale design.
Adding some unique flair to the watch, its caseback bears the engraving of a retro diving suit. In fact, the 150m water resistance of the watch is similar to depths that such suits could get to. A solid mix of retro styling and modern watchmaking that makes it a great alternative to the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms.
Case/dial: 39mm diameter x 12.75mm height, stainless steel case, black or blue dial | Water resistance: 150m | Movement: Miyota 8215 calibre, automatic, 21 jewels | Frequency: 21,600 vph (3 Hz) | Power reserve: 42h | Functions: Hours, minutes, seconds, date | Strap: Black Tropic silicone Price: €408.33 (approx. £350), available at Le Forban Sécurité Mer.
Baltic Aquascaphe, £494
While the Baltic Aquascaphe’s 39mm stainless steel case is substantially smaller than the modern Fifty Fathom’s 45mm, it has the same classy design principles. A sleek black bezel completes the simple round case with rugged lugs, making it a great looking watch. The daintier size does mean it’s not quite as robust as the Blancpain, with a water resistance reaching a depth of 200m instead of 300m. But when it comes to daily use that’s not going to be an issue whatsoever.
However, where the Aquascaphe can’t even begin to compare is in the movement department. Blancpain’s in-house Calibre 1315, which has a 120-hour power reserve and a silicon balance spring for superior magnetic field resistance, blows the off the shelf Miyota 9039 automatic calibre with a 42-hour power reserve is blown out of the water.
Case/dial: 39mm diameter x 12mm height, stainless steel case, black dial | Water resistance: 200m | Movement: Miyota 9039 calibre, automatic, 24 jewels | Frequency: 28,800 vph (4 Hz) | Power reserve: 42h | Functions: Hours, minutes, seconds | Strap: Rubber black | Price: £494, available at Baltic.
Gruppo Gamma Divemaster DG-02, £690
What makes the Fifty Fathoms iconic is its fusion of diving capability and elegance. Its quieter style is what separates it from the likes of a Rolex Submariner or Omega Seamaster. A watch that also oozes refined style is the Gruppo Gamma Divemaster DG-02.
It has a lovely gradient dial with oversized numerals beneath a double-domed box crystal. The 44mm case is close in size to the Fifty Fathoms and it has a similarly proportioned bezel. Both watches have a classic 120 click unidirectional rotation, although at first glance it looks like the Divemaster’s bezel might be fixed. However, it’s not, it just has three chunky grips instead of a fluted edge like the Blancpain.
Case/dial: 44mm diameter x 14.5mm height, stainless steel case, black dégradé dial | Water resistance: 500m | Movement: ETA 2824-2 calibre, automatic, 25 jewels | Frequency: 28,800 vph (4 Hz) | Power reserve: 38h | Functions: Hours, minutes, seconds | Strap: Cinnamon brown leather or black canvas | Price: €408.33 (approx. £350), available at Gruppo Gamma.
Rado Captain Cook Automatic, £2,090
Jumping up in price a bit, we have the Rado Captain Cook, which was first developed in 1962, making the original almost as venerable as the Fifty Fathoms. In terms of technical specs, it is perhaps the closest to hitting the mark of the Blancpain. It has 300m water resistance, a 42mm stainless steel case and a superb 80-hour power reserve.
Additionally, the Captain Cook fits the same niche as the Fifty Fathoms, it’s an excellent all-round tool and dive watch that doesn’t compromise on style and aesthetic. The Rado’s versatility is immense and it would be a solid purchase even if it never goes near the water. So, it’s an ideal alternative to the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms.
Case/dial: 32mm diameter x 12.3mm height, stainless steel case, black, grey, green or blue dial | Water resistance: 300m | Movement: C07.611 calibre (base ETA 2824-2), automatic | Power reserve: 80h | Functions: Hours, minutes, seconds, date | Strap: Stainless steel “beads of rice” bracelet, brown leather or black NATO fabric | Price: £2,090, available at Rado.
Glashütte Original SeaQ, £7,600
Now, on the face of it the Glashütte Original SeaQ is pretty expensive. However, because of just how expensive the Fifty Fathoms is, calling the SeaQ affordable isn’t much of a stretch. It costs £7,600 on a rubber strap, which is still roughly £4,500 cheaper than the Blancpain. A saving not to be sniffed at.
Stylistically, there’s very little to separate it from the other watches on this list, although the ceramic insert bezel is a step up from the others. The SeaQ also has an edge because of the manufacture movement 39-11. It has a solid 40-hour power reserve and plenty of finishing. Overall, it’s the halfway point that’s a happy medium between the Fifty Fathom and the other watches on this list.
Case/dial: 39.5mm diameter x 12.15mm height, stainless steel case, galvanized black dial | Water resistance: 200m | Movement: In-house calibre 39-11, automatic, 25 jewels | Frequency: 28,800 vph (4 Hz) | Power reserve: 40h | Functions: Hours, minutes, seconds, date | Strap: Black rubber | Price: £7,600, available at Glashütte Original.