If you’ve not been keeping abreast of the myriad horological anniversaries this year, let me just remind you that 2023 marks the 70th anniversary of the legendary Fifty Fathoms dive watch. Needless to say, Blancpain have been celebrating – hard. Initially that was with the Act I, a more historical look at the collection. It was nice, but nothing we’ve not seen before. For their sophomore effort though, Blancpain are looking to the first modern diving watch’s future with the Act 2: the Fifty Fathoms Tech Gombessa.
Off the bat, this is a shiny new sub-collection within the Fifty Fathoms line. That alone is a big deal; the watch itself is bigger, measuring in at 47mm of Grade 23 titanium. Not our typical 5 – 23. It’s one of the purest and strongest forms of this particular titanium alloy available, amping up the ultra-light, super-strong and hypoallergenic properties we know and love titanium for. It also makes the otherwise ungainly watch exceptionally comfortable, especially when paired with the newly integrated bracelet.
It’s not just about case size either. The bottom of the case has been curvaceously bevelled for a smoother, rounded shape rather than the Fifty Fathom’s usual notched affair. It’s also thick, a silhouette in keeping with its impressive girth. Shy and retiring it is not. But perhaps what’s most important about the Tech Gombessa is its new functionality.
First, a bit about the name. The Gombessa initiative was an expedition Blancpain supported ten years back (which makes me feel very old) to find the oldest fish in the world, located off the coast of Africa and dubbed the Gombessa. The search succeeded and we were presented with a series of breath-taking underwater photographs of the prehistoric underwater creatures. Of course, on the wrist of the lead diver Laurent Ballesta was a Fifty Fathoms watch, so the team got to know the ins and outs of their timekeeping instruments pretty well – well enough to suggest some improvements.
Key amongst those changes was the bezel. They tended to dive in three-hour intervals to match their oxygen tanks. So, rather than a random bezel designed to coincide with a 12-hour hand, they suggested an alternative. The fourth hand on the Tech Gombessa isn’t the GMT you’d expect, but a 3-hour hand that works off a matched 3-hour diving bezel, delivering more succinct, useful information to the wearer.
It’s not a ground-breaking alteration of course, but it’s a genuinely useful change for professional divers. Indeed, while it may be called the ‘Tech’, there’s nothing here that, individually, makes for an Earth-shattering revelation of haute horology. But together, the various tweaks entirely change the personality of a watch we’ve come to associate as the archetypal vintage diver into something completely different and a lot more forward-thinking.
To ensure readability, the dial is in absolute black, which absorbs 97% of light (the same as the Musou black of the Boldr Venture Singularity). Pair that with the 120-hour power reserve of the 13P8 self-winding movement and exceptional water resistance and you have a serious update to an already serious diving watch.
It’s definitely the unexpected Last Jedi to the Act 1’s faithful-to-a-fault The Force Awakens; let’s hope the next instalment is much, much better than where this rather stretched metaphor points to.
Price & Specs:
- Model: Blancpain Fifty Fathoms 70th Anniversary Act 2 Tech Gombessa
- Ref: 5019-12B30-64A
- Case/dial: 47mm diameter x 14.81mm height, satin brushed titanium case, “absolute black” dial, luminescent orange hour markers with blue emission, black bezel with white dive-time hand markers with green emission
- Water resistance: 300m (30 bar)
- Movement: Blancpain calibre 13P8, automatic, 35 jewels, 204 parts
- Frequency: 28,800 vph (4 Hz)
- Power reserve: 120h
- Functions: Hours minutes, seconds, 3-hour dive-time hand
- Strap: Black rubber with extension
- Price/availability: £24,700