Posted on March 30 2020
One early pioneer of divers watches was Blancpain, a Swiss company that had been producing watches since the 1700s.
For the first 200 years, the company was family-owned and it still prides itself on making less than 30 watches a day. Each watch is made by a single watchmaker.
The original Fifty Fathoms was designed by the company in collaboration with the French navy’s elite SCUBA squad, the Nageur de Combatand. The Navy had a number of features that they’d require and had discussed this with a selection of other companies before working with Blancpain.
Their elite troops would require a watch that:
- Had a timing bezel
- Self-winding movement to minimise wear to the crown.
- A warning system for leaks
- Substantial water resistance
The subsequent design resulted in one of the original modern diver's watches.
Along with the Zodiac Sea-Wolf the watch, now called the Fifty Fathoms, was debuted at the 1953 Basel watch fair - a year before Rolex released the Submariner.
It included those features that are now standards of contemporary divers watches.
Namely, high water resistance, protected crown systems, automatic movement, black dial with clear illuminated numbers and a numbered rotating bezel. It was also a large watch by the standards of the day, coming in at 41mm.
The design is simple and practical.
Particularly noticeable is the oversized bezel - it’s that size to be easy to rotate and to read. The water resistance was 300M, pretty much the limit that divers could descend to at the time. 300M is roughly fifty fathoms.
It’s an iconic design that is still popular today. It’s also an expensive watch, so I’ve highlighted our favourite, more affordable alternatives. Some are full homages and others have just taken inspiration from the ground-breaking diver.
Spinnaker is a relatively young watch brand owned by Hong Kong-based manufacturer Dartmouth.
The Spinnaker range initially began as a series of designs based around sailing and the ocean. Although they’ve expanded that somewhat, the majority of their watches are still focused on this niche, with many of the designs reminiscent of Italian divers watches.
The Fleuss models are named after Henry Fleuss.
He is widely regarded as the inventor of the first real underwater breathing apparatus. His breakthrough allowed divers to more safely explore underwater worlds.
There’s a definite vintage aesthetic in the Fleuss range. The influence of the Fifty Fathoms being clearly apparent. There are a few variations in the colouring and strap choices, but the SP-5055-01 really hits the spot for me.
The inspiration is obvious, but it’s not a direct homage. There’s just enough of its own character for it to catch the eye.
Like a lot of microbrands, the watch is powered by a Seiko NH35 automatic movement.
At 43mm it’s not overly large. This sizing, its slim profile, and the choice of a leather strap mean it should be a suitable watch for everyday wear.
Spinnaker Fleuss SP-5055-01
Helson are a microbrand that has made quite a name for themselves in the world of divers watches.
Founded by German diver Peter Helson, the watches are the product of his diving knowledge and Asian watchmaking skills. There’s no doubt where the brand focuses its attention with watches named, Sharkmaster, Hammerhead, Blackbeard and this, the Skindiver.
This has even more of a vintage influence than the Spinnaker.
It’s an outright homage to the early Blancpains and is a popular watch in the microbrand watch community.
As for specs, there’s a choice of Stainless steel or bronze case, the bronze paired with a vintage lume too. Both variations have a vintage style domed sapphire crystal.
This particular one has a mechanical Japanese Miyota movement, although they also do produce a version with a more expensive Swiss ETA engine. It’s an affordable watch, but not as cheap as some others featured here.
Helson Skindiver Steel
Steeldive is a little-known Chinese brand that doesn’t appear to really exist outside of Aliexpress and Ebay. There’s no real brand story or history. No flamboyant founder or even a brand website.
The brand seems to produce a collection of divers watches inspired by more familiar names. This includes a Seiko SKX007 homage, a blue diver that looks suspiciously like a Squale Atmos and this, the Fifty Fathoms homage.
At less than £150, and housing a Seiko automatic movement, there’s plenty to like about this watch.
The features - 300M water resistance, sapphire crystal, ceramic bezel and C3 lume are similar to the Helson. At a quarter of the price.
If it’s not a brand story that you’re after and you just want the best value for money, take a closer look at this watch.
Steeldive Fifty Fathoms
Like Steeldive, Corgeut is a Chinese brand that exists to produce cheap homages of your favourite Swiss, German and Japanese brands.
I’ve featured them a couple of time in this blog already. In my article about Chinese watches and also when I looked at Omega Speedmaster homages.
This is the cheapest watch on the list. Bear that in mind.
Here is an automatic watch priced at not much over £50. As expected there are some things that you’re not going to get at this price. At 50M water resistance, this isn’t really a divers watch. It just looks like it is.
There’s no signed crown and the case back is blank. And you’re not getting a Japanese made movement this time.
But what you do get is a mechanical watch that looks the part, has a full Stainless Steel construction and a mineral crystal. It comes in at a chunky 45mm.
Corgeut Fifty Fathoms
Another Asian brand with another very affordable homage watch.
There’s nothing to really differentiate this brand from Corgeut and Steeldive, although the watch itself has a vintage, almost used, appearance.
It ticks a lot, if not all, of the boxes for what we want in an affordable Blancpain homage. And at least the company have taken the time to give the model its own name.
It’s at the cheaper end of the watches on this list so it’s nice to see that it has a domed sapphire crystal, 200M water resistance, and the ubiquitous Seiko NH35A movement.
Ticino Sea Urchin
Again, their Fifty Fathoms style watch ticks the boxes we’re looking for.
It’s an attractive piece and is from their Aurora collection. The collection contains a number of variations including both a Bronzed case version and a black PVD model.
However, I'm again having a look at the standard Stainless Steel watch.
There are some nice touches, including a signed crown, but that has to be weighed against the higher price than the Steeldive and Corgeut. At 44mm it’s a little larger than some of the others.
Reef Tiger Deep Ocean
Rado’s Captain Cook is a large Swiss manufacturer faithfully recreating one of their own 1960’s watches.
What’s particularly interesting is that Rado isn’t renowned for their diver's watches, having made their name with modernist ceramic designs.
Yet, this is an upgraded reproduction of a watch that they did initially release in 1962 and the emphasis has certainly been on maintaining that authenticity.
This means that the watch is a bit on the small side at just over 37mm, has little in the way of lume and has a modest water resistance of 100M.
But that’s the beauty of it. It’s just what a divers watch was actually like in the 1960s. Maybe not the Fifty Fathoms, but an average divers watch.
There are some nods to the modernism that Rado is famous for, including an inward sloping ceramic bezel, domed sapphire crystal and curved dial.
Overall, it’s a quirky piece of nostalgia, priced towards the top end of what we’re highlighting in this blog.
Rado Hyper Chrome Captain Cook
French brand Baltic describe their style as neo-vintage - modern mechanical watches inspired by the finest vintage watches.
They also boast that all their watches are hand-assembled in Besançon, France.
The Aquascaphe isn’t a Blancpain homage, more of a design that pays homage to the era of these classic divers watches.
It’s modestly sized at 38mm and is 12mm thick. It’s a relatively spartan design, mirroring the Fifty Fathoms attempt to be highly legible. That authentic feel is enhanced with a domed sapphire crystal
This particular model comes with a tropical rubber strap, although there is the option for a beads of rice style stainless steel band.
Price-wise, this Miyota powered timepiece is mid-range. Quite a bit more than the Asian models but half the price of the Swiss-made Rado.
Japanese giants Seiko are among the biggest watch manufacturers on the planet. Founded in the late 1800s the company has progressed from its initial production of clocks to the forefront of wristwatch design and manufacturing.
Along the way, the company released the world's first quartz watch, the first quartz chronograph and introduced the innovative Kinetic models – a marriage of mechanical automatic watch features with quartz accuracy.
As expected, during this time they've released a number of watches widely regarded as design classics.
Their influence has been particularly strong with their diver's watches, from the very affordable SKX series to the highly regarded Sumo Prospex.
The SNZH57K1 is a popular model that is often modified by watch hobbyists to further emulate the Fifty Fathoms.
The standard watch, one of Seiko 5 line, only vaguely resembles the Blancpain, but there are aftermarket dials, hands and bezels to create your Fifty Fathoms. The resulting watch has been dubbed the Fifty Five Fathoms.
The standard model has also the build quality you’d expect from Seiko, with a very reasonable price-tag.
Ocean 7 specialise in producing high quality, mid-priced dive watches, each a homage to a classic vintage watch. Most notably they released a PloProf homage before Omega had re-released the model.
Founded by Mitchell Feig in Florida, USA, the brand has its loyal followers and a good reputation among watch aficionados.
The LM-5 is Swiss made and is powered by a Swiss movement - with the option to upgrade to a COSC Chronometer Grade.
The sapphire crystal is domed, and like a couple of other watches on the list, there’s also a domed sapphire bezel. At 42mm it’s bang in the middle of the range of sizes on offer here. It’s a safe choice.
For $100 off use code LM-5-100 at checkout.
Ocean 7 LM-5