Blancpain laid down a set of extremely stringent demands for the development of the X Fathoms, with specifications personally compiled by none other than President & CEO Marc A. Hayek, himself a passionate diver and underwater-photographer. Reflecting the brand’s long-established relation with the underwater world, this approach echoes the process that took place in 1953, when Jean-Jacques Fiechter, managing director of Blancpain at the time and one of the earliest sports divers in Switzerland, developed the very first authentic diving watch in the world: the Fifty Fathoms.
(All photos & videos by Marc A. Hayek)
Mr Hayek, after years of development and considerable investments you had the opportunity to test the X Fathoms in real conditions. What are your first thoughts?
Well, this is the second time I’m diving with the X Fathoms. The first was in the 11-meter deep Dubai Mall Aquarium during the launch event, where we confirmed the precision of the depth gauge and the good operation of all the functions. But it was in Rangiroa that I was able to check functions, legibility and comfort without feeling as a goldfish in a bowl (laughs), and I have to admit I’m impressed with the result even though I knew what to expect since heavily implicated in the project since its very conception.
So, as a diver, it seems the X Fathoms met your expectations?
Yes! Legibility was the feature that jumped out at me right away. Indications are fully readable at least down to depths of 50-55m where I went. Superluminova, colors and the matt black dial all come together to offer a stunning result. Having a double scale and two hands for depth indications is also very useful, especially during the ascent. The idea was to take into account the difference of pressure gradients whether in shallow or deep waters, and I think it’s a great feature, perfectly adapted to divers’ needs, just as the 5-minute retrograde counter for decompression stops.
The X Fathoms being so imposing with its 55.65 mm diameter, how does it fit on the wrist?
Because of its size, I was initially planning to wear a classic Fifty Fathoms for the trip and take the X Fathoms in my luggage to use when diving, but when I received it, I put it on my wrist and realised there was no need for that. The special X Fathoms’ strap system offers very good comfort underwater, just as on the surface. With or without a diving suit.
What does the Fifty Fathoms represent for you?
Being a passionate diver, the Fifty Fathoms is something special for me. It has beautiful history and is an iconic piece as the first modern diving watch. It also is the expression of one of Blancpain’s primary considerations: the client’s side of problems. Because the Fifty Fathoms wasn’t simply developed on the basis of the movement and watchmaking side of problems, but was based on the client’s needs: a need for a reliable and robust diving watch, with unidirectional bezel, legibility, optimal water-resistance; an instrument for professional divers more than a watch. And this way of thinking is part of Blancpain.
Is the X Fathoms a turning point for this iconic collection?
Some years ago, considering the strong roots and identity of Blancpain, I felt it was the moment to enrich the Fifty Fathoms collection with additional elements composing the brand’s DNA. Having a long history on the technical side, always developing and producing movements, as well as on the sport watches side, we had to go a step further. New materials and high technology had to join the well established features of the Fifty Fathoms to produce a new model pushing the limits of diving watches. The result, the X Fathoms, presented last October in Dubai, is 100% focused on the diver’s needs, using high technology and efficient design to offer the most extreme diving watch Blancpain has ever produced. It makes the collection more complete expressing values inside the brand and shows how we can create products out of these elements.
Besides its technical features, the X Fathoms is aesthetically imposing. Was design a primary consideration?
For me it’s very important when you start developing a new model to think about the functionality and the added value you get for the consumer, but it is as well about beauty, emotions. If a watch is functional but not beautiful that will not work. So it’s something that during development is really coming together. We don’t work on design and then wonder which functions to add, nor do we just develop the functions and place indications and then say ouahh it just looks horrible. It is something that is really going hand in hand, and this is especially important for a diving watch which needs to satisfy the high-standard legibility criteria set by the Fifty Fathoms almost 60 years ago!
While Marc A. Hayek was focused on checking every single detail of the X Fathoms in this real conditions test, sharks, dolphins, rays and turtles showed up as if they were intrigued by his presence. It is impossible to figure out whether they were curious about the divers, or about the watch, but one thing is for sure, they made the dive even more unforgettable.