Blancpain Fifty Fathoms vs Rolex Submariner: Battle of the ‘Original’ Dive Watches
James Elliott13 May 2021 | 8 min read
If you’re into your watch history, you’ll know the common assumption that the Rolex Submariner was the first-ever deepsea dive watch is in fact, incorrect. In reality, the Fifty Fathoms from Blancpain was the first genuine deep diving watch, launched in 1953, just before the Submariner.
This common misconception and a similar launch year have led to many watch fans putting the Fifty Fathoms and Rolex Submariner up against each other, trying to understand which is the ‘better’ watch, but also which is the best for them!
In this article, we’ll put the two side-by-side to compare how they shape up. We’ll start by giving you a complete history lesson on the race to be the first deep-sea diver before moving on to compare the most similar modern-day versions of both watches.
If you’re ready, we’ll jump straight in!
- Blancpain Fifty Fathoms vs Rolex Submariner – The History
- Blancpain Fifty Fathoms vs Rolex Submariner Comparison
Blancpain Fifty Fathoms vs Rolex Submariner – The History
Let’s take it back to the early 1950s. Whilst watches existed from both Omega and Panerai that could be used underwater, the concept of deep-sea scuba diving was up and coming.
As with many watches, it was the military that initially created the demand for a highly specialised underwater watch. In 1952, Captain Robert Maloubier and Lieutenant Claude Riffaud of the French Navy led a newly created, top-secret team to pioneer underwater special operations.
As the team’s diving equipment matured, they found that the current wristwatches available to them couldn’t handle either the depths they were diving to or the amount of time they spent underwater.
Maloubier understood the challenge and made a list of requirements needed for a true deep-sea diving watch. These included a black dial with large and clear markings, an external rotating bezel to track time, luminous details to be seen in the darkest of depths and of course, enhanced water resistance.
Moloubier went to the market, but most brands turned him away. All except one – Blancpain. Blancpain’s CEO, Jean-Jacques Fiechter, was an avid diver himself and took up the challenge of creating the world’s first true deep-sea diving watch. As such, in 1953, the Fifty Fathoms was born! It was the first wristwatch to remain fully operationally and keep good time below 50m thanks to its military-grade precision and underwater power.
At a similar time, Rolex was brainstorming their latest watch masterpiece. Rolex board member René-Paul Jeanneret inspired the brand to begin exploring the dive watch market with a vision of an elegant sports timepiece that was also fully waterproof.
They worked away in the background, creating a watch that has now gone on to not only be a huge success but define an entire watch market for decades to come, thanks to the Rolex Submariner. With the watch ready for release in 1953, Rolex needed a publicity stunt to launch the model in spectacular fashion.
Cue Swiss physicist, inventor and explorer, Auguste Piccard’s grand plan to reach the deepest point of the ocean ever explored by man. On his trip down to 3,131.8 meters below sea level, a specially designed Rolex went with him. Whilst it wasn’t actually a Submariner, it served as the perfect PR opportunity for Rolex and the platform to launch an underwater watch to an onlooking customer base!
So, as you can see, the Fifty Fathoms and Submariner both started life at a very similar time, both setting records of their own and causing a number of historical misconceptions. What is true, though, is that since the 1950’s both watch models have been fighting it out as the dive watch of choice for watch fans!
Blancpain Fifty Fathoms vs Rolex Submariner Comparison
There’s a wide range of different Blancpain Fifty Fathoms and Rolex Submariner models that have come and gone since the 1950s. Both watches also have a number of sub-models in their current range, so to create the best comparison, we’ve gone for the two that look as similar as possible.
For the rest of this article, we’ll compare the Black Fifty Fathoms Automatique (Ref: 5015 1130 71S) and the Black Rolex Submariner Date (Ref: 126610LN).
It’s worth noting there are more than 30 different Fifty Fathoms variants and at least eight different Submariner models on the market to choose from – so if you don’t like black, we recommend you have a shop around!
Blancpain Fifty Fathoms vs Rolex Submariner – Dial Comparison
For both models, we start with the most important aspect of the watch, the dial.
The Fifty Fathoms keeps things pretty simple on what is quite a small dial that’s dwarfed by a huge bezel. You’ll find a simple black/white design combo with numerical markings at 12,3,6 & 9 blended together with arrow tip markings at the other hour points.
The hands both combine a custom arrow shape with high-powered lume with the second’s hand featuring a distinct red tip to aid in reading. A small date window on this watch is found between the 4 and 5 o’clock position, something which you don’t see very often and is a nice change in design that, thanks to the minimalism, is quite subtle.
Most of us are familiar with the Submariner dial. The classic back and white dial colours are harnessed to create a classy look and feel that’s as at home in the water as it is under a suit jacket.
The classic mix of circular, triangular and rectangular markings occupy the outside of the watch, with the classic Rolex Mercedes/lollipop hands iconic across all models. The date window is found at the 3 o’clock position and is easily visible thanks to the cyclops lens.
This all comes down to personal taste. Some may argue that the dial on the Fifty Fathoms looks a lot cleaner and may be a little easier to read when diving. It’s hard to argue against the Submariner though given the timeless design that’s loved by so many across the globe.
Blancpain Fifty Fathoms vs Rolex Submariner – Bezel Comparison
Functionally, both watches deliver a uni-directional, 60 click bezel that’s great for keeping track of time underwater.
From a design perspective, the bezel on the Fifty Fathoms looks almost domed when viewed straight-on with the thickness appealing to those who like the appearance of a large dial. A view from the side confirms that doming is just an illusion and it’s the high-polished shine of the bezel material that gives it that appearance.
The Rolex bezel follows the stylings we’re all used to with other Rolex models, utilising their unique Cerachrom Ceramic material which Rolex claim is virtually scratchproof.
As with the dial, given the bezel operations between these two watches are identical, it’s going to come down to your preference in design, size and how the bezel ‘feels’ when used. Never underestimate the satisfaction of a nice bezel click!
Blancpain Fifty Fathoms vs Rolex Submariner – Bracelet Comparison
Again both watches are fairly similar when it comes to their steel bracelets. Blancpain ship their Fifty Fathoms with a 23mm stainless steel bracelet with a folding clasp that matches the case material perfectly.
Rolex utilises their Oystersteel bracelet here, which incorporates their signature folding Oysterlock safety clasp with Rolex Glidelock extension system.
It’s worth noting that the Fifty Fathoms can come with a wide range of different strap options including canvas or leather.
When choosing between the Fifty Fathoms and the Submariner, it’s ultimately going to come down to what feels nicer on the wrist for you. Both watches have the ability to change out the bracelets too, so if you don’t like either, it’s easy enough to swap in your own!
Blancpain Fifty Fathoms vs Rolex Submariner – Movement Comparison
As you can imagine, with both of these watches being so specialist, the automatic movements are of a premium specification.
Starting with the Fifty Fathoms, Blancpain’s Caliber 1315 movement is deployed here to offer super high accuracy timekeeping. 227 components and 35 jewels drive a 4hz movement and a 120-hour power reserve. That’s a lot of power to keep you going for nearly a week with no need to wind.
The Submariner’s Caliber 3235 movement is equally as impressive. This time we see a 201 component, 31 jewel movement deliver 70 hours of power reserve with a -2/+2 sec/day accuracy. This movement is used across a number of Rolex watches and is known for being highly accurate and highly reliable over time.
Those who love to dive into the specs of watch movements will love undertaking a comparison between these two high powered watch engines. On the face of it, the Blancpain movement delivers superior power reserve capability and may have the beating of the Rolex.
Blancpain Fifty Fathoms vs Rolex Submariner – Specs Comparison
Everything we’ve looked at so far has very much focused on the look and feel of the two watches. Most of those things will ultimately come down to the personal preferences you look for in a watch.
Now it’s time to get into the cold hard specs of each watch and how they compare to each other – check out the specs table below:
|Blancpain Fifty Fathoms (Ref: 5015 1130 71S)||Rolex Submariner Date (Ref: 126610LN)|
|Power Reserve||120 Hours||70 Hours|
|Bezel||Uni-Directional, 60 Click||Uni-Directional, 60 Click|
Blancpain Fifty Fathoms vs Rolex Submariner – Price Comparison
And of course, we finish with one of the most important comparisons – the price! Both of these watches are high-class, Swiss-made models that sit firmly within with luxury watch market.
Fifty Fathoms Pricing
First, we’ll start with the Fifty Fathoms. The specific reference we’ve covered today (ref: 5015 1130 71S) which includes the steel bracelet retails brand new from Blancpain at $17,200. It’s a hefty price but for a high-end dive watch that’s steeped in history and quite rare in most watch collections, it isn’t a bad price.
If you’re looking to pick up a pre-owned model of the Fifty Fathoms, you’ll need to shop around given that rarity, but can expect to find some deals between $13,000 – $15,000 depending on region and watch condition.
The Submariner ref: 126610LN model retails considerably cheaper at $8,700 directly from one of Rolex’s authorised dealers. Of course, the one aspect we haven’t covered yet in this article is popularity. The Submariner transcends the dive watch market and is a popular watch to have on the wrist as a day-to-day wearer. This means that there’s a lot of demand with most people unlikely to get their hands on a brand new Submariner for 12 – 18 months minimum.
If you can’t wait and you’re happy to pay a higher price, the pre-owned market will see you pick up a Submariner for around $14,000. This is a massively inflated price but reflective of a market that’s swamped for demand with very little supply!
See also: how much does a Rolex cost?
Both the Fifty Fathoms and the Submariner are steeped in diving history and are loved for different reasons by dive watch fans. If you’re wondering which one is best for you, it’s going to come down to two key factors – design and price.
The Fifty Fathoms definitely looks like a technical dive watch, which plays to its high-precision, military-grade history. The Submariner on the other hand has defined the casual dive watch market and looks just as good on the wrist in the office as it does in the water.
Price-wise, you’re likely going to be spending around $15,000 on whichever watch you go for. The difference is that for this price you’ll probably get a new Fifty Fathoms versus a pre-owned Submariner thanks to their relative levels of demand.
Whichever watch you go for, you’ll have something on your wrist that will ensure you keep perfect time when heading to the depths of the ocean alongside keeping you looking stylish when operating on dry land!