Few dive watches can claim a status like the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms: it's chock full of history that puts it right alongside the Rolex Submariner in terms of early dive watch development, but it also offers the added cool-factor of having been created for military use. As a modern watch, however, it's come a long way from its practical roots and today oozes quality, elegance and prestige — it's handsome and a refreshing alternative to the familiar luxury dive watch look, but it doesn't come cheap
For the price of an entry-level variant on a fabric strap like the Bathyscaphe Automatic ($9,500), you could get yourself a Rolex Sub No-Date (on a bracelet) and still have more than a grand left over. Other iconic models in this varied collection, however, even functionally basic ones in steel like the Fifty Fathoms Automatic ($14,500), for example, can cost significantly more — but any Fifty Fathoms will offer an exceptional level of fit and finish and some of the best in-house movements out there.
The modern Fifty Fathoms collection offers a wide range of designs, but perhaps the most representative are those examples that reference famous early models, just as the modern Fifty Fathoms Automatique ($16,200) does. Somehow, though, the collection remains recognizable and distinctive, as exemplified by the below alternatives offer some of that spirit in one form or another for considerably less dough.
While no homage to the Fifty Fathoms, you can see how this affordable French diver might stylistically scratch the same itch, right? The deliciously named Malouine from resurrected brand Le Forban Sécurité Mer is just about the most elegant dive watch you'll get for the price. It features a Japanese automatic movement with basic features (no hacking capabilities) and cues that indirectly recall more modern versions of the Fifty Fathoms, in large part thanks to its dial design. It's perfect for those who want a more modest wearing experience than the FF's often bold dimensions.
Movement: Miyota 8215 automatic
Water Resistance: 150m
Bulova made a prototype dive watch for the US navy in the 1950s, but it never ended up seeing production — until now. Perhaps Bulova was working with the same military specifications that led to the Fifty Fathoms around the same era, but in any case, what you get today is a solid alternative to an iconic watch. It features a bezel that needs to be unlocked by pushing down before turning it, as well as a moisture indicator on the dial — one of the most famous vintage Fifty Fathoms features. For under a grand you get the watch with a Japanese automatic movement, but there's also a limited edition version with a Swiss automatic movement for around $2,000.
Movement: Miyota 82S0 automatic
Water Resistance: 200m
In the 1960s, Blancpain Fifty Fathoms watches were tweaked and rebranded with their US distributor's name, Tornek-Rayville, for issuance to American special operations forces. They were called "TR-900" but were essentially Fifty Fathoms watches, and now the once defunct name has been resurrected with a homage to those watches, and it's called the Tornek-Rayville TR-660. From the masters of affordable vintage military homage watches, the people behind microbrand MkII bring you the TR-660 with a Fifty Fathoms style and a connection to historic watches at a fraction of Blancpain prices.
*NOTE: This watch quickly sold out, but Mk II is producing them in batches — check back with the brand frequently for updates on a possible second run, or look for one on the secondary market.
Movement: Seiko SII NE15 automatic
Water Resistance: 200m