Anatomy of a Best-Selling Timepiece

Do you know what a bathyscaphe is? I didn’t either. At least not until I saw the Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe Day Date 70s watch at the Blancpain booth at Baselworld earlier this year and looked it up.

A bathyscaphe is a deep-sea submersible. And the watch that borrows its name is a tribute to the original Bathyscaphe introduced by Blancpain in 1956, three years after the debut of the Fifty Fathoms, the Swiss brand’s iconic dive watch. Popularized in the 1970s, the Bathyscaphe was reintroduced in 2013. It’s a subset of the Fifty Fathoms collection—and an increasingly sought-after one, at that.

I’ve spoken to two prominent watch retailers in the past month and both have described this year’s Bathyscaphe edition, a 43 mm vintage-looking wristwatch with a distinctive graduated taupe dial, as a best seller. Limited to 500 pieces, the model, which retails for $12,700, “is getting a ton of attention in our store,” said Greg Simonian, president of Los Angeles–based Westime.

“It’s the piece people have been scrambling to get this year,” added Rob Caplan, vice president of Topper Fine Jewelers in Burlingame, Calif. “It has this very late ’60s–early ’70s vibe about it.”

Last week, Blancpain held press appointments to showcase its 2018 collection in Beverly Hills, Calif., and I had the chance to sit down with Marc Junod, vice president and head of sales for Blancpain (in town from Lausanne, Switzerland) and his Weehawken, N.J.–based colleagues—brand manager David Gely and Victor Andrade, regional sales manager, West Coast—to discuss why the model has resonated with clients. Here’s what I learned.

Sports Nation

Sports watches are extremely strong in the American market, and dive watches are among the sport segment’s most popular styles. Given the Fifty Fathom’s claim to fame—when it was introduced in 1953, it was the world’s first true dive watch—Blancpain owns an authentic slice of that history…and few things rev collectors up more than authenticity.

“There’s a strong heritage there,” Junod affirms. “When you come to 1953, it’s a chapter that’s close to us. And a part of our history that no one can contest.”

Segment Success

“The beauty of what Bathyscaphe did is that it brought a new client to our world,” Andrade told me. “It was introduced in 2013 at $10,500.”

Compare that to about $15,000, the starting price of the regular Fifty Fathoms model.

“But it’s the exact same caliber,” Andrade said, rattling off a list of the Bathyscaphe’s features, including an open caseback and sophisticated antimagnetic movement.

“I can’t even keep them in stock,” he added, naming the retailers in Southern California who are doing well with the model: “Westime, Feldmar, Hing Wa Lee—even the Chinese are buying them.”

Vintage Appeal

Last but not least, the Bathyscaphe Day Date 70s is explicit about its ties to Blancpain’s vintage timepieces, which, for the past three to four years, “have had this cool following,” Gely said. “The Fifty Fathoms is really talked about and sought after.”

Like the Bathyscaphe models from the ’70s, the contemporary reinterpretation features a silvered dial ring with rectangular indexes and Arabic numerals radially arrayed every five minutes and its day of the week and date indications at 3 o’clock. Available on a chic antique-looking leather strap, the model captures all the aesthetic details of its predecessor. At the same time, it boasts a cutting-edge movement, complete with silicon hairspring.

Of all the factors behind the Bathyscaphe Day Date 70s’ success, I’d say it’s the combination of retro styling and innovative mechanics that has elevated the model to cult status. With only 500 pieces made for the world, it’s essentially being “presold” now, according to Andrade. Get ’em while they last.

JCK Magazine Editor