Nevertheless, the iconic rotating bezel in its traditional format allows for just up to an hour’s timing at depth. Today’s technical divers can spend far longer than that underwater thanks to closed circuit rebreather technology, the evolved SCUBA format that recycles breathing gases instead of dispersing them. For divers who insist on the worth of having an analog backup should the digital technology fail (as all who rely on technology know too well it can), one-hour timing doesn’t cut the mustard.
The Fifty Fathoms Tech Gombessa, named after the Gombessa sealife monitoring project whose leader, pioneering diver, and photographer Laurent Ballesta has been involved in the watch’s development, extends that analog limit to three hours. The watch features an extra hour hand, which could be compared to a GMT hand on a travel watch: While a GMT hand rotates over 24 hours to provide a second time zone reading, the hand on the Tech Gombessa makes a three-hour rotation against bezel markings divided into three one-hour sections.
An important note is that this is not a stopwatch. (Due to having multiple points where water ingress can occur, stopwatches generally do not like being submerged at depth). The extra hour hand itself cannot be set: It is in constant rotation, and dive timing is made by aligning the bezel with wherever the hand happens to be at the start of the dive.
As a technical solution (which Blancpain has, of course, patented), it’s expedient almost to the point of being lo-fi, compared at least to the conspicuous over-engineering associated with rival watches. So too is the 300-meter depth rating, which, while ample for technical diving, is in fact modest within the genre of professional-spec luxury dive watches.
The price, on the other hand ($28,000 or £24,700), is anything but, as is the watch’s visual impact. A hulking 47 mm in diameter, the Fifty Fathoms Tech Gombessa is kept lightweight thanks to its Grade 23 titanium case, which features a particularly streamlined design to integrate the strap via a single, central lug arrangement. The indexes on the dial are cut from blocks of luminous material, which stands out all the more against a dial of “absolute black,” a material whose structure absorbs 97 percent of light, while the bezel inlay is formed from black ceramic.
The watch, which also features a helium escape valve (a feature for saturation dive watches developed by Rolex for releasing gas trapped within the watch) at 10 o’clock on the case, is powered by a brand new Blancpain movement, Calibre 13P8, which boasts an admirable five-day power reserve.
Even if the Tech motif featured on the dial—in a somewhat jarring ’80s font—may be something of a misnomer, the real innovation of Fifty Fathoms Tech Gombessa could be coming up with a new functionality that has genuine real-world application, however niche that may be.