Diving chronographs — yea or nay? I know, there are more polarizing things in the world. But still, I know people who love both dive watches and chronographs yet suffer from a short-circuiting brain when an underwater timepiece gets a chronograph bonus. I tried to keep an open mind when going hands-on with two new versions of the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe Chronographe Flyback. There’s a very lavish red-gold-and-blue version that doesn’t look like a tool watch at all, and a ton-sur-ton titanium version that more or less does.
They are the same, and yet they are very different. Both versions of the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe Chronographe Flyback have a 43 × 14.9mm case with a 23mm lug width. And both diving chronographs have a very competent water-resistance rating of 300 meters. But the Grade 23 titanium ref. 5200 1210 G52A and red gold ref. 5200 3640 O52B couldn’t be more different when it comes to looks. Let’s start with the titanium version that arrived at Fratello HQ on a gray NATO strap. I don’t want to use the following expression in a review of a €16,400 luxury timepiece, but in this configuration, the watch just looks cool.
Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe Chronographe Flyback in a very gray colorway
I admit, when it comes to watches, I’m a sucker for all things gray, from black dials and bezels turning gray over time to new dials and leather and fabric straps in that color. Gray takes the edge off of black. It doesn’t want to be the center of attention like blue, and it’s neither as cold nor as distant as white. And I like several shades of gray. Not quite fifty shades in total, but I do like anthracite, gunmetal, and pewter to name but a few. The gray served up by the Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe Chronographe Flyback is an industrial shade of gray.
Blancpain chose Grade 23 titanium for the case. That’s the same material used for the Complete Calendar version of the Bathyscaphe that I tried last month. Grade 23 titanium is a purer version of the more common Grade 5 titanium mostly used in medical applications, and it has a distinct gray color. Because Grade 23 titanium doesn’t allow for a shiny polish, the case of the Bathyscaphe is brushed. The dial has a sunray finish that might be too shiny for some dive-watch purists. However, I find that it creates a nice, subtle contrast with the brushed case. By the way, the little lollipop hand in the small seconds sub-dial at 6 o’clock is something that should appeal to hardcore watch fans. To finish things off, there’s a unidirectional satin-brushed titanium bezel with a ceramic insert and Liquidmetal minute markers.
The result is very tool-like, very understated, and very gray. Combine that with a deep gray dial and a matching strap or bracelet — the latter version costs €19,060, by the way — and you get one introverted, stylish, and sophisticated watch combo.
Trying to handle 43mm
Still, no matter how modest or introverted a gray watch might be, when it measures 43mm in diameter, it will always be prominent to wear. It is for my 18.5cm wrist, anyway. Yes, the fact that the watch is made from a lightweight alloy does help, and the comfy and soft NATO strap made it possible to fit it snugly to my wrist. But still, it looked and felt just a bit too big on me. I think a 41mm case would have been just perfect, but even that, of course, is a matter of taste. Maybe Blancpain aims the Bathyscaphe Chronographe Flyback at larger-wristed people or folks that love to show the world what they’re wearing. In the case of the latter, allow me to suggest the version in red gold.
Kind to the fish
To keep in line with the Bathyscaphe’s tool-watch background, Blancpain decided to brush the red gold case. Good move. A polished version would have blinded the fish; a brushed gold case is just kinder to marine life. Not that a gold version of the Bathyscaphe Chronographe Flyback will ever be used on a snorkeling or diving expedition, but that’s not the point here. Brushed gold makes more sense for an über luxurious underwater timepiece. Whereas the titanium version likes to operate in the shadows, the red gold version is way more outgoing. The radiant sunray-finished blue dial, for instance, is hard to miss. But it does match the red gold case, and in combination with the blue sail-canvas strap, it sure paints a nautical picture.
As you would expect, the red gold version of the Bathyscaphe Chronographe Flyback is a costly watch, what with its unidirectional, satin-brushed, 18K red gold bezel with ceramic and (Swatch Group-exclusive) Ceragold insert and all. It will set you back €31,030. But unlike the titanium version, this version is highly exuberant and meant to shine — on the boulevard, close to the water, but not too close.
A high-frequency “machine” inside
In both versions of the Bathyscaphe Chronographe Flyback beats the 322-component 5Hz automatic caliber F385. The high-frequency movement measures 31.8 × 6.65mm and has a power reserve of 50 hours. Highlights of the integrated chronograph caliber are the column wheel, a vertical clutch, and an antimagnetic silicon hairspring. The flyback function of the chronograph movement allows the uninterrupted measuring of a succession of elapsed times. There’s no need to stop, reset, and then restart the chronograph. Instead, a single push on the reset pusher is enough to quick-start another time measurement. It’s not just a great “machine” to operate, but it’s also very easy on the eye. Through the sapphire-crystal case back, you can observe the excellent finishing. There’s a matte 18K white or red gold rotor, polished bevels, and an Haute Horlogerie-level striped pattern on the bridges.
So, where do you stand? Is it a yea or a nay for the Blancpain Bathyscaphe Chronographe Flyback in either titanium or red gold? Let me know in the comments below.
For more information on the two versions of the Bathyscaphe Chronographe Flyback, please visit the Blancpain website.
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