A review of the Lip Blancpain Fifty Fathoms

Jan 16, 2015,01:20 AM

The story of the Fifty Fathoms is all over the place now, but the connection with Lip is still a mystery for some people.

When you discuss with new collectors, you still hear the question "what was the connection between Blancpain and Lip ?", or even "what is Lip ?" !!!

So here's a short review of a Lip Blancpain Fifty Fathoms, with a focus on the contract between Blancpain and Lip in the 1950's.

In late 1952 / early 1953, the first combat divers unit was created in France. This unit was the result of a partnership between the Navy and the French secret service. For the Navy, that later become the "Commando Hubert". The divers need to have a minimum of equipment to carry out their missions: a watch, a depth gauge and a compass. The Fifty Fathoms was produced to address the lack of proper equipment at the time.

It was at the initiative of Capitaine Robert  Maloubier and Lieutenant Claude Riffaud that Jean-Jacques Fiechter - then CEO of Blancpain - took this opportunity to developed a waterproof watch especially designed for scuba diving. It had to be able to measure the dive time at a given depth, in order  to avoid the use of the oxygen reserve. The watch was the diver’s first safety feature, so it had to be very reliable and have a great readability.

In his autobiography published in 1986, Robert Maloubier defines the characteristics of the dial and bezel he asked for, establishing a specifications which still governs the design of today’s diver’s watches:

"(...) Blancpain agrees to carry out the project which features a black dial with big numbers and large easy marks: triangles, circles, squares. A moving outer ring repeats the dial divisions and gives the time since the dive started. Each index shines as long as the evening star. "

Blancpain - at the time - was a small Swiss watch company based in Villeret. His CEO was a diving enthusiast, who was receptive to the Maloubier’s requests. The first model of the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms was presented in Basel in 1954 and was the subject of two patents :

 - A patent for the bezel locking system: you have to press the bezel in order to rotate it.

 - A case back in two parts, made of a “cup” and a ring which rotates around it, in order to avoid damaging the O-ring when closing the watch.

The military watches were sold though La Spirotechnique , an official supplier of the Navy.

In 1953, Blancpain was not known in France but the management of Blancpain was pretty close to Fred LIP, who was interested in selling the watch in France under the brand LIP Blancpain .

An agreement was signed in 1954 and allowed Lip to market the Fifty Fathoms through its 2,000 shops. It ended in 1957, when Fred Lip launched his own  sportswatch: the LIP Nautic.

Lip was not the only one to retail the Fifty Fathoms and add his name on the dial:  Aqua Lung (a US manufacturer of diving accessories), Technisub or Tornek-Rayville did the same in other countries.

Here are some pictures of my ex LIP Blancpain. The case lugs have a very cool shape and the dial design is really beautiful:

The caseback is in two parts, the inside caseback is engraved Rayville SA SWISS:

The calibre is the Blancpain Lip R108, a movement developed by the company Ebauches SA - which explains the bridge  engraved AS 1361 N.  A self-winding movement reduces the number of times the crown needs to be turn, thus maintaining o-ring in better condition.

The Lip Blancpain Fifty Fathoms is not only a rare and collectible timepiece, it is also and above all a beautiful watch !

This message has been edited by DrStrong on 2015-01-16 01:28:01 This message has been edited by amanico on 2015-02-08 02:57:25

More posts: Fifty FathomsLIP Blancpain

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"Fascinating!", as Mr. Spock would say ...

 By: Marcus Hanke : January 16th, 2015-08:49
Thank you for that interesting account on the FF's history. I was not aware of this connection with LIP. Given the manifold of similar interesting details in LIP's company history, it is not astonishing that it keeps fans busy researching the tradition. O... 

Thanks a lot Marcus

 By: DrStrong : January 17th, 2015-09:03
the Lip Nautic-ski that I have mentioned is my favourite, they have also signed some Navitimer dials

Thanks. The large size...

 By: DrStrong : January 16th, 2015-10:24
...is described as the "professionnal" model in this ad, the normal size being the "amateur" ...  

Simply Magnificent!!!!

 By: jkingston : January 16th, 2015-10:41
What a catch you made! That is the best condition LIP Fifty I have ever seen.

The watch is no longer mine...

 By: DrStrong : January 17th, 2015-09:04
...I took the chance to make the pictures just before leting it go. It is almost NOS

36mm. [nt]

 By: amanico : January 16th, 2015-13:45

Thanks it's beautiful [nt]

 By: Currambero : January 16th, 2015-14:05

My pleasure Dave [nt]

 By: DrStrong : January 17th, 2015-09:04

Kind of post we are all here for

 By: Ares501 - Mr Green : January 17th, 2015-00:03
Thank you very much Jeff Bravo Sincerely Damjan

Thanks Damjan [nt]

 By: DrStrong : January 17th, 2015-09:05

Nice post, thanks for the information

 By: levelero : January 17th, 2015-05:06
Here is my "professional" one ...  

Gorgeous! [nt]

 By: amanico : January 17th, 2015-06:45

Nice beast ! [nt]

 By: DrStrong : January 17th, 2015-09:07


 By: fifty fathoms : January 19th, 2015-00:08
a photo from the side to respect this megadomed plexi ! Best Stephan

Great post! Thanks for sharing.

 By: 2redbulls : January 17th, 2015-08:41
That was a great post! Thank you for taking the time to post an share.

Thank You Dr. Strong

 By: fifty fathoms : January 19th, 2015-00:07
.... for this verry informative review. Even when I think to know a little about the FF and LIP there are some news I didn`t know before! Best regards Stephan


 By: XX-FF : January 19th, 2015-06:25
Thank you for this post with beautiful advertisements. To complete the subject, my two FF Lip ...  

Always a pleasure to see these 2, JL.

 By: amanico : January 24th, 2015-00:47
I like the Rotomatic Incabloc Circle a lot! Best, Nicolas

Lip FF

 By: XX-FF : January 26th, 2015-07:46
Indeed these FF Lip dial " incabloc automatic circle" are very desirable, in my opinion less than 10 pieces are known. Friendl JL ...  

Here's my ex...

 By: DrStrong : January 26th, 2015-12:30
with a special patina... here a picture with another of my watches ...  

Superb watch with a beautiful patina, you do not regret?

 By: XX-FF : January 27th, 2015-01:12
If it was a SUB or SD it would be called "Beluga" or "Shagreen (Galuchat)" or "Treasury Caspian off". LOL !

I still have a superb one...

 By: DrStrong : January 30th, 2015-00:34
...but this is the one I regret the most...with the lowest number I have ever seen on a FF... ...  

Not bad! [nt]

 By: amanico : January 30th, 2015-01:18

superb [nt]

 By: XX-FF : January 30th, 2015-02:40

Thanks you for your review

 By: ztirual : February 15th, 2015-10:19
All superb and interesting watches.

Hello Dr Strong could I have your contact information to inquire some details about...

 By: SgWatchBaron : November 15th, 2016-21:45
A possible LIP I am trying to acquire? Many thanks all the way from singapore! My email: [Email address suppressed for privacy] Instagram: thesingaporeanwatchbaron