A very rare and well-preserved stainless steel automatic diver’s wristwatch with center seconds and rotating bezel

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  • Manufacturer: Blancpain
    Year: Circa 1958
    Case No: 2497
    Model Name: Aqua Lung
    Material: Stainless steel
    Calibre: Automatic, cal. AS 1361N, 17 jewels
    Bracelet/Strap: Tropic
    Clasp/Buckle: Stainless steel
    Dimensions: 41mm Diameter
    Signed: Case, dial, and movement signed.

  • Catalogue Essay

    Blancpain’s Fifty Fathoms is widely recognized for its historical significance as being the first ‘modern’ diver’s wristwatch with a rotating bezel, released in 1953. Even though Blancpain’s Fifty Fathoms has been in production since then, scholarship regarding this fascinating model continues to be written. The story of its origins is well-known, rooted in solving the needs of an elite branch of the French Navy – the Service de Documentation Extérieure et de Contre-Espionnage – tasked with underwater espionage and other covert operations. The head of this unit was Captain Bob Maloubier, and he personally sketched out the watch that would one day be fully realized as the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms. Maloubier found a champion for his project in Blancpain’s CEO Jean-Jacques Fletcher - a passionate diver himself. Fletcher named the watch after the greatest depth that a combat diver was believed able to withstand at the time.

    The name “Aqua-Lung” found on the dial derives from the first open-circuit self-contained underwater breathing apparatus invented in the winter of 1942 by Jacques Cousteau and Émile Gagnan, who later founded the company La Spirotechnique to manufacture and distribute their SCUBA equipment. The name AquaLung was chosen as it would be more appealing for American audiences, rather than the original French name of “scaphandre autonome”. To complicate these issues of nomenclature, the American sister company of La Spirotechnique was called U.S. Divers, which later changed their name to Aqua Lung and then to Aqua Lung America. As the Fifty Fathoms was a tool watch for those customers of Aqua Lung, Blancpain partnered with the SCUBA equipment company, and the first known cosigned wristwatch appeared on the cover of a US Divers catalogue in 1958.

    The present Blancpain Aqua Lung bears an early case number and the beautiful 12 / 3 / 6 / 9 dial layout typical of Fifty Fathoms and Aqua Lungs of the era, with puffy luminous material that has aged beautifully over time, an exceptionally well-preserved case, and a perfectly intact Bakelite bezel.

  • Maker Bio

    Blancpain

    Swiss • 1735

    As the watchmaking brand with the earliest founding date, Blancpain remains close to tradition, concentrating on classical mechanical watches. Established in 1735 by Jehan-Jacques Blancpain, the Le Brassus manufacturer today continues to innovate with the development of high-quality calibres and is proud of their heritage, having never made quartz watches. One of the firm's greatest successes was the Fifty Fathom wristwatch introduced in 1953 — the vintage models of which are now highly coveted by collectors. The earliest dive watch available to the market, Fifty Fathom came out a year prior to Rolex's Submariner.  Another key model is the Air Command from the 1960s, considered one of the most mythical collector's watches due to their extreme rarity. Today, the firm specializes in creative innovated complicated timepieces. 

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Blancpain

A very rare and well-preserved stainless steel automatic diver’s wristwatch with center seconds and rotating bezel

Circa 1958
41mm Diameter
Case, dial, and movement signed.

Estimate
$15,000 - 30,000 
CHF14,900-29,900
€13,600-27,200
HK$117,000-235,000

sold for $43,750

Contact Specialist
Paul Boutros
Head of Watches, Americas & International Strategy Advisor
Senior Vice President
+1 212 940 1293
pboutros@phillips.com

GAME CHANGERS

New York Auction 10 December 2019