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Two historically revered watches make a comeback with some technical tweaks

Audrey Simon
Audrey Simon • 4 min read
Two historically revered watches make a comeback with some technical tweaks
Two historically revered watches make a comeback with some technical tweaks
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A diver designed the Fifty Fathoms collection by Blancpain for fellow divers to meet the needs of underwater explorations in 1953. This timekeeping instrument celebrates 70 years and is still creating ripples in the watchmaking universe in more ways than one.

The anniversary celebrations include the debut of the Tech Gombessa watch, co-developed by Marc A Hayek, president and CEO of Blancpain, and Laurent Ballesta, founder of the Gombessa project. The debut was made via Zoom, where the media was taken to the Rangiroa Atoll in French Polynesia amid the Tamataroa mission. Tamataroa is dedicated to studying the behaviour of the great hammerhead shark (Sphyrna mokarran) in French Polynesia.

The Tech Gombessa marks the launch of a new line in Blancpain's diver’s watch collection. An updated 1953 version, the watch was co-designed with Hayek, an avid diver himself, and diver, photographer and underwater biologist Ballesta. The watch is designed to measure the duration of up to three-hour-long tech dives or exits from a saturation system. Developed five years ago by the two divers, this watch has been extensively tested. In 2019, after a year of conceptualisation, Blancpain began developing the project, starting with the two key elements represented by the movement and the unidirectional rotating bezel.

Unlike the bezels on conventional diver's watches, the bezel on the Fifty Fathoms Tech Gombessa has a three-hour scale. It is linked to a special hand that completes one full turn in three hours and whose material and colour – a white luminescent coating with green emission – match those of its markers. The Fifty Fathoms Tech Gombessa is equipped with a bezel inlay in black ceramic that creates a stronger curve that tilts towards the dial, and legibility is optimised by a spherical crystal that eliminates any visual distortion.

Reading time underwater is crucial, so to ensure the best possible readability in the dark, the dial has a new finish: absolute black, whose structure can capture almost 97% of the light. Similarly, the hour-markers are formed by luminescent block-shaped appliques, this time in orange with blue emission – colour codes picked up on the hours and minutes hands to differentiate between time-related information and diving times.

Grade 23 titanium was chosen for the case that is light enough to carry the 47mm diameter face and is water-resistant to 30 bar (approximately 300m). The case is equipped with a helium valve. The back of the watch shows off the bevelled rather than the rounded “bassine” shape characterising the other Fifty Fathoms models. The anthracite-coloured oscillating weight, stamped with the Gombessa Expeditions logo, features an innovative shape dominated by three large openings through which to admire the movement. The black rubber strap is screwed to the back of the lugs.

A. Lange & Söhne
The award-winning Zeitwork is back with some new updates to the 2009 version, with a case diameter of 41.9mm and a height of 12.2mm. It is available in two versions: pink gold with a black dial and a time bridge made of untreated German silver. What stands out is the iconic large jumping numerals for the hours and minutes and a constant-force escapement as a beat controller. To this day, the clear, avant-garde display of time is unmatched.

The famous five-minute clock inspires the Zeitwork at the Semper Opera House in Dresden. At the time, court clockmaker Johann Christian Friedrich Gutkaes was tasked to develop a time display that would be easily legible even from the back. Contrary to all large-format clocks with hands, he opted for a revolutionary solution: a clock that displayed the time digitally in five-minute steps. In 1841, he completed the five-minute clock with his co-worker Ferdinand Adolph Lange. The unusual idea behind this clock was transposed to the Zeitwerk, even though it switches five times more often than its source of inspiration, once per full minute.

The hours and minutes are displayed from left to right by large-format numerals 2.9mm high and 2.3mm wide. The harmonious arrangement of the curved time bridge and the size of the displays ensure legibility along with an elaborate display on the dial. The underlying mechanism switches the three numeral discs — one displays the hours, the other two display the units and the tens digits of the minutes — within fractions of a second. The most exciting event happens at the top of the hour when all three numerals discs are simultaneously advanced by one increment.

The watch gets its power from the Lange manufacture calibre L043.6, manually wound, crafted to the most exacting Lange quality standards, decorated and assembled by hand; precision-adjusted in five positions, with three-quarter plate made of untreated German silver; balance and escape-wheel cocks engraved by hand; and minute jump via constant-force escapement.

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