This is the story of Blancpain's iconic Fifty Fathoms, the world's first diving watch and how Peli cases became the exclusive choice to house the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms collection for over 15 years. We chronicle the history of the pioneering timepiece, starting in 1953 up to the present day and touch on the organisational similarities between Blancpain and Peli Products, as well as the Blancpain Ocean Commitment.
Founded in 1735 in Villeret, a small village nestled in the Jura Mountains of Switzerland, Blancpain is known to be the oldest watch brand in the world. However, Blancpain is a watchmaking enterprise whose legacy is not only its longevity, but also its commitment to innovation and to Swiss watchmaking tradition. In fact, the expression "Innovation is our tradition" is Blancpain’s fundamental guiding principle.
As one might imagine with over 285 years of history, there have been many people to whom Blancpain can point as having made enduring marks on the brand’s story. Perhaps none have been as influential as Jean-Jacques Fiechter, under whose stewardship Blancpain saw the creation of possibly its most iconic timepiece, the Fifty Fathoms; the world’s first diving watch that perfectly embodies the organisation’s tradition of innovation.
Jean-Jacques Fiechter took the reins of Blancpain in 1950. By the time he became CEO, amateur diving was emerging in Europe as a leisure pastime within a small yet enthusiastic group of connoisseurs. Fiechter was himself one of these impassioned diving enthusiasts who took up the fledgling sport due to his love for the sea. At the time, there were several amateur diving clubs forming along the French Riviera where Fiechter practiced much of his diving. What he noted during this time was a sport in its infancy with practitioners grappling with equipment designs in their struggle to find solutions to practical problems associated with underwater exploration. One of these problems soon became very apparent to Fiechter.
One day, while diving in Villefranche-sur-Mer at a significant depth, Fiechter suddenly realised that he had lost track of time and was running out of air in his tank. Risking decompression sickness, he was forced to quickly rise to the surface. With a certain sense of sheepishness after his near tragedy, Fiechter observed that time does indeed fly when one is having fun. It was at this point that he began to understand the crucial role that timekeeping would play for divers. This marked the beginning of the development of his pioneering timepiece, the Fifty Fathoms.
Guided by his underwater experiences and enthusiasm for diving, Fiechter developed criteria for what he considered the ideal diving watch. Using these criteria, he designed a watch with watertight enclosures and a rotating bezel, which would allow the diver to read time underwater with the minute hand using the time markings on the bezel. After its completion, the one-of-a-kind timepiece soon became the global standard for diving watches, both for amateurs and professionals alike. It was soon adopted by major military bodies across the world starting with the French combat diving corps and was followed by other world militaries such as those from Denmark, Germany, Israel, Norway, Pakistan, Spain, Sweden, and the United States of America.
After decades of continuous innovation and improvement on the original Fifty Fathoms, a shift in corporate strategy saw Blancpain pivot away from diving watches, focusing on ultra-thin classical dress timepieces instead. For nearly 20 years, the trailblazing Fifty Fathoms lay dormant, until 2002 when Marc A. Hayek’s reign as Blancpain CEO began. Soon after, the collaboration between Peli Products and Blancpain would blossom.
Much like Jean-Jaques Fiechter, Hayek is also an avid and passionate diver. He identified the Fifty Fathoms as a bold, sporty, and young collection of watches that should be restored to its rightful central place in Blancpain’s portfolio. As a devoted diver, he understood the requirements for underwater timing instruments and set about resurrecting the fabled Fifty Fathoms.
In 2003, Hayek’s Fifty Fathoms revival was a major success. In the years that followed, as new generations of the collection were produced, it was decided that the Fifty Fathoms deserved to be paired with a case that was built with the same ethos and by an organisation with similar values to those of Blancpain.
Similar to Blancpain’s tradition of innovation, Peli has strived since day one to foster a culture of continuous innovation. Like both Fiechter and Hayek, Peli Products’ founder Dave Parker was also an ardent diver. In 1976, he used his passion for diving to invent a truly innovative product, the Peli Protector case.
Originally designed to be a superior first-aid kit for divers, the cases were rugged, durable, and built to keep the contents stored inside safely protected from water and dust. However, the product was such a success within the diving community that the cases began to be used to protect other valuables. This was especially true of photographers who quickly became heavy users of Peli cases to protect their equipment and who continue to be one of the organisation’s most loyal users to this day.
The innovation demonstrated by Parker’s invention would come to define Peli as an organisation. As a result, Peli quickly became the undisputed global leader in the design and manufacture of high-performance cases and containers to protect fragile devices of all shapes and sizes.
Although Hayek had been a passionate diver for some time, it wasn’t until he discovered underwater photography that he was really able to appreciate the finer details of underwater exploration.
“Exploring the undersea world and discovering the ocean’s beauty had been a passion of mine for many years before succumbing to the lure of underwater photography,” Hayek recently commented. “My eye behind a camera’s viewfinder revealed a whole new world of tiny creatures, complex shapes and textures. The flash brought to light amazing colours in astounding compositions.”
Owing to Hayek’s affinity with diving and especially his passion for photography, he was therefore very familiar with Peli Products and its cases. They are something he used to protect his own belongings during his diving exploits, particularly his photography equipment. With his first-hand knowledge of the benefits and quality of the case, Peli Products was strongly considered.
Sustainability is something to which Blancpain is deeply committed as an organisation. Thus, Hayek felt it was important that the packaging for the Fifty Fathoms not be expendable. As the divers originally did with the first Peli cases back in 1976, Hayek knew Peli cases could be repurposed and reused.
Indeed, Peli cases can be considered reusable packaging alternatives to cardboard and other expendable packaging. This reduces impacts associated with sourcing virgin materials and transporting single-use products. Peli cases are built to last a lifetime.
Furthermore, Peli’s signature black cases are produced with up to 25% recycled material, sourced from in-house regrind from rejected cases and recycling material.
Peli’s commitment to sustainability goes beyond sustainable products, also including philanthropy. Peli regularly provides financial support and product donations to humanitarian aid organisations including those associated with wildlife and oceanic conservation, a cause that is of utmost importance to Blancpain.
Since the launch of the Fifty Fathoms collection, the world’s first modern diving watch, Blancpain has established an intimate connection with the world’s oceans and especially with those that are dedicated to protecting it. Blancpain’s corporate mission has grown far beyond creating the finest luxury timepieces to include working closely with passionate divers, leading scientists, underwater explorers, environmentalists, and photographers dedicated to oceanic conservation. They support several noteworthy initiatives aimed at ocean preservation as well as increasing public awareness of the cause.
One approach that Blancpain takes to increase public awareness of ocean issues is through Hayek’s passions of both diving and underwater photography. The twelve issues of the Edition Fifty Fathoms, an annual limited-edition publication launched in 2008, present underwater photography portfolios from renowned photographers that share the wonders of the underwater world. Additionally, Blancpain partners with the United Nations to hold the World Oceans Day Photo Competition, as well as Oceanographic Magazine to hold the Ocean Photography Awards. Open to all photographers, amateurs and professionals, both annual competitions call on participants to communicate through their images the beauty of the ocean as well as the many perils it faces.
As Hayek recently stated, “I am inspired to support the work of explorers and professional underwater photographers who can thus pass their passion to others and motivate them to learn and care more about the ocean […] In continuation of the Fifty Fathoms' role in the opening up of the underwater world, Blancpain has been supporting those who best raise awareness of ocean issues and especially those who convey a positive message insisting on the inspiring beauty of what's intact.”
Through its many initiatives related to ocean preservation, Blancpain has contributed to significantly increasing the protected ocean surface area by more than 4.7 million square kilometres (1.8 million square miles). These ocean preservation efforts can be summarised with the term Blancpain Ocean Commitment.
Lastly, Hayek’s choice of Peli cases for the exclusive packaging of the Fifty Fathoms collection comes down to authenticity. Just as the Fifty Fathoms is the world’s first authentic diving timepiece, so too the authentic Protector case is the original virtually indestructible, watertight, dust-proof, impact-resistant case for maximum protection.
For over 15 years, the Peli 1150 Protector case has been the exclusive case of the entire Fifty Fathoms collection of watches. Due to Peli’s and Blancpain’s many similarities in both conception of their respective products as well as the organisational values they share, it only makes sense that the two organisations would collaborate. Here’s to many more years of collaboration.
To learn more about how Peli can help you with your packaging needs visit www.peli.com.
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