Looking to follow up on the staggering success of its Omega MoonSwatch collaboration, Swatch Group has announced its next in-house mashup, the Swatch x Blancpain Scuba Fifty Fathoms, or “Scuba Fifty,” and it drops this weekend.
Named after Swatch’s ’90s Scuba divers and Blancpain’s Fifty Fathoms dive-watch range, the new collection takes inspiration from the luxury brand’s timepiece that set the blueprint for analog dive watches as we know them.
The original Fifty Fathoms was developed with the help of French combat divers who needed a tough, reliable underwater wristwatch, so a piece with luminous dial markings, innovative waterproof construction, and locking rotatable bezel was created. Rolex’s Submariner, developed the same year, took the same approach—but only made it to market the following year.
The $400 (£340) Scuba Fifty Fathoms, all water-resistant to 91 meters, or 300 feet (exactly 50 fathoms, naturally), mirror the MoonSwatch collection’s bright coloring and use of Swatch’s Bioplastic material for the casings. They differ, though, when it comes to the innards: While the chronograph MoonSwatch is powered by an electronic quartz mechanism, the Scuba Fifty Fathoms boasts a self-winding automatic movement, taken from Swatch’s innovative Sistem51 line. Blancpain, a key player in the revival of Swiss watchmaking in the 1980s and ’90s, is one of few Swiss brands never to have made a quartz-powered wristwatch, sticking solely to mechanical watchmaking; so it continues to be, even when it appears in Swatch form.
MoonSwatch has been a huge hit for Swatch, not just from a brand perspective but also from a financial one. After selling more than a million in 2022, in its year-end reports Swatch Group listed an operating profit of $1.34 billion, and MoonSwatch sales could be responsible for as much as 20 percent of the group’s profit. According to industry consultant Oliver Muller, whose LuxeConsult business produces an annual survey of the watch industry with the investment bank Morgan Stanley, “It’s changed the fate of Swatch. It’s brought it back into the black. They’re making money again, which they hadn’t done for at least a decade before.”
But unlike the 11 iterations of the MoonSwatch (not counting the later pimped Moonshine Gold versions), Swatch’s Blancpain collaboration will feature five watches, each named after one of the world’s oceans.
The green Indian, blue Atlantic, and yellow Pacific models refer to more modern Fifty Fathoms iterations, while the red Arctic and white Antarctic models hark back to renowned and very rare versions commissioned for military purposes in the 1960s: the Arctic model is inspired by the so-called “No Rad” Fifty Fathoms, recognizable for a prominent dial marking indicating no radioactive materials present in the watch’s luminescent markings (it had only recently become apparent how dangerous radium, traditionally used, in fact was); while the Antarctic watch refers to “Mil-Spec” (military specification) models made for the US military, with an esoteric indicator on the dial for moisture ingress.
Gregory Kissling, Omega’s head of product and the person drafted in to helm the development of the MoonSwatch, has stated that the colors of the Scuba Fifty Fathoms are not only all new Bioceramic colors, but that each watch’s hue is inspired by a nudibranch, a type of sea slug, that is native to that particular ocean.
Thousands of species of nudibranch are found in the world’s oceans, and so Swatch and Blancpain decided it would not only chime with Blancpain’s environmental commitment to the oceans but also continue the bright aesthetic of the MoonSwatch to select five colorful varieties of the marine mollusc to inspire the tint of its new watches.
Blancpain, LuxeConstult principal Oliver Muller points out, is a very different proposition to Omega: much less well-known, it specializes in the world of complicated, high-end watchmaking, with an output and brand presence that is a fraction of Omega’s. While the Fifty Fathoms is a cult product among watch enthusiasts, its stock in trade is rarefied precious metal watches that sell well in Asian markets.
“Even though the Fifty Fathoms is a renowned product, it’s not comparable with the Omega Speedmaster,” says Muller, who adds that a further hitch is that Blancpain has failed to develop a single, iconic version of the Fifty Fathoms, which instead appears now in multiple deluxe iterations.
“This will raise the overall profile of Blancpain, and it will make the brand more present for the younger generation. Gen Zs are not really aware that there’s a brand called Blancpain—this will bring a fresh wind to a brand that has a dusty image.”
But considering the number of brands within Swatch Group’s stable, including the likes of Tissot and Hamilton, why would Nick Hayek opt to ordain Blancpain with the kind of commercial shot in the arm afforded Omega (sales of Speedmaster Moonwatch, which retails for around $7,000, increased in Omega stores by more than 50 percent) after the first internet-breaking and public-disturbance producing Swatch collab? The answer is twofold. First, quite simply, it seems that Blancpain wanted its shot more than rival in-house brands. Second, a Swatch x Blancpain prototype had already been made.
In contrast to Omega CEO Raynald Aeschlimann’s initial reservations when Hayek first mooted the MoonSwatch, Marc Hayek, Blancpain CEO and Nick’s nephew, was apparently dogged in his determination to be next in line. Also, not only did Marc Hayek have the benefit of seeing precisely how beneficial such a collaboration would be after the MoonSwatch’s unparalleled success, as WIRED exclusively revealed in July 2022, the group had already produced a rough prototype of a Swatch version of a Blancpain.
At the time of Project Galileo’s super-secretive beginnings, the codename given to the internal project only a handful of Swatch Group personnel knew about, both a Bioceramic Speedmaster and Fifty Fathoms were crafted for Nick Hayek’s inspection, as well as a version of Omega’s own dive watch, the Seamaster. Given the public recognition of the Bond-linked brand and the guaranteed feeding frenzy that duly ensued, not to mention the singularly legendary status of Omega’s Moonwatch, it was quite sensibly decided that the Omega should be the launch collaboration brand. However, the option of further collaborations was evidently built in to the project, and after the MoonWatch, Blancpain’s Fifty Fathoms is the next obvious contender.
Another factor to consider is anniversaries. Not only is Blancpain right now celebrating its dive watch’s 70th anniversary with a series of special editions, this year is also the 10th birthday of Swatch’s innovative automatic movement Sistem51.
Swatch launched in 1983 and built its reputation churning out cheerful and colorful plastic fashion watches. By 2006, the firm was celebrating its 333 millionth Swatch. Inside each of these was a quartz movement at the time considered a technical marvel: it had just 51 parts, a little over half the number required by most quartz movements.
For the brand’s 30th anniversary in 2013 it wanted to replicate this technical feat, only with an equally affordable automatic (or self-winding) mechanical watch. Mechanical watch movements have around 130 components. Echoing the quartz, Swatch set about developing an automatic that would also have just 51 parts.
It took two years to perfect and shocked the entire watch industry when announced—not just because it dared to feature plastic escapement parts but also for the sheer achievement of creating an automatic watch movement with only 51 parts that boasted a 90-hour power reserve (the norm then was around 40 hours). Not only that, its claimed accuracy of plus/minus 7 seconds a day made it accurate enough to qualify for chronometer status—an honor at the time used as marketing leverage by the likes of Rolex, Omega, and Breitling.
It may be less well known that its stablemate, but it’s fair to say that Blancpain is considered to be a higher luxury brand than Omega within watch circles, which is why Swatch using its automatic Sistem51 movement in this collaboration, and not the quartz offering in the MoonSwatch, makes sense. Watch aficionados prize mechanical movements over quartz.
What’s more puzzling is that Swatch appears to favor repeating the questionable launch tactics it used for MoonSwatch last year. March 26 saw scenes of pandemonium around the globe. London’s Carnaby Street location lasted half an hour before police were called. In New York, scuffles broke out amid rumors of a stabbing in the line. In Singapore a store was forced to shut for 10 days in a bid to let the mayhem play itself out.
Despite this, Nick Hayek has confirmed that the retail rollout of the Blancpain collab will seemingly be exactly the same as MoonSwatch. This week, yellow display suitcases appeared in the windows of Swatch stores around the world, where the watches will go on sale on September 9.
The use of Bioceramic, Swatch’s patented ecoplastic alternative, a polymer made from the oil of castor beans with zirconium oxide, a ceramic substance used for scratchproof, robust, hypoallergenic cases in high-end watchmaking, is also of note. Hayek told WIRED last year that the manipulation of this material is by far the most onerous part of the process. Despite investment in new Bioceramic extrusion machines, as well as more manufacturing equipment, injection tooling, and printing machines, Swatch has seemingly struggled to produce MoonSwatch in volumes to match consumer demand. How it manages to meet MoonSwatch production expectations and Scuba Fifty Fathom ones remains to be seen.
When the Scuba Fifty Fathoms go on sale in Swatch stores on Saturday, perhaps eager buyers will have learned the lessons from the Omega collaboration rollout and exercise some patience. It may be some time before Blancpain’s MoonSwatch moment becomes widely available.
The $400 Scuba Fifty will be sold in the following US Swatch stores: Ala Moana in Hawaii, NY NY in Las Vegas, 5th Ave and TSQ in New York, Powell in SFO, Houston Galleria, Lincoln Road in Miami, Millenia in Orlando, and NorthPark in Dallas.
Jeremy White, Tim Barber