A Cannes Do
Swiss watchmaker Blancpain heads to the French Riviera for its latest blow-out.
Cannes knows its stars. During the annual film festival in May, the palm-lined idyll becomes a feeding frenzy for celebrities and the camera-wielding hordes who love them. But on a warm night in late September, the shutter-happy crowd jostling for a vantage spot were seeking a photo not of the latest A-list couple but of a new watch.
We were on Îles Sainte-Marguerite, a small island off Cannes that is better known as the place where the Man in the Iron Mask was imprisoned, and the watch at the heart of the crush (and the subject of considerable online chatter for months) was Blancpain’s Fifty Fathoms Act 3.
A vintage-inflected nod to the non-magnetic Fifty Fathoms MIL-SPEC from 1964, the handsome new model, priced at CHF 39,000 (around $43,000), marks the final chapter in Blancpain’s yearlong, 70th-anniversary celebration of its canonical diving watch. It features a matte black dial with a moisture indicator, Super-LumiNova vintage indices and a unidirectional rotating bezel with a ceramic insert and vintage Super-LumiNova diving scale.
What distinguishes it, though, is the casing material. While the original MIL-SPEC came in silver, the new anniversary edition uses a patented 9-karat gold bronze alloy—a gold diving watch? Pourquoi pas?—that allows for direct skin contact without the risk of oxidation.
Inside the case, the watch houses a 1154. P2 movement. Paired with a double barrel, it offers an impressive 100-hour power reserve, but, unlike the MIL-SPEC, the Act 3 allows the movement to be viewed through a sapphire caseback. In a nod to sustainability, and honouring Blancpain’s efforts to protect the oceans, the black NATO strap with a bronze stripe is made from recycled fishing nets.
Highlighting parallel developments in watchmaking and photography, the watch, issued in a production run of just 555 pieces, is presented inside a case that suggests the waterproof boxes of vintage cameras.
The Cannes location for the Act 3 launch made sense, given its place in Blancpain mythology. According to company lore, the Fifty Fathoms was conceived by Jean-Jacques Fiechter, the then co-director of Blancpain and an avid diver, after a diving incident off the coast of Cannes left him critically low on oxygen, on the precipice of death.
Recognising the vital role a specialised diving watch could play, Fiechter created the world’s first true underwater watch and it has remained a star in the Blancpain firmament since.
Its only rivals for attention on the night were Glenn Viel and Christopher Coutanceau, the chefs responsible for the evening’s much-lauded food. (Viel is the three times Michelin-hatted chef at restaurant L’Oustau de Baumanière in Provence and a standard-bearer of sustainable gastronomy; his compatriot Coutanceau, owner of the restaurant Christopher Coutanceau at La Rochelle, which has earned two Michelin stars.)
Notable guests—including Marc A. Hayek, President and CEO of Blancpain, Laurent Ballesta, Founder and Leader of Gombessa Expeditions and the inspiration behind the Act 2 released earlier this year, and Andrew Sharpless, CEO of Oceana, an international conservation organisation—enjoyed the repas served from the multiple food stations scattered around the makeshift venue.
The Fifty Fathoms nomenclature comes from a line in Shakespeare’s The Tempest, but the only suggestion of a storm on this night was a gentle breeze that wafted the unmistakable smell of raclette being cooked over an open fire. No one was complaining.
Even the late-night delay to be ferried back to the mainland, which prompted one attendee to quip that we had been held captive for longer than the island’s famous prisoner, wasn’t enough to dampen the spirit of revellers who were full of belly and satisfied from having spent time in the company of a new star.
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