A tale of two MILSPECs

A few weeks ago Blancpain surprised us with the Fifty Fathoms MIL-SPEC for Hodinkee. Only 3 1/2 years after the release of the Tribute to Fifty Fathoms MilSpec this is the second 40mm FF limited edition with the characteristic moisture indicator on the dial. Let’s compare the two MILSPECs side by side.

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A step by step comparison

I will compare the 2017 Tribute to Fifty Fathoms MilSpec reference 5008-1130 and the 2020 Fifty Fathoms MIL-SPEC reference 5008-11B30 for Hodinkee in their major components.

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Case

The case diameter between the two watches is identical with 40.3mm. The new iteration is a bit thicker, though: 13.23mm instead of 13.00mm, the reason for that is the bezel.

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The 2017 MilSpec has a high polish case finish, the 2020 MIL-SPEC has a satin brushed finish. This difference has a significant impact on the aesthetic appearance of the two watches, the MIL-SPEC with brushed finish looks a bit larger, the lugs appear a bit broader.

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For the first time a 40mm Fifty Fathoms lacks the Blancpain signature on the case flank with the 2020 MIL-SPEC.

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Bezel & Crystal

The new MIL-SPEC features a coin edge bezel, similar to the Fifty Fathoms Barakuda but with a satin brushed finish. The coin edge bezel is a little bit higher than the serrated bezel of the 2017 MilSpec, it’s shape is significantly different and it creates a quite distinct look from a lateral view.

The sapphire inlay is sitting a bit deeper with the coin edge bezel, which makes it subtle rounding less pronounced.

It is is obviously heavily influenced by the vintage Fifty Fathoms. It however offers considerably less grip than the serrated bezel of the 2017 MilSpec, and let’s not forget that the vintage watches had a different bezel technology: you had to push the bezel down to operate it, so the lesser grip was not that important.

The indications on the bezel are very different between the two modern MILSPECs. While the 2017 MilSpec features the typical Fifty Fathoms rhombus at 0/60, broad numerals and minute markers for the first quarter hour, the 2020 MIL-SPEC features the historic numerals, 5 minute markers only and a triangle at the 0/60 position.

The triangle is a reference to the Tornek Rayville MILSPEC for the US Navy, other vintage MILSPEC watches featured a rhombus.

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The domed crystal appears to be identical between the two watches, the distortion at its edge appears more prominent with the dial configuration of the new MIL-SPEC. Like the sapphire ring, the crystal sits a bit deeper with the coin edge bezel.

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Dial

The moisture indicator is identical with both MILSPECs, everything else is different to some degree:

The 2017 MilSpec dial has a subtle sunburst finsh, smaller hour markers, it shows the JB 1735 logo and of course it features a date window between the 4 and 5 positions. The luminous material is applied thicker and more rounded than with the new MIL-SPEC. Naturally the sunburst finish works perfectly with the luxurious sapphire bezel and the polished case.

The dial of the Fifty Fathoms MIL-SPEC for Hodinkee has a grained semi-matte finish, larger hour markers, it has a signature without logo (like the 2019 releases Air Command, Barakuda and Nageurs de combat) and obviously no date window. The luminous material is applied a little flatter, the color is identical to the 2017 MilSpec, resembling the color of slightly patinated radium like it was used with the vintage FF MILSPEC from the 1950s.

The 5 minute markers are a bit longer than the others on the dial of the new MIL-SPEC, while the dial of the 2017 MilSpec showed all minute markers with the same length.

Hands

The hands of the new Fifty Fathoms MIL-SPEC for Hodinkee have a white lacquer finish and they appear a bit longer than the polished hands of the Tribute to Fifty Fathoms MilSpec. Especially the hour hand seems very large, both in comparison to the 2017 MilSpec and also to the historic timepieces.

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Since there is no historic reference for that large hour hand and given the fact, that on a dive watch the minute hand is a lot more important, I don’t quite understand why this design was chosen. But it works fine with the larger hour indications.

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Movement

The Fifty Fathoms MIL-SPEC for Hodinkee features calibre 1154, which is basically the no date version of calibre 1151, which is used in the Tribute to Fifty Fathoms MilSpec.

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Calibre 1154 has 190 parts compared to the 210 components of calibre 1151, but they both are identically slim with 3.25mm. Both feature a silicon balance spring and provide 4 days of power reserve with the help of two barrels. Both movements operate at 3 Hz and are non-hacking.

They share the same decoration and a similar anthracite coated 18ct gold rotor. The new MIL-SPEC however shows the Hodinkee name next to the Blancpain signature on the winding mass.

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Luminescence

As you noticed I used the Blancpain magazine Lettres du Brassus as a background for many photos. Since the front and back cover of the 2018 issue are luminescent, here’s a combined shot to illustrate the magnificent glow of both watches and the magazine at night. The two different MILSPECs are quite easily identifiable:

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Overall aesthetic appearance

The two watches share some key elements, but they also appear significantly different:

The 2020 MIL-SPEC wears a bit larger optically because of the brushed case and the dominance of the dial over the bezel. Next to the moisture indicator the larger hands and the larger dots and sticks on the dial are the most prominent aesthetic features when you take a quick look at the watch.

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In comparison the dominant aesthetic elements of 2017 MilSpec are the sapphire bezel with larger numerals and the ebony black sunburst finish of the dial, especially when exposed to bright daylight.

Conclusions

I must admit that I had my doubts whether a second MILSPEC within a few years is a good idea. Would it be too close despite the many different details? Would it be essentially the same watch, just with stronger references to the vintage timepiece?

I consider it a huge privilege to be able to experience them side by side. This allows me to answer the above mentioned questions, at least for myself since everyone has their own view on things.

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To me the two MILSPECs are exposing very different characteristics if you look beyond the prominent moisture indicator and the identical size.

The 2017 Tribute to Fifty Fathoms MilSpec is a modern day Blancpain with all the aesthetic depths, luxurious execution and attention to detail one would expect. It is first and foremost a modern day Fifty Fathoms, paying tribute to a heritage piece by re-interpreting some basic elements of it.

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The 2020 Fifty Fathoms MIL-SPEC for Hodinkee stays a lot closer to the vintage ancestor, it is more a re-edition of the vintage watch in a modern day Fifty Fathoms case.

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In essence, both MILSPECs exist in their own right. I personally do not consider the 2020 Fifty Fathoms MIL-SPEC for Hodinkee an improved or a lesser version of the 2017 Tribute to Fifty Fathoms MilSpec.

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The 2020 FF MIL-SPEC on different straps

Since this timepiece is very new I thought I may offer some visual ideas on how the Fifty Fathoms MIL-SPEC for Hodinkee looks on different strap colors as an add-on to this blog post. Here you see it on the Nato strap it comes with and the Blancpain Tropic strap:

Now some non OEM options, all of them Nato straps in different materials and color:

You can find the Tribute to FF MilSpec here and the FF MIL-SPEC here on the Blancpain website. The Fifty Fathoms MIL-SPEC for Hodinkee can also be found here on the Hodinkee website and here in the blog. My 30 months ownership review on the Tribute to Fifty Fathoms MilSpec is available here, my initial first encounter with that watch here in the blog.

I hope you enjoyed the comparison between the two modern Fifty Fathoms MILSPEC timepieces!

Cheers

Henrik

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