This post will compare the six 40mm Fifty Fathoms editions, starting with the 2003 FF Anniversary and of course including the two most recent watches, the FF MIL-SPEC for Hodinkee and the Tribute to FF No Rad. Let’s dig into the details and see how the timepieces relate to each other.
The family of six consists of the 2003 FF 50th Anniversary, the 2017 Tribute to FF MilSpec, the 2018 FF Ocean Commitment III, the 2019 FF Barakuda, the 2020 FF MIL-SPEC for Hodinkee and the 2021 Tribute to FF No Rad. Let me start by the defining elements making them a family.
All watches have a stainless steel case in similar size and shape, a unidirectional sapphire bezel, a screw-down crown, a 4 day power reserve movement and are made as a limited edition. That’s it. Everything else bears a smaller or larger degree of variation.
Of course each family member has a different face, but still showing an apparent family resemblance. Since those faces are covered extensively in other blog posts, let’s concentrate on the other characteristics.
Two out the six watches feature a satin brushed case: the OC III and the MIL-SPEC. All others have a high polish finish.
The brushed finish seems to emphasize the rather wide but short lugs a bit more and the overall beautifully curved shapes of the case a bit less than the high polish finish.
The case shape is identical, with the MIL-SPEC being the only family member not showing its provenance on the left case flank.
All watches feature a screw down caseback, and all but one feature an exhibition back with a plain sapphire crystal. The Anniversary has a solid caseback with large engravings of the series (I, II or III), the individual watch number and the celebratory 1953-2003 indication, the others show the individual information on the case back ring.
One obvious difference between the generations in the family is the bezel rim. The Anniversary, MilSpec and OC III feature a serrated bezel, the Barakuda, MIL-SPEC and No Rad a coin edge bezel.
The shape of the bezel rim has quite an impact on the aesthetics: the serrated rim is a lot more rounded, which pronounces the domed shape of sapphire bezel ring and also the domed crystal.
The coin edge bezel is more compact and also a tiny bit higher, the effect being that the sapphire ring looks a bit bigger. This is an optic effect only, the sapphire ring is identical in its shape on all six watches.
Interestingly, the Anniversary is the only family member with polished distance ring between bezel and crystal. All other watches feature a matte distance ring, no matter which case finish the have. The polished distance ring of the Anniversary reflects a little bit more light which helps the pronounciation of the rounded shapes the sapphire bezel insert and the crystal offer.
When it comes to the luminous markings on the bezel we see a lot of variation, even besides the lume color which will be addressed separately in a minute.
Two watches have very unique markings: the Anniversary and the MIL-SPEC. The Anniversary was the very first Fifty Fathoms with a sapphire bezel, preceding the well known FF 5015 by 4 years. The typography is close but not identical to later editions, the markings in 5 minute steps are a bit larger than on all other watches.
The MIL-SPEC is the only other family member featuring a pure five minute graduation. And here we see the typography of the vintage Fifty Fathoms from the 1950s for the first (and only) time in a modern Blancpain.
The MilSpec, OC III, Barakuda and No Rad share the typography, which is also similar to the FF 5015 models. The one exception here is the No Rad, which has a triangle at the center position and a full graduation, the others shows a minute step graduation only for the first 15 minutes.
With the domed sapphire crystal being identical in shape between all six watches, beautifully curved, but also creating some distortion at the outer rim.
The two latest editions (MIL-SPEC and Tribute to FF No Rad) have a different antireflective coating applied, offering a blue hue like Blancpain connoisseurs know from the Leman series.
This coating has a stunning effect: let’s compare two watches with the same dial color and texture, the FF Barakuda (previous coating) and the Tribute to FF No Rad (new coating).
The new coating with the FF No Rad creates more variety in appearance. Depending on light conditions the dial turns into a deep suede like black, an effect that doesn’t exist with the previous coating on the FF Barakuda.
I want to focus on the dial texture in this segment. Within the family we see three watches with a sunburst dial finish (FF Anniversary, Tribute to FF MilSpec and FF OC III), two with a slightly grained matte finish (FF Barakuda and Tribute to FF No Rad) and one with a semi matte grained execution (FF MIL-SPEC for Hodinkee).
The sunburst dials play with the sunlight in a most beautiful way. This dial finish is typical for modern day Blancpain, it has been a vital element across all model families.
The matte dials emphasize the vintage roots, still offering a rewarding view through the loupe with their subtle grained finish.
The FF MIL-SPEC dial is overall bolder in its appearance, deep black under indirect light and a sparkling effect due to the stronger grained finish under direct sunlight.
All but two watches (Anniversary & MIL-SPEC) feature the same set of vintage inspired hands, albeit in different finish. The Tribute to FF MilSpec and the FF OC III share the high polished pencil hands for hours and minutes as well as the seconds hand with an oversized tip.
The identical set of hands, albeit with a beautiful white lacquered finish, is found with the FF Barakuda and the Tribute to FF No Rad.
Similar in general shape and finish, but not in size, are the hands of the FF MIL-SPEC for Hodinkee. Especially the hour hand seems simply too big, and the length of the minute and seconds hands do not harmonize with the strong curves of the crystal, resulting in an optical distortion that unfortunately impacts the readability. The oversized hands play well with the bold character of the MIL-SPEC, but maybe the hands known from the Barakuda and No Rad would have worked better.
The FF Anniversary, which was created in the early 2000s, features the white gold skeleton sword hands previously known from the Trilogy series. They are no less legible than the hands of the other family members, but there is no resemblance to the vintage timepieces to be found with them.
Obviously all watches use Super-LumiNova® as luminous material, varying in color. Two watches , the Tribute to FF MilSpec and the FF OC III, show different SL colors on the bezel compared to the hands and dial, all other watches feature the same SL color on all components.
Those two feature a vanilla color SL on dial and hands, being inspired of the Radium color used in the vintage watches from the 1950s and early 1960s. This rather unusual SL color is a very subtle way to mimic aged luminous material from vintage timepieces, often called ‚fauxtina‘.
More of an obvious execution in terms of mimicking aged luminous material is found with the FF Barakuda and the Tribute to FF No Rad. The SL color used here is called ‚old radium‘, and it it applied for the bezel, the dial and the hands.
Especially with the white lacquered hands this color is a compelling combination. It creates a warmer look than white or green SL and still glows in a bright green at night.
With one exception, namely the FF MIL-SPEC for Hodinkee, all watches are powered by caliber 1151, beating at 3Hz with 100 hours of power reserve. This non-hacking movement is a cornerstone caliber within the Blancpain catalogue, being used in a large variety of timepieces, often as the base for additional modular complications like a full or perpetual calendar.
Since the FF MIL-SPEC for Hodinkee features no date indication, it is powered by caliber 1150. The stripped date functionality does however not change the dimensions of the movement, and it also looks just the same through the exhibition case back.
Keeping all these differences in mind, one can clearly see the evolutionary steps within the family. The FF Anniversary has laid the groundwork, with the Tribute to MilSpec and the OC III being a first group of descendants showing a lot of similarities. The latest generation consists of the three watches defined by the coin edge bezel and white lacquered hands, with the FF MIL-SPEC for Hodinkee being kind of the odd one out.
Each timepiece shows strong individual characteristics, so they co-exist in a very friendly manner. Part of the fun collecting the 40mm Fifty Fathoms editions is playing with a variety of strap alternatives, at least for me.
The FF Anniversary was limited to three series (Asia, Europe and America) with 50 watches each, making it the rarest within the family with a total of 150 pieces.
Both the FF Ocean Commitment III and the FF MIL-SPEC for Hodinkee were limited to 250 pieces worldwide.
The Tribute to FF MilSpec, the FF Barakuda and the Tribute to FF No Rad are limited to 500 pieces each.
I hope you ended this overview on the 40mm FIfty Fathoms editions. Two watches are mossing from this: the two unique pieces for Only Watch. If you want to take a look at those, here’s my overview on all Only Watch timepieces.
You find my initial report on the 2003 FF Anniversary here, my 30 months ownership report on the Tribute to FF MilSpec here, two reports on the FF OC III here and here, my hands-on blog post on the FF Barakuda here, the comparison of the FF MIL-SPEC for Hodinkee to the 2017 MilSpec here and the comprehensive essay on the new Tribute to FF No Rad here in the blog.
All 40mm Fifty Fathoms editions but the FF Anniversary can be found here on the Blancpain website.