By Kien Lee
Since its creation in 1953, the Fifty Fathoms by Blancpain has been the archetypal modern diver's watch. The collection embodies Blancpain's passion for the underwater world that was originally expressed 67 years ago with innovations that have defined the timepiece to accompany diving adventures, missions, both recreationally and military purposes.
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Blancpain Ocean Commitment - A Continuing Commitment
Blancpain Diving Experience_Revillagigedo Archipelago © Mark Strickland
Through its connection and contribution to the underwater world for almost seventy years, Blancpain formally wrapped its efforts under the Blancpain Ocean Commitment (BOC) initiative in 2014, promoting the vast and mysterious marine universe that is the heart of its business, its diver's watches.
Blancpain certainly isn't new to the notion of preserving the Earth, and yet at a time when there is indisputable evidence of climate change and the process of extinction of species, the company's resolve to assist in the discovery of new rich and unspoiled territories offers a resounding message of hope.
Working closely with explorers, photographers, scientists, and environmentalists who share the common cause of oceanic preservation, and forging a deeper understanding of the depths of the unknown, BOC has invested support for oceanographic initiatives and partnerships with leading organizations, including the Pristine Seas expeditions, Laurent Ballesta's Gombessa project, the World Ocean Initiative organized by The Economist, and the World Oceans Day backed by the United Nations.
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Pristine Seas Initiative
Blancpain was founding partner of the Pristine Seas initiative from 2011 to 2016, led by National Geographic Society's Explorer-in-Residence, Dr. Enric Sala. The Pristine Seas effort, as its name suggests, was dedicated to explore and find ways to protect the precious few remaining, truly unspoiled, wild ocean areas. Producing materials that aimed to educate the public and governments on the value and uniqueness of their ecosystems, the Pristine Seas initiative worked to obtain governmental pledges as well as support from local communities.
The program managed to secure protection of marine areas in the United States, Chile, Gabon, Kiribati, Costa Rica, French Polynesia, the Seychelles, northern Greenland, and South America's Patagonia region.
Blancpain Launches 2 New Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe Models
The Chronographe Flyback comes in green inspired by the green of the waters
while the Day Date Desert Edition is in a sandy hue, a first for the collection. Find out more.
Laurent Ballesta and the Gombessa Project
Laurent Ballesta's Gombessa project is unique in which each expedition, and there has been five so far, all take on challenges from three perspectives: technical, scientific, and artistic. Taking on the goal of studying some of the rarest, most elusive marine creatures and phenomena, Ballesta and his team go to (literally) extreme depths to bring back unique scientific data, photographs, and videos.
Gombessa I undertaken in 2013 sought out the coelacanth, a prehistoric fish once thought to have become extinct 70 million years ago.
The next year, Gombessa II took place in Fakarava, French Polynesia where the enigmatic aggregation of the marbled groupers was studied. Gombessa III held in 2015 saw Ballesta going to the Antarctica conduct for a pioneering exploratory, diving and photographic mission, in collaboration with Luc Jacquet, producer of The March of the Penguins. It was the first time a team of technical divers had been able to go beneath the sea ice in this region to deliver the very first naturalist images of Antarctica’s deep-sea ecosystems.
Ballesta was able to create the "hidden face of the iceberg" during a sailing to Antarctica as part of the Gombessa III expedition: an ongoing project intended to advance the public’s understanding of inaccessible and largely unknown underwater ecosystems.
The Gombessa IV Genesis expedition conducted in 2017 returned to Fakarava, where the focus this time round was on the hunting behaviour of an estimated 700 grey reef sharks occurring at the southern pass of the atoll.
The Gombessa V expedition sought to study, photograph, and present to the public little known areas in the Mediterranean Sea, off the French coast throughout July last year. These offshore locales contain biodiversity hotspots found at great depths between 60 and 120 metres and are perfect for exploration, with so much of it still a mystery to mankind.
In order to allow the time to perform a whole series of scientific protocols commissioned by research centers and to illustrate these deep ecosystems, the Gombessa team has developed a world's first: the combination of saturation and scuba diving using closed circuit rebreathers. This was a result of marrying two previously separate techniques: saturation diving and deep recreational diving. The combination of these two techniques makes it possible for the first time ever, not needing to decompress by conducting a four-day mission at one go.
In total, they underwent an unprecedented experience, spending 28 days in a 5 square metre saturation complex and leaving it each day to explore the 100m zone.
The trailer for the documentary, "The Deep Med" has been released, and the early footage provides a stunning insight into the previously unexplored depths of the Mediterranean.
World Oceans Day
In 2013, Blancpain organised Oceans, an underwater photographic exhibition held at the United Nations headquarters in New York, on occasion of World Oceans Day. The installation featured photographs by Edition Fifty Fathoms photographers, as well as images and videos from the Pristine Seas and Gombessa expeditions, providing much needed public awareness and exposure, with more than 100,000 visitors clocked through the gates. This exhibit then inspired the establishment of an annual photographic contest and exhibition supported by Blancpain.
Edition Fifty Fathoms
Launched twelve years ago, the publication pays tribute to the Fifty Fathoms timepiece, and is complemented by 50 double-page photo spreads of the most stunning underwater shots. With 12 editions launched so far, each has seen the enlistment of some of the most luminary underwater explorers numbering a total of 50 to date.
World Ocean Summit and World Ocean Initiative
The World Ocean Summit was another initiative in which Blancpain was a founding partner, throwing in early its support for the inaugural event held in 2012. It also exclusively funded the creation of The Protectors ocean film series, launched in 2018 alongside the expansion of the Summit into a wider and more ambitious World Ocean Initiative.
The "Ocean: The Protectors" series puts the focus on those on the frontline of marine biology, outlining the challenges now confronting us as we explore the world’s oceans.
In addition, Blancpain has created the Hans Hass Fifty Fathoms Award, celebrating excellence in marine sciences, underwater imagery, and underwater technical innovation.
It has also been working world freediving champion, Gianluca Genoni since 2007, with the latter setting multiple records to create awareness, whilst also making fundamental contributions to medical science with experiments at high elevations, under the ice and in the sea.
Fregate Island Private and Coralive.org
In 2018, Blancpain launched an experimental coral restoration project with Coralive.org, located and in collaboration with Fregate Island. This year, it has also supported the first mission conducted by the Mokarran Protection Society environmental association, to observe the behaviour of the great hammerhead shark in the wild, with the goal of identifying and counting its population in Polynesian waters.
Marc A. Hayek, President & CEO of Blancpain, enjoined in this mission, volunteering his time and services as an underwater videographer. In addition, Blancpain launched a 50-piece special series diver's watch dedicated to the Mokarran Protection Society. An amount of $1,000 is donated to the association for the sale of each watch, bringing a total of $50,000 additional monies contributed by the brand.
Ocean Conservation Never Stops
It is impressive to note how Blancpain's trailblazing support of conservation efforts have led to tangible results, with the doubling of the surface of marine protected areas around the world, impressively adding more than four million square kilometres.
The Blancpain Ocean Commitment remains remarkable shining example of how a corporation can emotionally connect its product offering with a compelling proposition, dovetailing a narrative that progresses oceanographic research, public education as well as conservation.
For most of history, man has had to fight nature to survive; in this century he is beginning to realize that, in order to survive, he must protect it."
Jacques-Yves Cousteau - French naval officer, explorer, conservationist, filmmaker, innovator, scientist, photographer, author and researcher who studied the sea and all forms of life in water. He co-developed in 1943 the Aqua-Lung, an on-demand air regulator that would revolutionise scuba diving, and pioneered marine conservation.