Two ultra-rare Squale x AWCo Special Editions
Having your roots deep in the watch world comes with its perks. Like when we were approached by Squale CEO Andrea Maggi, with a rather special discovery: 180 new old stock Blancpain Fifty Fathoms cases from the 1950s! And so began an amazing project. There is a lot to cover, so let’s dive in!
By Thomas van Straaten on 4 August 2020
The Squale/Blancpain relationship
While the discovery of this little treasure might have come as a surprise, it is not entirely surprising that it comes from Squale. The boutique dive watchmaker has a longstanding relationship with Blancpain, itself known for being the first to launch a real diver’s tool watch in the Fifty Fathoms back in 1953. (Not the first dive watch as some claim, that credit goes to the Omega Marine ref. CK679 dating to the early 1930s).
Fifty Fathoms back in 1953
From our shoot, by Hilde von Bannisseht
Nowadays, the pinnacle of watchmaking is to do everything in-house. Back in the day, it was much more common for watchmakers to specialize and out-source. In that spirit, Squale started out in 1946 as a case maker. A heritage still honoured today by the double-signed dials featuring “Squale” at twelve ‘o clock for the watchmaker and “Squale” at six for the case maker.
"Back in the day it was much more common for watchmakers to specialize and out-source."
Squale produced cases for legendary brands such as Doxa and Heuer. But perhaps the most famous example is the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms. Just look at the 1970’s “Bund” FF’s from Blancpain and compare the case to the current Squale 1521. You will find several Blancpain models with the “Squale” logo at six throughout the sixties and seventies.
180 NOS cases
Now to our cases. Dating back to the mid-fifties, these are pre-Squale Fifty Fathoms cases. The earliest Squale FF’s date from the sixties. This batch of cases actually made it to Mr. Maggi through a befriended company that used to assemble Blancpain watches. In a sense, it is the world upside down with the original case maker now being supplied with cases by the original client.
These cases are instantly recognizable as Blancpain divers. Measuring in at 34,8mm (no gentlemen, that is certainly not too small for you and yes ladies, you can definitely wear them too!) they were originally used in Blancpain’s MC4 dive watch and a Waltham-branded variant. Both extremely rare and sought-after.
We have managed to track down the original patent filed for this case design. It was signed by Jean-Jacques Fiechter who is not only an established writer, but also co-manager of Blancpain from 1950 until 1980. He supported his niece Betty Fiechter, who managed Blancpain since 1932. The patent was filed in 1954/55 and granted in 1959, dating the case’s actual development to the early fifties. Remember, the very first Fifty Fathoms was only launched in 1953, so we are talking seriously early dive watches here!
The patent shows a design for a waterproof dive watch case with a friction-based bidirectional rotating dive-time bezel and a rather special caseback. It is made up of two separate components. The actual cover and a surrounding ring, screwing it in place. The patent document itself is a charming bit of history, from when legal-language had not taken over the world yet. It is very readable and perfectly understandable for the lay-person.
"The cases are in absolutely amazing state, worthy of the “NOS” moniker."
The cases are in absolutely amazing state, worthy of the “NOS” moniker. They even feature the original acrylic bezel inlays, often mistakenly named “Bakelite”, with a beautiful cream-colored triangle at the top. This is truly unique!
One particularly interesting feature is the tiny sign on the inside of the caseback, reading “Rayville SA”. When, in 1932, the company was sold outside of the Blancpain family, the company had to change its name. It was Swiss law at the time that a family name could no longer be maintained when selling a business. The new owners took the name of the village where the brand resided, Villeret, and remixed it to a more international-sounding “Rayville”.
While Blancpain would remain in use as the recognizable name on the watch dials, the underlying company would now operate under the name Rayville SA (Société Anonyme, the company’s legal structure). Hence the Rayville branding inside of our cases.
How to honor such historic artifacts?
So now we have 180 absolutely beautiful NOS cases from the most crucial era of dive watch development, from one of the most iconic houses of that era. So what do you do? How do you honor such historic artifacts?
Well, by using them as they were intended to be used of course! We teamed up with Squale to develop a one-time batch of very special watches in these original Blancpain cases. An opportunity that presents itself only once.
We decided to use modern-day technology but stick to the design language of the 50’s and 60’s divers. Over the course of two years, we fine-tuned and tweaked until we ended up with three designs worthy of these cases. And now, we are very proud to present them to you. Well, two of them, actually! We are doing three batches of sixty watches, but the last one will take a little while longer to develop. And since these are the only 180 cases available, they will never be produced again. Ever.
So here are the first two AWCo/Squale specials:
The first is nicknamed Subino, Italian for “little sub”, as a nod to the current Italian ownership of Squale and the elegant, vintage-feeling case size of the watch.
It is powered by a reliable ETA 2671 movement. This smaller version of ETA’s well-known calibers allows for the implementation of a rotor. This means we can fit an automatic caliber in a case that was designed for a flat hand-winding movement.
The dial features a 3-6-9-12 dial layout with clean painted stick markers in between. The indices are executed in modern Super-LumiNova C3, in a shade that harmonizes beautifully with the original Blancpain bezel inlay. There is a closed seconds track around the matte black dial, optically divided into four sectors with subtle triangles at 3, 6, 9 and 12. A red line reading “AWCO” brings the whole design to life.
The handset is another nod to the early dive watch era. We have chosen the same pencil style hands you would find on Blancpain divers from the time, completing a congruent and highly attractive aesthetic.
We have paired the Subino with a smart leather strap with a rubber lining.
Limited to 60 pieces.
The second model is the No Radiobino, another nod to early dive watch history. The original Fifty Fathoms was adopted by the French navy as the go-to watch for their special forces frogmen. These watches featured large amounts of radio-active radium lume for optimal under-water visibility. When a civilian version of these watches was introduced, it featured this distinctive yellow and red “No radiations” mark on the dial, indicating the absence of radium.
The matte black dial features diamond-shape, stick and dot indices, characteristic of dive watches. The same pencil-style hand are used, driven by the same automatic ETA movement as the Subino.
The No Radiobino comes on another piece of dive watch history: a NOS steel flat-link Squale bracelet from the 1980s. Ever so slightly under-sized at 18mm in the 19mm lug space. Still, an anachronistic but stylistically perfect match.
Limited to 60 pieces.
A collectable nod to history
It is an honour to be able to design a watch on an original platform like this. It is an opportunity for Squale to ‘return the favour’ to Blancpain. Building a Squale watch in a Blancpain case, which was traditionally done precisely the other way around.
The resulting watches are stunningly beautiful, paying humble respect to their ancestors. Ultra-rare and the perfect addition to any collection. They are also very wearable, fitting a strong, sporty aesthetic in a more subtle, vintage-style case size. Don’t be put off by the modest diameter, we are pretty sure you will fall in love. You will know one thing for sure, there will never be anything like this, ever again.
Update December 2020: Subino and No Radiobino have both been launched and completely sold out (60 pieces each) in the first weekend. Release date of the third model as of yet unknown. Subscribe to our newsletter and follow us on Instagram to be the first to know about it.