Affordable Vintage: A Tale of Two Private Label Bathyscaphes

Late last year, longtime Worn & Wound reader Marc Sirinsky wrote a guest post about the iconic “Jaws” dive watch in an installment of our popular Affordable Vintage series. It was a big hit with our readers, so much so, in fact, that Marc wanted to write about another vintage piece with a great story. So today, he’s here to tell us all about a two “private label” Bathyscaphes and why you might want to keep an eye out for them.

I’m a big fan of “private label” watches—those timepieces made by one brand for another, and often featuring the latter’s brand name on the dial. Historically, the brands on the receiving end of this relationship were another watchmaker, jeweler, or even a department store. This particular practice started with pocket watches and has continued right up through the present day. Some of the more well-known examples are the “Poor Man’s Heuers,” which were watches produced by Heuer for other brands, among them Aristo, Clebar, Hamilton, Le Jour, Tradition (a brand sold by Sears Roebuck), Tourneau and Zodiac. The great thing about private label watches is the value proposition they offer—they can sometimes be acquired for a fraction of the price of a watch with the original name on the dial, and they are often rarer as well. And I’m nothing if not a price-conscious watch guy with an eye towards rarity.

Some may be surprised to know that the manufacturer Blancpain also engaged in this practice. This is a company that really needs no introduction and is integral to the history of horology. Their Fifty Fathoms model, introduced in 1953, is generally regarded as the first dive wristwatch and has become legendary in the world of watch collecting. At 40mm and up (depending on the model), the Fifty Fathoms was an immediate success in the water.

That success led to the development of a new, but related model for the general public. The watch was to retain much of the stylistic cues and functionality of its brother, but it was meant to be equally at home under a shirt cuff as over a dive suit. In 1956, this vision became a reality with the release of the Bathyscaphe, named for the deep-water diving vessel invented by Auguste Piccard. Note that while many folks conflate these two models, these are two different watches that were originally designed for two different (but related) purposes.

Blancpain Bathyscaphe; Image via Analog Shift.

Both models would evolve, but while the Fifty Fathoms continued to appear in Blancpain’s collection for decades, the Bathyscaphe was much shorter-lived, making it substantially more scarce. During its first year of production, the Bathyscaphe sported an automatic movement and then shifted to an A. Schild1187 manual wind. The steel case measures 34 mm and has a Bakelite bezel. There are both date and no date versions, and early iterations have applied radium markers on the bezel, dial, and hands. Some of the black dials are a glossy, inky black that, when in good condition, look great against those aged, custardy radium markers. It was truly a design for the ages, and aesthetically every bit as beautiful as its older brother.

The most often seen private label versions of this watch feature the Waltham name on the dial. Waltham has its own place in horological history. Along with Hamilton, it was largely responsible for America’s golden age of watchmaking, producing over 40 million watches, clocks, and other precision instruments beginning in the 1850s. Before going out of business in 1957, Waltham founded a subsidiary in Switzerland called Waltham International SA Switzerland, and private label Bathyscaphes were made for this very company.

Waltham Bathyscaphe; Image via Analog Shift

One that I recently added to my own collection was made for the Moeris brand, a company founded in 1883 by two enterprising individuals named Fritz Moeri and Julius Frederic Jeanneret under the name Moeri & Jeanneret. The company received several awards, including an honorable mention at the Exposition of the Horlogerie in La Chaux-de-Fonds in 1881. After Jeanneret’s sudden passing in 1899 (the firm then became Fritz Moeri SA), the company was awarded a special commendation at the Universal Exhibition in Milan in 1906. This new company manufactured its own movements in addition to using ébauches from other manufacturers. The Moeris name then became one of many brands that the company registered, before being absorbed by Tissot in the late 1960s. They are perhaps most well known for a “James Bond 007” watch from 1965, marked as such on the dial and featuring an octagonal case and Sean Connery’s portrait on the case back.

My very own Moeris Bathyscaphe.

It’s difficult to know the precise number of private label Bathyscaphe models Blancpain produced, but it’s clear that other companies had a profound appreciation for the design, however short-lived. In today’s market, a Blancpain-labeled, original Bathyscaphe will set you back anywhere between $6,000 and $9,000, depending on the condition and seller. In contrast, a nice example with a private label can often be had for around $2,000 to $3,500 depending on the watch’s condition and the service history, as well as the seller (and it’s closer to $1,000 – $1,500 on eBay if you can find them there). But no matter whose name is on the dial, strapping one of these to your wrist will elicit a solid nod from even the pickiest of watch aficionados.

Featured Image via Analog Shift.

Related Posts
From time to time, Worn & Wound publishes guest posts from other collectors, experts, and enthusiasts from this account.