The Rolex Submariner is probably not only the most famous diving watch of all time, but the most famous watch ever, period. The Blancpain Fifty Fathoms on the other hand, although more of a timepiece for connoisseurs, is no less iconic. Both watches are turning 70 years old this year, and we’re comparing these two greatest diving watches of all time based on five categories to declare once and for all: Which of them is better?
1. Rolex Submariner vs. Blancpain Fifty Fathoms: Heritage
Heritage plays a major role with timepieces, especially when it comes to luxury watches. We don’t just want any old watch on our wrist; we desire something special that’s a part of history. That’s why it’s no surprise that the Rolex Submariner remains in the hearts of enthusiasts to this day, and even turns the heads of those who aren’t (yet) into watches. This diving watch has held a place in pop culture since its debut in 1953, cementing its legacy once and for all with its appearance on the wrist of Sean Connery in the first Bond movie.
And the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms? Well, although these days this diving watch is more for aficionados, in no way does it play second fiddle to its Rolex counterpart. The iconic Blancpain appeared prior to the Rolex Submariner in 1953, and was well ahead of it in some regards. It’s credited with being the first watch to have a unidirectional rotating bezel (which was based on a Blancpain patent). This critical safety feature for divers, and something every watch lover expects on a diving watch, was on the Fifty Fathoms from day one.
It would take Rolex decades (yes, decades) before it started equipping the Submariner with a unidirectional bezel. So although the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms might not spend as much time in the pop culture spotlight, it’s historically speaking at least as important as the Rolex Submariner.
2. Rolex Submariner vs. Blancpain Fifty Fathoms: Design
One of the big arguments for purchasing a Rolex Submariner is its timeless design: It’s an absolute style icon. Its modern 41-mm case looks good on just about any wrist. Its dive bezel is made entirely of ceramic, and the Oyster bracelet on the six-digit references has never looked better on this iconic diving watch.
And what makes this icon so good is, even with such modern features, the Rolex Submariner is a traditionally designed watch through and through that remains true to its roots to this day. Compare the current-model Submariner to older references, and you’ll see the subtle changes made over the years only at second or even third glance.
The Blancpain Fifty Fathoms is also very similar to its original 1953 model. And compared to the Rolex Submariner, the Blancpain is probably even a smidge more traditional. Without taking a very close look, you might even think it’s the original edition of the legendary diving watch. But look again, and you’ll see a watch whose latest reference is perfect for today, made of the highest-quality materials. It also comes with an extremely high-quality stainless steel bracelet upon request.
The Fifty Fathoms design is as uncompromising as any you’ll find in the world of watches. At 45 mm across, more than 15 mm thick, and 50 mm lug-to-lug, this is definitely not a watch for small wrists. That was also the case upon its introduction in 1953 when it was 42 mm in size, big for its time. Could it be that sticking to a large size is something that’s made the Fifty Fathoms less popular than the Submariner?
3. Rolex Submariner vs. Blancpain Fifty Fathoms: Technology
As traditional as the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms might seem, its current reference delivers everything you want in a modern wristwatch. It features an in-house caliber with five days of power reserve, along with sapphire crystal, which anyone would expect in such a fine timepiece. You’ll of course also get 300 meters (30 bar, 984 feet) of water resistance.
It’s no different with the Submariner, which also has an in-house caliber, sapphire crystal, and equal measure of water resistance. Neither of these diving watches will disappoint when it comes to technical specifications. Of note however is that the Rolex delivers “only” 70 hours of power reserve. Although standard by today’s criteria, this is in fact only around half of what its Blancpain counterpart offers.
The large case size and indices, as well as its Arabic numerals, also make the Fifty Fathoms a bit more legible than the Rolex Submariner, which on the other hand picks up a point or two with its iconic Cyclops lens. This not only makes the date easier to read, it also gives you that extra something. It’s no surprise that the Cyclops lens is one of Rolex’s most famous signature features. In any case, whichever watch is your favorite, both pack a serious punch on the technology front.
4. Rolex Submariner vs. Blancpain Fifty Fathoms: Quality
Let’s be frank: Both of these watches have some of the best quality out there. They’re unquestionably two of the best in the world of diving watches. And even though the quality of the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms is without a doubt something to marvel at, when it comes to finishing and haptics, Rolex remains the uncontested champion. The Submariner offers a haptic experience that you will find nowhere else. While the Oyster bracelet sits softly and smoothly on your wrist, the contours of the case are bold and sharp.
The Glidelock clasp clicks firmly shut with an extremely satisfying sound that is (perhaps) outdone only by the “snick” of its famous ceramic bezel. It’s wonderful to use, and will give you goosebumps with every one of its 120 clicks. The dive bezel on the current Rolex Submariner is in my opinion still the best one on the entire watch market.
5. Rolex Submariner vs. Blancpain Fifty Fathoms: Price and Price Performance
The latest Rolex Submariner Date currently lists at over $10,000, while the no-date model changes hands for just over $9,000. Actual market prices however are around $14,000 for an unworn model. Although the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Automatique on a steel bracelet has an official list price of over $18,000, you’ll be able to find an unworn model for noticeably less at around $12,000.
Even though the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms saw an impressive price increase in 2022, the Rolex continues to have the edge in terms of price performance. Thanks to its continued popularity and more everyday wearability and design, the Submariner is in fact the watch out of these two for which you’ll more easily find a buyer should you decide to sell it. This will most likely remain the case regardless of how the Blancpain continues to perform.
So which diving watch icon is the best?
So which of these diving watches is the best of the two? It’s a very close call, to be honest. Even though the Rolex Submariner is clearly the more popular timepiece, upon its original release, the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms was well ahead of its time. These watches are neck-and-neck when it comes to heritage and technology, which are simply amazing with both timepieces.
Even if I don’t factor in price performance, I would have the Rolex a little bit ahead in terms of design and quality. While the Submariner is going to fit just about every wrist and match every outfit, the 45-mm Blancpain is a little too uncompromisingly on the big side. I’m giving the nod to the Rolex Submariner as our winner, most notably thanks to it having the best diving bezel on the entire watch market. Nevertheless, it’s been a wonderfully close race between two iconic horological giants.