This week has been an interesting one on eBay. Yesterday, we covered the sale of an interesting “panda” Heuer Autavia and today we’ll talk about the sale of an equally rare Blancpain Fifty Fathoms. Before we do that, though, I’ll use this article to give an overall opinion on something: eBay. I have contacts that are reluctant to buy on eBay and while I don’t disagree with their concerns, it is, by far, the largest marketplace for vintage watches. Like any marketplace, it’s fraught with con artists and schemers, but there are loads of honest sellers. In addition, there are also those sellers who are clearing estates and have no idea about what they’re posting. This is typically where the deals come in or, conversely, you have those who list at ridiculously high prices because they think they’ve struck gold.  They feel because it’s old, it’s gold – ever watch an episode of “Antiques Roadshow”? In any case, I still contend that eBay is THE place to go to mine for interesting pieces…you just need to know your stuff or know someone else who can provide good counsel.

Blancpain Fifty Fathoms lead shot

Last week, a seemingly innocuous, if you can label an early Blancpain Fifty Fathoms in this way, popped up on eBay Netherlands. It was missing the bezel, was only featured with three so-so pictures, didn’t show any of the movement shots and was shown on a Spiedel-like bracelet (seriously, an article could be written on the pervasiveness of these stretchy hair-pullers and how they show up on ridiculous pieces). So, the watch looked a bit risky and ultimately sold for 4.250,- Euros. Now look, 4.000,- Euros isn’t money to be “thrown around”, but on an iconic piece like this, the parts alone were likely worth the expenditure. The watch was received, opened and this is where the “magic” began.

Blancpain Fifty Fathoms case back

Seller’s photo from showing an original case back with early serial number on the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms

I spoke with Jack Wong, who has a real passion for these early Blancpain Fifty Fathoms, and he shared some details on this amazing piece. You can also find an entire discussion here that captures it in even greater detail. First off, the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms was introduced to the public in 1954, but it was originally designed and released in 1953 as a military piece. The piece in front of us today is actually thought to be one of the first publicly offered Fifty Fathoms. Here’s a brief run-down, courtesy of Jack and some other folks on the forum as to why:

The small dial font is only found on early pieces.  Also, Triangular tips, see the minute hand, were only found on very early models and not seen by the late 1950’s or mid-1960’s.

Blancpain Fifty Fathoms dust cover

Courtesy of and user “briandumais”, the “patent pending” dust cover of the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms

A major giveaway that this is so early: the dust cover is “patent pending”. You can almost feel the new owner’s heart palpatations upon cracking this open for the first time and seeing this!

Blancpain Fifty Fathoms movement

Courtesy of and user “briandumais”, the early stamped rotor and “patent pending” dust cover…an early Blancpain Fifty Fathoms indeed!

A primitive “50 Fathoms” is stamped on the rotor instead of the later “Fifty Fathoms” or “Rayville”.

Blancpain Fifty Fathoms light

A seller’s photo on of the early Blancpain Fifty Fathoms

Note the small 10,20,30, and so on, on the outer edge of the dial at every other hour marker. This is another sign of an extremely early piece.  Apparently, there were two early dial variations: a rail dial (alignment of the “Rotomatic” and “Incabloc” text and another where “Rotomatic” is smaller. Small “Rotomatic” dials are earlier due to lower serial numbers.

Sure, this is a near-forensic accounting of what often goes into defining a watch and the details can be tedious, but think of it like horological archaeology. In my view, it’s fascinating…especially when it relates to what is arguably the earliest true dive watch (for most, there’s no argument).

Blancpain Fifty Fathoms with bezel

Courtesy of and user “briandumais”, the owner has fitted an appropriate bezel and polished the crystal of this early Blancpain Fifty Fathoms

You can see that the owner, who is obviously a fan of the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms, was fortunate enough to already have a fitting spare bezel and the result, after polishing the crystal, is amazing. Smartly, the watch will receive a mechanical service but nothing else.

All in, an investment of roughly $5,000 on this early Blancpain Fifty Fathoms has yielded a watch that would likely sell between $20,000 – 30,000 in today’s market if not more. Whether it’s the earliest piece offered by Blancpain for public sale is debatable, but it’s seemingly the earliest known piece by a well-informed group of enthusiasts. It’s a reminder to keep your eyes peeled; who says eBay is only filled with danger?

Images of the bezel-less Blancpain are from and seller “nl_vaner”.

Images of the watch after receipt are from and user “briandumais”.

  • Romeo

    Yowser, what a find! And for a mid-fifties watch, it looks to be 40mm or larger, although that’s a huge bezel for the watch.

  • Vic

    I think the watch is stunning and clearly à must have for any Blanpain collector. I must agree on the editors view that eBay can be a great “mine” to source new buys.

    Having said that I think a collector has a moral obligation. Let me elaborate on that. I collect watches made in the 50-60 before as a collector your worst buy is a Franken watch or a “real” fake one. When buying a watch on eBay/dealer fair etc. every well respected collector does his intensive DD. In order to have a clear view on the risk/ reward. clearly the buyer of this watch is a respected collector. He even had a spare Bazel which is very hard to find. Clearly he knows the value of the watch which is significantly higher.( see articulate 20k-30k editors guess). I have serious doubts that the seller knew he had such a collectors piece.

    I can imagine if I was the seller and just read the article, I would be Furious. (Understatement) . The buyer even left a post on eBay as great seller!

    For the collectors point of view It’s a buy of a life time. He even posted it on several websites. (See artical)

    There is only one thing the buyer forgot in his DD. He bought the watch from a Dutch seller. Dutch consumers buyers and sellers are well protected by law. To give you a short insight of this law in respect to this artical. The seller in this case has some grounds to reclaim his watch. If he can prove he didn’t knew the fair value of the watch. I strongly advice the seller to go to a lawyer!

    I don’t consider myself as a Robin Hood but wanted to make clear that this is not a buy I would be proud of myself.

    For fratellowatches, by my knowledge the founding partners are Dutch, maybe you can take the lead in finding the seller and tell him what he sold and help him.

    I always enjoy visiting I think it’s one of the best sites on watches.



    • Vic,

      Thanks for the note. Interesting comment…. Note that I’m neither Dutch nor a lawyer, so this is purely my opinion.

      First off, my assumption of the value of the watch in total is absolutely with the bezel…sure, it’s worth something without, but it’s worth a lot more with it. Try to source an early Blancpain FF bezel…it’s not easy. Additionally, the watch needs work which isn’t free either. As a comparison, think of a Rolex without the right dial and in need of repair…worth something on its own but nowehere near as much without the correct dial and a proper (sometimes very expensive) service.

      Second, and again, I have no idea about the law in the Netherlands nor the terms and conditions within eBay Netherlands, but it seems amazing to me that the law would protect a sale not transacted duress, one that was properly labeled/categorized, one that was openly public, and globally available…for 7 days (a fair and reasonable term)! I’d think eBay would be in the middle of thousands of such disputes with sellers who later realized that their item sold for “under market value”.

      Speaking of the market value, watches, much like any collectible, are only worth what the market will pay…and we do sometimes see consistency but there are plenty of instances where there is variation, especially when it comes to vintage. Here, again, in my opinion, the piece was openly available for a reasonable period and the market spoke…no one else was interested in a rather ratty looking timepiece.

      Lastly, I’ll go and read the link I referred to, but I certainly didn’t see any bragadoccio on the part of the buyer. He took a risk in buying a timepiece (on another continent, by the way) that didn’t feature an internal picture and took a sizeable risk…again, 4,000+ Euros isn’t chump change…and was fortunate that the watch was complete internally.

      If Dutch law truly protects a seller under any
      circumstance whatsoever, the next time I visit my Fratelli teammates in
      the NL, I’ll be careful not to remark that my steak or beer tasted 2-3x
      better than the price I paid. I’d hate to have to return them! 😉

      Like I said, though, thanks for the comment…always interesting to hear differing points of view!