In this post we’ll discuss the Unimatic diver and its homage lines to Blancpain’s Fifty Fathoms.
Let’s dive in.
Blancpain Fifty Fathoms
One of my favorite timepieces has always been the Fifty Fathoms by Blancpain.
Certainly, other watches preceded the Fifty Fathoms as diver watches – Rolex Oyster in 1926, Omega Marine in 1932, and Panerai Radiomir in 1936, but Blancpain’s contribution was the first modern dive watch in that it featured lume, an adequate water resistance, and a unidirectional bezel. The development was part of a joint effort in 1953 between Blancpain and the French Navy’s combat divers.
The Tornek-Rayville TR-900
The desire for military divers was a foregone conclusion and evolved into the MIL-SPEC 2 – the military wish list. Not surprisingly, Blancpain had been chosen to be the official suppliers, but a restrictive “Buy American” policy prevented the brand from supplying its watches to the US Navy directly. US Blancpain rep, Allen V. Tornek, devised a solution. Torney created a US-based company called Rayville. Tornek then rebadged Blancpain Fifty Fathoms MILSPEC-2 to Torney-Rayville TR-900 and supplied the US Navy a total of approximately 1,000 copies. The interest in the Torney-Rayville TR-900 remains high to this day, and on May 15, 2016, Phillips Auction (which you can review here) reported the sale transaction of one of the Tornek-Rayvilles for over $60,000.
Here is Phillips Auction listing:
- Manufacturer: Tornek-Rayville
Year: Circa 1966
Movement No: TR-900
Case No: MIL-W-22176 Serial 0794, Licence 8-5970-6
Material: Stainless steel
Caliber: Automatic, cal. AS 1361, 17 jewels
Bracelet/Strap: Nato strap with compass
Clasp/Buckle: Pin buckle
Dimensions: 41mm. Diameter
Signed: Case, dial, and movement signed
Accessories: Accompanied by a book on the history of Maurice Jacques, a poster of the U.S. troop he was serving for, and a letter from the second owner of the watch
Matt Hranek in his “A man and his watch“, pp 122-123, shows an image of a Tornek-Rayville TR-900 noting “This dive watch is an excellent example of the type of military-specification watches many collectors go nuts for…Around a thousand Tornek-Rayville models were produced, and nearly all of them were later destroyed by the U.S. Navy due to rules about atomic waste disposal (the watches’ dials used radium paint for luminosity).”
There’s a controversial issue in watch collecting, that of the homage watch.
Theoretically, homage could be viewed as a positive – as in Charles Caleb Colton’s well-known quote “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.”
With the rise of “fake” watches, clearly outside the scope of homage, most collectors are not so favorably disposed, and some get downright insulted. Fake watches clearly are anathema to dedicated watch collectors.
But in reality, the appearance of a wristwatch is somewhat limited – you only have so many variables to work with. It is more difficult to produce a watch without the characteristics of popular watches like the Rolex Sub and Explorer I and II than it is to create something entirely distinguishing.
For a truly unique look, you would have to go with something like Alain Silberstein’s creations below.
The Unimatic U1-F
There is no doubt the Unimatic U1-F has similar appearances to the Fifty Fathom. Is it a homage? I would question that even though are similarities. But, you can be the judge. Here’s the U1-F:
Made in Italy, the U1F is powered by a Seiko caliber NH35A running at 21,600 BPH. The 316L stainless steel case is brushed finished and has a screw-down case back. The diameter is 41.5 mm with a thickness of 13.6 mm. As a true diver with 300 meters of water resistance, the U1-F uses 2.5 mm thick double domed sapphire crystal with an anti-reflective coating on the lens inner-side. The watch face is endowed with C1 white Super-LumiNova and the uni-directional security bezel has 120 clicks. A black heavy-duty nylon NATO with signed buckle is featured and the entire watch is delivered in a water-proof, shock-proof tough case.
Everything on the watch is quality. That, in spite of the price at $575.
If you’re interested and don’t have any homage over-sensitivities, you can order direct from Unimatic, or even from Hoodinkee, who has also been representing Unimatic. There are other models also available, and all are very reasonable.