In a letter to the editor published in The New York Times in 1959, a reader responded to a recent article reporting that traces of radiation had been found on a Pan Am transatlantic flight – but that a Public Health Services investigation found the radiation levels to be less than that of a wristwatch coated in radium paint. This reader was curious, “If the statement is based on fact, shouldn’t the Public Health Service also be investigating radium dial watches?”
The use of radium in watches became a hot button safety issue in the 1960s, as our New York Times reader was somewhat early to point out (though the dangers were certainly known at that time). The mid-century radium scare, however, did result in one of the most iconic dive watches ever produced by Blancpain.
Now, Blancpain’s entry into the world of dive watches is a fascinating story, and one highlighted in a recently released documentary – one that I found to be immensely entertaining. In short, Blancpain was an early contractor with the American (under the name Tornek-Rayville), French, and German military – supplying its Fifty Fathoms for underwater use by their various navies. These watches, referred to as Mil-Spec, were designed to – well – military specifications. Those specifications outlined a litany of requirements such as an automatic winding movement, as well as the materials used.
When it came to the luminous application, the brand was effectively bound by those specifications which called for radium. However, as the 1960s arrived, and it became evident just how dangerous radium was (and the negative health effects it could have on those who became exposed to it), the brand made a change.
This is when Blancpain introduced one of its most iconic versions of the Fifty Fathoms – the “No Radiation” dial variant. The watch was designed to clearly identify that the dial wasn’t using radioactive materials for its lume. And how did it communicate that? By including a large colorful stamp, in yellow and red, with lines crossing through the radiation trefoil symbol, reading “No Radiations.” Pretty clear.
Well, now, over a decade later, Blancpain is introducing a “No Radiations” revival: The Blancpain Tribute to Fifty Fathoms No Rad Limited Edition.