Manufacture Blancpain sent out a note today, announcing the passing of Captain Robert “Bob” Maloubier at the age of 92. A secret agent of Winston Churchill’s Special Operations Executive during the Second World War, he was parachuted into France with the task to sabotage and spy on Nazi forces.
Why would a Swiss watchmaker care about a former spy? We have to go back in time, after the war, when in the 1950’s, Captain Maloubier, together with Lieutenant Claude Riffaud, founded the French military’s combat diving corps, the French equivalent of the US Navy Seals. It was in this capacity that he became a part of the history of Blancpain’s Fifty Fathoms watch.
For his missions, beyond his diving tanks, regulators, masks, fins and wetsuits, Maloubier and Riffaud understood the importance of having a robust and reliable diving watch. After having thoroughly tested watches which were available on the market, they came to the conclusion that none of them were suitable for the task. It was following this experience that contact was made with Jean-Jacques Fiechter, then CEO of Blancpain, who was himself a diver and passionate about the underwater world.
Robert Maloubier describes his dealings with Blancpain thus:
“Finally there was a small watch company, Blancpain, which agreed to develop our project which imagined a watch with a black dial, large numerals and clear indications using triangles, circles and squares, as well as an exterior rotating bezel mirroring the markers of the dial. We wanted at the beginning of a dive to position the bezel opposite the minute hand so as to be able to read the elapsed time. We wanted in effect that each of the markers be as clear as a guiding star for a shepherd.”
Fully embodying this shared vision was the first modern diving watch, named by Blancpain the “Fifty Fathoms”, which debuted in 1953.
The Fifty Fathoms was quickly recognized as a benchmark for military dive watches and it was adopted by civilian divers too such as Jacques-Yves Cousteau in The Silent World. It is noteworthy that a watch created in 1953, responds to the requirements of the NIHS 92-11 (ISO 6425) norm introduced for diver’s watches in 1996, almost 40 years later.
Bob Maloubier, a member of the Légion d’honneur, three times cited for the War Cross between 1939-1945 and since last June, he was recognized as a Member of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II in a ceremony held in Paris.
Here is a short report about Captain “Bob” from 2011, made by AFP: