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When watches travel to the ends of the Earth
Trend Forecaster

When watches travel to the ends of the Earth

Thursday, 04 July 2019
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Christophe Roulet
Editor-in-chief, HH Journal

“The desire to learn is the key to understanding.”

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6 min read

Omega has just claimed, ad aeternam, the record for the deepest ever dive. A few weeks ago, Vacheron Constantin climbed to the roof of the world. After Panerai with its commandos or Richard Mille and Rambo, “extreme watches” have it tough.

It seemed like a record set in stone. When in 1960, strapped to the outside of the US Navy’s Trieste bathyscaphe, the Rolex Deep Sea Special descended precisely 10,916 metres to the bottom of the Mariana Trench, it earned its place in history. All the more so as it returned from this incredible expedition in perfect working order. “Happy to announce that your watch works as well at 11,000 metres as it does on the surface” read the telegram that Jacques Piccard, oceanographer and Trieste co-pilot, wired to the Rolex head office. In 2012, film-maker and explorer James Cameron (Titanic, Avatar) attempted to go even deeper. Following a system glitch, the Deepsea Challenger submersible, again with a Rolex attached to its manipulator arm, was forced to resurface after coming within a whisker of the record, diving to 10,898 metres.

Victor Vescovo warrants a place among the greatest modern-day adventurers and explorers.

And so it seemed the record would remain unbroken. But that was before Omega and Victor Vescovo came onto the scene. The first half of the duo is known the world over, not least for the Seamaster, James Bond’s dive watch of choice since 1995. The second half is less of a household name – yet warrants a place among the greatest modern-day adventurers and explorers. A graduate of Stanford University, MIT and Harvard Business School, Victor Vescovo served as an intelligence officer in the US Navy Reserve. At the same time, he founded the private investment company that would make his fortune. Not one to shirk a challenge, this jet pilot, helicopter pilot and submarine pilot has completed the Explorers Grand Slam, having climbed the seven highest summits in the world and trekked to the North and South Poles. As if this weren’t enough, he then got it into his head to embark on the Five Deeps project to explore the deepest point of the world’s five oceans. Naturally, a visit to the Mariana Trench was part of the plan. But was Omega?

A golden opportunity

As with NASA, this was a date neither party expected to go on. Vescovo wanted a watch he could take with him on these expeditions, so he stopped by a retailer in his hometown of Dallas and bought an Omega Planet Ocean Chronograph. Omega couldn’t let this golden opportunity go by and came onboard. But there could be no hanging about: Vescovo was in the final stages of preparation. The teams at Omega had six months to achieve the impossible: produce a Seamaster Planet Ocean Ultra Deep Professional capable of surviving the phenomenal pressure of 100 tonnes per square metre. Mission accomplished: three watches were made. Strapped to the Limiting Factor submersible, they descended to 10,928 metres last May and came back ticking. A new record and one that no other submersible can ever beat.

Omega developed a bonding technique that does away with polymer seals.

Without going into all the details of its construction, we can note that the bezel (without the top ring), the case body, case back and crown are built from the grade 5 titanium that was used to make the submersible’s pressure hull. Omega chose Liquidmetal® to ensure firm yet flexible assembly of the sapphire to the case body. This innovative, patent-pending bonding technique does away with the need for polymer seals and also reduces the thickness of the sapphire. The lugs are fully integrated into the case body, with a small gap in the centre to allow flexibility at full ocean depth. The watch has been laboratory-tested at pressure equivalent to a 15,000-metre depth. And it measures just 28mm high and 55mm across. On returning from the Mariana Trench, all three watches – equipped with the 8912 co-axial calibre – were again put through their paces by the Swiss Federal Institute of Metrology (METAS) and passed all tests.

Push back the boundaries

From the depths of the ocean to the summits of the Earth, and more precisely the slopes of Everest where Vacheron Constantin achieved an exploit of its own a few weeks back, on the wrist of climber and National Geographic photographer Cory Richards, one of the faces of the brand’s “One of not many” campaign. Before it could take part in the expedition, it too had to rethink one of its watches and prepare it to endure the conditions that reign on the roof of the world, where temperatures can plummet to -40°C. The result is an Overseas dual time Prototype whose oscillating weight Vacheron Constantin decorated with an engraving taken from one of Richard’s photographs of Everest. “The 41mm case is forged from sturdy and light titanium, while a reinforcement made of tantalum – a particularly hard metal – has been integrated beneath the bezel and the crown protection is reinforced by two titanium guards,” notes the brand. “This model is fitted with a Ventile® technical fabric strap, distinguished by its density along with its exceptional waterproofness.” A soft-iron casing ring protects the Calibre 5110 DT movement from magnetic fields, while the screw-down pusher and crown ensure water-resistance to 150 metres.

The indestructible watch is now reality.

After the Richard Mille RM 25-01, developed for Sylvester Stallone in pure Rambo spirit, and the Panerai Submersible Marina Militare Carbotech, two watches from recent months touted as genuine survival instruments, we have clearly entered an era of invincible watches. Not so much because the number of people who might actually rely on such a thing is increasing; more a pressing need among watch enthusiasts to live life on the edge from the edge of their sofa. The indestructible watch is now reality. The Seamaster Planet Ocean Ultra Deep Professional is an impressive demonstration of technological and technical expertise but at this stage has no real market opportunity. It does, however, push back the boundaries of possibility. Which is exactly what we want it to do.

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