By Roberta Naas | September 1, 2010 | Watches & Jewelry
1. This TechnoMarine Cruise Sport watch, a 45mm chronograph, is water-resistant to 200 meters and has a rotating diver’s bezel. 2. The Panerai Luminor 1950 Submersible Depth Gauge has a battery life equal to 500 hours of diving. 3. From Parmigiani Fleurier, this 45mm Pershing 005 Chronograph exhibits influences from the Pershing yacht company, with whom Parmigiani has been collaborating for several years. 4. Water-resistant to 300 meters, the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms features oversize hour markers and hands, ensuring optimal readability under water. 5. Built with an integrated shock absorber, the Ingenieur Automatic Mission Earth watch from IWC is designed to master extreme conditions of any kind. 6. From Audemars Piguet, this Royal Oak Offshore Diver is water-resistant to 300 meters and houses an automatic movement. 7. The 36mm Rolex Oyster Perpetual Explorer has a self-winding movement and is waterproof to 100 meters. 8. From Omega, the Speedmaster Professional Apollo-Soyuz “35th Anniversary” watch is created in a limited edition of 1,975 pieces.
Divers alone in dark arctic waters are grateful for the glow of luminescent hands on a deep-dive watch, much the way hikers find solace in an extreme mechanical timepiece that moves steadily and reliably even in the thinnest atmosphere of the highest mountains. Like today’s explorers and adventurers who wear them, these high-performance watches must withstand extreme rigors and deliver flawless performance.
Over the past century, the globe’s top watchmakers have created myriad memorably rugged timepieces. In the fall of 1927, English stenographer Mercedes Gleitze swam the frigid waters of the English Channel, making headlines for herself—and the Rolex watch strapped to her arm. Believing this swim to be the ultimate challenge, Rolex founder Hans Wilsdorf sent the timepiece he’d created a year earlier with Gleitze. After more than 10 hours in the cold waters, the Rolex—aptly named the Oyster—maintained perfect time and became renowned as the world’s first proven water-resistant watch.
Other challenges and tests have been even more extreme. In 1927 Charles Lindbergh set world records for his nonstop New York-to-Paris flight in the Spirit of St. Louis (timing courtesy of Longines). In 1947 famed fighter pilot Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier in the Glamorous Glennis with a Rolex Oyster Perpetual as his companion. And 13 years later, Don Walsh piloted the bathyscaphe Trieste to the deepest part of the ocean explored by man, the Challenger Deep, with a Rolex Deepsea watch strapped to the outside of the vessel.
All were accompanied by timepieces that not only kept time, but also recorded and authenticated the attempts to break barriers of speed, height, depth and time. “The world of fine watchmaking demands exceptional performance and innovation,” says Francois-Henry Bennahmias, president and CEO of Audemars Piguet North America. “Be it a watch developed for diving, sailing, flying or driving, the talent required to produce these watches mirrors those of star athletes and enthusiasts.”
Today’s adventurers and watchmakers continue this quest for information and the need for perfection. Whether for simple pleasure, serious sport or high-stakes exploration, modern timepieces can measure to fractions of a second and endure extreme temperatures and rough conditions.
The most rugged and accurate are chronographs and chronometers—watches with multiple functions or enduring fortitude. Readily recognizable by the sub-dials on their faces, chronographs not only indicate the time, but they also allow the wearer to measure continuous or discontinuous intervals anywhere from a fraction of a second up to 12 (or more) hours. This enables climbers or free-lake divers to time multiple ascents or descents. Chronometers, on the other hand, are timepieces that, after several days of rigorous testing, are found to comply with the exacting precision requirements of the testing facility (the most prominent being the Contrôle Officiel Suisse des Chronomètres).
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Rolex sponsored an 800-kilometer research expedition across the polar ice caps, wherein explorers, scientists and divers traversed floating ice in the Arctic Ocean; Corum brand ambassador Loïck Peyron is a veteran of 43 transatlantic crossings; Breitling sponsored the Orbiter 3, which circumnavigated the globe at extreme altitudes to test wind patterns, collect data and set records; The catamaran Plastiki relies on energy from solar panels, wind and propeller turbines.
In October 2008, South African explorer Mike Horn set out by boat to visit all seven continents aboard the Pangaea on a four-year expedition sponsored by Officine Panerai. Known for its innovative military watch history, Panerai provided Horn with a Luminor 1950 Submersible Depth Gauge watch. (Panerai also supplied the instruments for the cabin of the craft, including a thermometer and barometer.)
This March English environmentalist David de Rothschild embarked on a voyage across the Pacific, from San Francisco to Sydney, in a boat that relies on energy from solar panels, wind and propeller turbines. Called the Plastiki, the catamaran is made from approximately 12,500 plastic bottles and is designed to make a global environmental statement. IWC, an official partner of de Rothschild’s expedition, unveiled the Ingenieur Automatic Mission Earth Edition “Adventure Ecology,” a 1,000-piece limited-edition watch in 2009 in support of the mission (it sold out). De Rothschild wore a stainless steel version on the trek.
A host of others are equipping themselves with top timepieces for their treks. On May 17, 2010, Michael Kobold, owner of Kobold Watch Company, completed his second ascent to the summit of Mount Everest—wearing, naturally, two Kobold watches. Stéphane Schaffter, who previously scaled the Bonatti Pillar, was accompanied by Apa Sherpa (who has scaled Everest 19 times) on the Jaeger-LeCoultre-sponsored Geophysic Expedition, to scale one of the few unclimbed Himalayan peaks.
Meanwhile, Rolex recently sponsored an unprecedented 800-kilometer ski-trekking, ice-diving and kayaking course across the polar ice caps. Named DeepSea Under the Pole and led by famed diver and underwater cameraman Ghislain Bardout, the expedition consisted of eight explorers, scientists and divers who traversed floating ice in the Arctic Ocean to measure ice and snow thickness and uncover other scientific data. Members of the expedition wore Oyster Perpetual Rolex Deepsea watches, descendants of the timepiece tested by Gleitze more than 80 years ago.
Even Discovery Channel’s Man vs. Wild star Bear Grylls relies on his watch in the wild—a Bremont that’s been a sturdy companion through extreme conditions. The list goes on, but suffice it to say that these companies are not just perpetuating excellence in watchmaking; they are also raising awareness of heroes and acts of heroism while communicating a message of saving our seas, pursuing our dreams, defying the odds and making the most of our time on Earth.
Milestones in Time
Nicolas Rieussec developed the first chronograph and, in March 1822, registered a five-year patent for a “timekeeper or device to measure the distance traveled, called seconds chronograph.”
Aviator Alberto Santos-Dumont ordered a wristwatch from Cartier so he could read the time without having to release the controls of the plane to view his pocket watch.
Heuer (today TAG Heuer) was named the official timer of the Antwerp Olympic Games.
Mercedes Gleitze wore a Rolex Oyster watch on her English Channel swim. It kept perfect time and was considered the first truly tested water-resistant watch.
Charles Lindbergh completed the first solo transatlantic flight, from New York to Paris. He wore a Longines wristwatch called the Lindbergh Hour Angle watch.
Breitling patented the Vitesse, the first stopwatch with a 30-minute indicator and a center sweep-hand. Police officers used it to check road-traffic speeds.
Jaeger-LeCoultre unveiled the famed Reverso watch with reversible case, created for polo players.
Sir Edmund Hillary wore a Rolex as he led the first successful expedition to the top of Mount Everest.
Strapped to the outside of the 50-ton bathyscaphe Trieste, manned by Jacques Piccard and Navy Lt. Don Walsh, a specially made Rolex Oyster traveled 35,800 feet beneath the sea’s surface to the Challenger Deep in the Pacific Ocean and was still working when the craft resurfaced.
Lt. Cdr. Scott Carpenter wore a Breitling during NASA’s Mercury program.
Astronaut Buzz Aldrin wore an Omega Speedmaster when he stepped onto the moon’s surface on July 21.
Omega Speedmaster enabled the module pilots of Apollo XIII to properly time the firing of their rockets for reentry into earth’s atmosphere after an on-board explosion. Omega won the Snoopy award from NASA.
Piaget unveiled the Polo watch, named after the sport. It remains an icon in the collection.
Bell & Ross accompanied Reinhart Furrer in the Spacelab mission.
TAG Heuer launched the Kirium T15 in 1999,which recalls Formula 1 sports cars.
The Breitling Emergency watch (equipped with a transmitter that broadcasts a distress signal to rescuers) helped save the lives of the crew of the Mata-Rangi expedition when their reed raft broke up off the Chilean coast in a storm.
Audermars Piguet sponsored the first European competitor to win the America’s Cup—the Swiss Alinghi—and created a Royal Oak watch named for it.
Jaeger-LeCoultre worked with Navy SEALs to create special timepieces.
For the 24th time, Omega served as official timekeeper of the Olympics, timing the Winter Games in Vancouver.