By Roberta Naas | October 1, 2010 | Style & Beauty
Breitling sponsored the Orbiter 3, which circumnavigated the globe at extreme altitudes to test wind patterns, collect data and set records.
Alone in dark Arctic waters, one is grateful for the glow of the luminescent hands on a deep-dive watch. Or for the constancy of an extreme mechanical watch that moves steadily and reliably even in the thinnest atmosphere atop the highest mountain. Like the explorers and adventurers who wear them, these high-performance watches must withstand extreme rigors and deliver flawless performance.
For the past century, watchmakers have pulled out all the stops when it comes to building rugged timepieces for any terrain. 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 for his creation, Rolex founder Hans Wilsdorf had sent the timepiece 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 world’s oceans, the Mariana Trench, with a Rolex Deepsea watch strapped to the outside of the vessel. All these adventurers were accompanied by timepieces that not only kept time for them, but also recorded and authenticated their 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 that of star athletes and enthusiasts.”
Today’s watchmakers continue this quest for perfection. Whether for simple pleasure, serious sport or life-threatening exploration, the market offers myriad timepieces that measure moments to fractions of a second while enduring brutal temperatures and conditions. The most accurate are chronographs and chronometers—watches with multiple functions or exceptional performance. Readily recognizable by the subdials on the face, chronographs not only indicate the time, but also allow the wearer to measure continuous or discontinuous intervals of time, anywhere from a fraction of a second up to 12 or more hours. This enables climbers or 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 exacting precision requirements—the most prominent being those of the Contrôle Officiel Suisse des Chronomètres (COSC).
Officine Panerai sponsored explorer Mike Horn (seen at left with explorer Catherine Meyer) on his expedition aboard the Pangaea (below). INSET: Horn’s Panerai Luminor 1950 Submersible Depth Gauge watch
Today’s adventurers also continue their quest to best physical limits and the records set by their predecessors. And there is virtually no extreme sport or endeavor that can’t be paired with a water-resistant, shockresistant, temperature-defying work of time keeping ingenuity. In October 2008, South African explorer Mike Horn set sail aboard the Pangaea on an expedition, sponsored by Officine Panerai, to visit all seven continents. Known for creating innovative military watches, 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.)
In March of this year, English environmentalist David de Rothschild embarked on a voyage across the Pacific, from San Francisco to Sydney, on a boat that relied on energy from solar panels, wind and propeller turbines. Called the Plastiki, the catamaran was made from approximately 12,500 plastic bottles. IWC, an official partner for the voyage, unveiled the Ingenieur Automatic Mission Earth Edition “Adventure Ecology” 1,000-piece limited-edition watch in 2009 in support of the mission (all pieces sold out). De Rothschild wore a stainless steel version on his wrist for the trip.
LEFT: David de Rothschild’s naturally propelled vessel, the Plastiki, was supported by IWC. INSET: IWC’s limited-edition Ingenieur Automatic Mission Earth Edition “Adventure Ecology” watch. RIGHT: Jaeger-LeCoultre sponsored Geophysic Expedition to perform scientific testing while scaling one of the few unclimbed Himalayan peaks. INSET: The Jaeger- LeCoultre Master Compressor Diving Alarm Navy Seal timepiece
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 summit of Mount Everest—wearing, naturally, two Kobold timepieces. Stéphane Schaffter, who previously scaled the Bonatti Pillar in the French Alps, was accompanied by Apa Sherpa (who climbed Everest 19 times) and Little Karim Balti on the Jaeger-LeCoultresponsored Geophysic Expedition to scale one of the few remaining unclimbed Himalayan peaks. Three Jaeger-LeCoultre timepieces—including a 1958 Geophysic Chronometer and the Master Compressor Extreme LAB 2—went with them.
LEFT: Man vs. Wild’s Bear Grylls wears Bremont watches on all his expeditions, including this one to Florida’s Everglades. RIGHT: Rolex sponsored an Arctic Ocean expedition wherein explorers traversed polar ice fl oes for scientific research. INSET: The Rolex Oyster Perpetual Explorer is a COSCcertifi ed chronometer.
On the DeepSea Under the Pole by Rolex expedition—an unprecedented 800-kilometer ski trekking, ice diving and kayaking journey over the polar ice caps—famed diver and underwater cameraman Ghislain Bardout led eight explorers, scientists and divers across Arctic ice floes to measure ice and snow thickness and collect other scientific data. Members of the group wore Rolex Oyster Perpetual Deepsea watches, descendants of the timepiece tested by Gleitze more than 80 years ago. Even Discovery Channel’s Bear Grylls, of Man vs. Wild, relies on his Bremont watch during his outdoor adventures.
The list goes on, but suffice it to say that these companies are not only 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 the History tor Timekeeping
1822 Nicolas Rieussec registered a five-year patent for a “timekeeper or device to measure the distance traveled, called seconds chronograph.”
1904 Aviator Alberto Santos-Dumont ordered a wristwatch from Cartier so he could read the time without having to release the aircraft controls to view his pocket watch.
1920 Heuer (today Tag Heuer) became the official timekeeper of the Antwerp Olympic Games.
1927 Charles Lindbergh completed the first solo transatlantic flight from New York to Paris. He wore a Longines wristwatch called the Lindbergh Hour Angle Watch
1930 Breitling patented the Vitesse, the first stopwatch with a 30-minute indicator and center sweep hand. Police officers used it to check road-traffic speeds.
1931 Jaeger-LeCoultre unveiled the famed Reverso watch with reversible case, created for polo players.
1953 Sir Edmund Hillary wore a Rolex as he led the first successful expedition to the top of Mount Everest.
LEFT: From Omega, the Speedmaster Professional Apollo-Soyuz 35th anniversary watch is created in a limited edition of 1,975 pieces.
CENTER: This TechnoMarine Cruise Sport watch, a 45mm chronograph, is popular with deep-sea divers.
RIGHT: Royal Oak Offshore Diver watch by Audemars Piguet
1960 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 surface of the Pacifi c Ocean to the Mariana Trench and was still working when the craft resurfaced.
1962 Lt. Com mander Scott Carpenter wore a Breitling during NASA’s Mercury program.
1969 Astronaut Buzz Aldrin wore an Omega Speedmaster when he stepped onto the moon’s surface on July 21.
1970 An Omega Speedmaster enabled the module pilots of Apollo XIII to properly time the fi ring of their rockets for reentry into Earth’s atmosphere after an on-board explosion. Omega won NASA’s Snoopy Award.
1979 Piaget unveiled the Piaget Polo watch, named after the sport. It remains an icon in the collection.
1983 Bell & Ross accompanied Reinhard Furrer in the Spacelab mission.
1997 The Breitling Emergency watch (equipped with a transmitter that broadcast a distress signal to rescuers) helped save the crew of the Mata-Rangi expedition when their reed raft broke up off the Chilean coast in a storm.
1997 Tag Heuer launched the Kirium series, which recalls Formula 1 sports cars
2003 Audemars Piguet sponsored the first European competitor to win the America’s Cup—the Swiss team Alinghi—and created a Royal Oak watch named for it.
2009 Jaeger-LeCoultre worked with US Navy SEALs to create special timepieces.
2010 For the 24th time, Omega served as official timekeeper of the Olympics, timing the Winter Games in Vancouver.
PHOTOGRAPH BY DMITRY SHAROMOV (HORN)