Into the Deep


Hong Kong Tatler - - Watches -

The deep sea has long gen­er­ated a pro­found sense of fascination. While one might have grown ac­cus­tomed to the se­cu­rity and sus­tain­abil­ity of life on land, the space that runs be­neath the deep blue sea is a ver­i­ta­ble trea­sure trove of life and has long been left over­looked. De­spite roughly 85 per cent of the ocean space com­pris­ing deep sea, our knowl­edge of what lurks within this dark abyss is limited, leav­ing po­ten­tially mil­lions of species yet to be dis­cov­ered.

The stage for many deep-ocean ex­pe­di­tions was set well over half a cen­tury ago, when the US Navy bathy­scaphe Tri­este, car­ry­ing Swiss oceanog­ra­pher Jac­ques Pic­card and US Navy lieu­tenant Don Walsh, plunged to the un­par­al­leled depth of 10,916 me­tres in the Pa­cific Ocean’s Mar­i­ana Trench in 1960. They brought along a third-gen­er­a­tion Rolex Deepsea Spe­cial ex­per­i­men­tal pro­to­type, which was at­tached to the ex­te­rior of the sub­mersible; need­less to say, the watch sur­vived and resur­faced in per­fect work­ing con­di­tion. Pic­card fa­mously wrote in a tele­gram to Rolex, “Am happy to con­firm that even at 11,000 me­tres your watch is as pre­cise as on the sur­face. Best re­gards, Jac­ques Pic­card.”

When Academy Award-win­ning film di­rec­tor James Cameron an­nounced his in­ten­tion to reach the bot­tom of the Mar­i­ana Trench on the first-ever solo dive half a cen­tury later, peo­ple were sur­prised—to


most, Cameron’s un­der­wa­ter es­capades were limited to his di­rec­tion of 1989’s The Abyss and 1997’s Ti­tanic. But car­ry­ing out un­der­wa­ter ex­plo­ration has been a dream of Cameron since child­hood. In ad­di­tion to lead­ing sev­eral deep-sea ex­pe­di­tions, Cameron is also a Na­tional Ge­o­graphic “ex­plorer-in-res­i­dence” and vis­ited the wreck­age of the Ti­tanic (some 3,800 me­tres be­low sea level) a num­ber of times while re­search­ing his film.

Like Cameron, Rolex has a his­tory of in­ter­est in nau­ti­cal ex­plo­ration; it has long been a keen sup­porter of deep-sea ex­plo­ration and con­ser­va­tion of the marine en­vi­ron­ment. The brand has long ad­vo­cated the pro­tec­tion of Earth’s nat­u­ral re­sources, all the while work­ing tire­lessly with marine bi­ol­o­gists and sci­en­tists to de­velop tools able to en­dure the pun­ish­ing con­di­tions of the deep sea.

Given that a Rolex ac­com­pa­nied Walsh and Pic­card on their orig­i­nal ex­pe­di­tion, it was only nat­u­ral for the brand to col­lab­o­rate with Cameron. “My re­la­tion­ship with Rolex is based on the re­spect I have for the in­tegrity of what it does, and what it rep­re­sents in terms of mak­ing his­tory and be­ing a part of his­tory,” says Cameron. “They are es­sen­tially cre­at­ing a sym­bol we can wear and take with us that is sym­bolic of that in­tegrity, that sense of pur­pose, the pre­ci­sion of the de­sign. I never take my watch off; it’s al­ways with me. This part­ner­ship was a beau­ti­ful book­end to the his­tory Rolex made in 1960 when it was in­volved with the Tri­este dive and it was such a pow­er­ful sym­bol of that time.”

Cameron con­ceived the idea of de­sign­ing a one-of-a-kind un­der­wa­ter ve­hi­cle for a dive to the bot­tom of the Mar­i­ana Trench dur­ing a 2005 ex­pe­di­tion to the wreck of the Ti­tanic. He was busy work­ing on the film Avatar at the time, so it was only dur­ing lunch breaks and after hours that he could dis­cuss plans via video­con­fer­ences with sub­mersible co-de­signer Ron Al­lum. Dur­ing this time, pre­lim­i­nary de­sign work and test­ing of ma­te­ri­als be­gan. It wasn’t un­til 2010 that Cameron was able to give his full at­ten­tion to the project, with all of 2011 set aside to build and test the Deepsea Chal­lenger.

Con­struc­tion had yet to com­mence when Cameron ar­rived at the spe­cial con­struc­tion work­shop set up in Syd­ney. But things pro­gressed quickly. “It all flew to­gether in less than two months,” re­calls Cameron. “It still amazes me be­cause nor­mally, ve­hi­cle LIKE CAMERON, ROLEX HAS LONG BEEN A KEEN SUP­PORTER OF DEEP-SEA EX­PLO­RATION AND MARINE CON­SER­VA­TION

assem­bly and elec­tron­ics in­te­gra­tion is a one- to two-year process on most deep sub­mersible ve­hi­cles.”

Be­gin­ning in Jan­uary 2012, the Deepsea Chal­lenger was put through 13 rig­or­ous test and re­search dives off the coasts of Aus­tralia and Pa­pua New Guinea be­fore mov­ing to the ex­pe­di­tion site near Guam. Cameron made his his­tory-mak­ing solo dive into the Mar­i­ana Trench on March 26, 2012, tak­ing six hours and 45 min­utes to reach the Earth’s deep­est point and re­turn. On top of film­ing and pho­tog­ra­phy, 68 new species were found in the sam­ples taken dur­ing the dive. One of the sam­ples, an am­phi­pod, pro­duces a com­pound that is be­ing tested as a treat­ment for Alzheimer’s dis­ease.

Through­out the his­toric dive, a 2012 Rolex Deepsea Chal­lenge watch was at­tached to the ma­nip­u­la­tor arm on the ex­te­rior of the sub­mersible. At 51.4mm in di­am­e­ter and 28.5mm thick (14.3mm of which is the sap­phire crys­tal), this ex­per­i­men­tal watch may seem rather large. But th­ese di­men­sions are mod­est when you con­sider the 13plus tonnes of pres­sure the watch had to with­stand. The ex­pe­di­tion proved its ex­treme wa­ter re­sis­tance—up to 12,000 me­tres.

The patented three-piece case com­prises a sturdy ni­tro­gen-al­loyed stain­less steel support ring act­ing as a back­bone for the watch, and is placed in the cen­tre case to support the hefty sap­phire crys­tal, as well as the 5.3mm screw-down ti­ta­nium case back. The Triplock screw-down wind­ing crown is equipped with a triple-wa­ter-resistant sys­tem that is found on all Rolex divers’ watches. The Deepsea Chal­lenge also fea­tures

a uni­di­rec­tional 60-minute grad­u­ated bezel with a Cer­achrom in­sert in ce­ramic with Chro­ma­light hands and mark­ers. The self­wind­ing Cal­iber 3135 bears a para­m­ag­netic blue Parachrom hair­spring, and the watch is fit­ted with a clas­sic solid-link Oys­ter bracelet and clasp with the Rolex Glide­lock and Fli­plock div­ing ex­ten­sion sys­tems.

To com­mem­o­rate the 2012 ex­pe­di­tion and re­lease of the doc­u­men­tary, Rolex pre­sented Cameron with his very own Deepsea Sea-dweller with a strik­ing D-blue dial. Tech­ni­cally, it has sim­i­lar char­ac­ter­is­tics to the ex­per­i­men­tal Deepsea Chal­lenge watch; while the Deepsea Sea-dweller is al­ready ca­pa­ble of main­tain­ing its wa­ter re­sis­tance to an im­pres­sive 3,900 me­tres, with­stand­ing some 3.1 tonnes of pres­sure, its ex­per­i­men­tal sib­ling needs to ac­count for 13.6 tonnes of pres­sure at 12,000 me­tres. It’s a tes­ta­ment to Rolex’s tech­ni­cal de­sign that the Deepsea Chal­lenge watch only re­quired a scal­ing of its di­men­sions to cope with the more ex­treme con­di­tions. On the new Deepsea Sea-dweller, Rolex de­vel­oped a new gra­di­ent dial that fades from blue to black, rep­re­sent­ing the ocean’s twi­light zone, where light be­gins to melt away, while the green print is in­spired by the strik­ing Kawasaki green of Cameron’s sub­mersible. By em­ploy­ing the lat­est in di­ve­watch tech­nol­ogy, the Deepsea Sea-dweller D-blue pays trib­ute to its leg­endary brethren and hon­ours its lat­est ac­com­plish­ment.

The doc­u­men­tary Deepsea Chal­lenge 3D, which tells the story of Cameron’s project from its in­cep­tion to the last of the

ve­hi­cle’s 13 dives, pre­miered in Au­gust at the Mu­seum of Nat­u­ral His­tory in New York. But be­com­ing a box of­fice hit and break­ing world records is not the pri­mary pur­pose. Rather, Cameron wants to make the pub­lic more aware of the un­ex­plored depths of the oceans and hopes the film will make its way into school cur­ricu­lums.

On his legacy, Cameron muses, “For the long­est time I was in­tro­duced as a film­maker—but now I am as a film­maker and ex­plorer. When I cre­ate a film, it’s for ev­ery­one else. But ex­plo­ration is for my­self, and it’s en­ter­tain­ing for me. It’s funny, be­cause I’ve only di­rected eight films, not in­clud­ing doc­u­men­taries, but I’ve also done eight deep ocean ex­plo­rations. I almost wish I had two lives to lead, so I could do all of one and all of the other, but that’s the prob­lem when you’re cu­ri­ous about cer­tain things.” He con­tin­ues, “Movies give you ac­cess to peo­ple and en­vi­ron­ments, and things that I’m fas­ci­nated by. But so does just go­ing and build­ing a ro­botic ve­hi­cle and sub­mersible—go­ing ex­plor­ing. I never thought I’d be build­ing a sub and get­ting in it, but I couldn’t imag­ine any­thing more fun. If you asked me 20 years ago if I was go­ing to be do­ing this, I would’ve thought you were crazy.”

With three more in­stal­ments of Avatar to di­rect, which should keep Cameron busy un­til 2018, it may be some time be­fore we see him im­mersed in another in­cred­i­ble ex­pe­di­tion. In the mean­time, Cameron can revel in the fact that he is only the third per­son in his­tory to have reached the deep­est part of the ocean.

The 2012 Rolex Deepsea Chal­lenge

un­der­wa­ter show Cameron’s doc­u­men­tary chron­i­cling the ex­pe­di­tion pre­miered at the Mu­seum of Nat­u­ral His­tory in New York in Au­gust

MEAN MA­CHINE Cameron con­ceived the idea of de­sign­ing a one- of- a- kind un­der­wa­ter ve­hi­cle for the 2012 Deepsea Ex­pe­di­tion

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