Into the Deep
A 3D DOCUMENTARY CHRONICLING FILMMAKEREXPLORER James Cameron’s SOLO JOURNEY TO THE BOTTOM OF THE WORLD’S DEEPEST OCEAN RECENTLY PREMIERED IN NEW YORK—AND ROLEX WAS PART OF THE FANTASTIC VOYAGE, WRITES Melissa Lim
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
CAMERON MADE HIS HISTORY-MAKING SOLO DIVE INTO THE MARIANA TRENCH WITH THE ROLEX DEEPSEA CHALLENGE ATTACHED TO THE SUBMERSIBLE’S ARM
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