THE DARK ABYSS
Over half a decade since Rolex’s first deep-sea expedition and two years after the Mariana Trench expedition dive led by James Cameron, a 3-D film chronicling the filmmaker’s journey premiered at the Museum of Natural History in New York this August
The deep sea has long generated a profound fascination within us all, and 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% of the ocean space comprising deep sea, our knowledge of what (and who) lurks within this dark abyss is, by and large, limited, leaving potentially millions of species yet to be discovered.
Reaching depths unknown
The stage for many, if not all, deep ocean expeditions was set well over half a century ago, when the U. S. Navy bathyscaphe Trieste, carrying Swiss oceanographer and co- pilot Jacques Piccard, and pilot US Navy Lieutenant Don Walsh, plunged to the unparalleled depth of 10,916 meters. They took with them a third- generation Rolex Deep Sea Special experimental prototype, which was attached to the exterior of the submersible; needless to say, the watch survived and resurfaced in perfect working condition. He famously wrote in a telegram, “Am happy to confirm that even at 11,000 meters 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 decade later, a fair amount of confusion was felt the world around. Indeed, one’s knowledge of Cameron’s underwater escapades appeared to be limited to his direction of “The Abyss” in 1989, and box office smash hit “Titanic” in 1997. On the contrary: what began as a childhood dream developed into a genuine interest, and most recently, was made a reality in Cameron’s adulthood. In addition to leading several deep sea expeditions, he is also a National Geographic “explorer-in-residence” and notably visited the wreckage of the Titanic, some 3,800 meters below sea level, for film research. This was not Rolex’s first foray into nautical escapades, as consistently demonstrated over the last few decades; it has long been a keen supporter of deep sea exploration and marine environment conservation. It has managed to sustain this illustrious and enduring relationship with the ocean, having long advocated the protection of Earth’s natural resources, whilst working tirelessly with marine biologists and scientists to develop tools able to endure the punishing conditions of the deep sea. Having accompanied Walsh and Piccard on their original expedition, it was only natural for Rolex to collaborate
with Cameron on his. “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. 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,” said Cameron.
A diver’s dream
The acclaimed filmmaker initially dreamed up the concept of this expedition up to a decade before, but it wasn’t until 2005 that an expedition to the Titanic wreck sparked a hazy idea. Before he knew it, he was commencing work on the box office hit Avatar, and it was during his lunch breaks and after hours that he spent time on videoconference with Ron Allum, submersible co-designer and pilot. During this time, preliminary design work and material testing began, but it wasn’t until 2010 that Cameron was able to turn his focus onto the project at hand, leaving all of 2011 to build this oneof-a-kind underwater vehicle. Having experienced a bit of a slow start, construction had yet to commence when Cameron arrived in Sydney, where the workshop had been set up, and the vehicle assembly time was ultimately whittled down to a mere three months. “It all flew together in less than two months. It still amazes me because normally, vehicle assembly and electronics integration is a one to two year process on most deep submersible vehicles,” said Cameron. Beginning January 2012, the Deepsea Challenger submersible was put through 13 vigorous test and research dives off the coasts of Australia and Papua New Guinea, before moving on to the expedition site. Weeks later, on March 26th 2012, Cameron made an unprecedented solo-manned dive, spanning 6 hours and 45 minutes in total, to the Earth’s deepest point (10,908 meters) in the Mariana Trench. On top of filming and photography, samples were taken for scientific research including 68 new species, one of which was an amphipod that produces an important compound, which has subsequently been studied in clinical trials for Alzheimer’s disease. Attached to the manipulator arm on the exterior of the submersible was the 2012 Rolex Deepsea Challenge watch. At first glance, this experimental watch may seem rather oversized at 51.4mm in diameter and 28.5mm in thickness (14.3mm of which is the sapphire crystal). This expedition proved its extreme water resistance – up to 12,000 meters – these dimensions are, if anything, on the modest side. 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 center 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 self-winding 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, as well as the release of the documentary, Rolex presented Cameron with his very own Deepsea Sea-Dweller with a striking “D-Blue” dial. Technically speaking, it bears very similar characteristics as the experimental Deepsea Challenge watch; while the Deepsea SeaDweller is already capable of maintaining its water resistance to an impressive 3,900 meters, withstanding some 3.1 tons of pressure, its experimental sibling needs to account for 13.6 tons of pressure at 12,000 meters. 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 dive watch technology, the Deepsea Sea-Dweller D-Blue pays tribute to its legendary brethren and honors its latest accomplishment.
In August 2014, the “Deepsea Challenge 3D” documentary film premiered on limited release and narrated the journey of this expedition from the very beginning stages to the last of its 13 dives in the Pacific ocean. Becoming a box office hit or breaking world records was never the sole purpose here but rather, for Cameron personally, that the public become more educated and aware of the unexplored parts of the oceans, with the film hopefully finding its way into school curriculums one day. When questioned about his legacy, Cameron mused, “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. 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 installments of Avatar up next to direct, taking him all the way to 2018, it may be some time before we see Cameron immersed in another incredible expedition. However, one thing’s for sure, like everything he chooses to be involved with, it will be well and truly worth the wait. In the meantime, he can revel in the fact that only three people – including himself – have ever attained the deepest part of the ocean, while 12 astronauts have walked on the Moon.
This spread from left The 1960 Deep Sea Special experimental prototype watch; James Cameron and Don Walsh; the Deepsea Challenger reaches the bottom of the Mariana Trench with the 2012 Rolex Deepsea Challenge watch attached to its manipulator arm
THIS SPREAD The 3-D documentary film chronicling the entire expedition premiered at the Museum of Natural History in New York