This is one of the paradoxes in the history of exploration: we know the Moon better, despite the distance of 400,000 kilometers from it from Earth, than the ocean floor just 10 kilometers below the surface. But if it is necessary to fight on one side against the interstellar vacuum, on the other it is a colossal pressure that it is necessary to face. Result, while twelve astronauts set foot on the star of the night between July 1969 and December 1972, only four men managed to exceed the depth of 10,000 m in six decades.
The pioneers were the Swiss oceanographer Jacques Piccard and the American naval officer Don Walsh. On January 23, 1960, there will soon be 60 years to the day, they managed to descend to -10,916 m on board the Trieste bathyscaphe. The selected location, the Marianas Trench in the Pacific Northwest, then remained virgin for a long time and was only disturbed by the brief passage of rare underwater robots.
We can also note that the deepest point of this area of the world discovered in 1875, nicknamed Challenger Deep, remains subject to controversy: in 1951, British researchers had first estimated it at -10 900 m before than the Russians placed it at -11,034 m in 1957.
In 1995, a Japanese probe recorded a maximum depth of -10,911 m. And if another robot landed on the bottom at -10,902 m in 2009, another device recorded soon after a value of -10,971 m.
In short, on March 26, 2012, filmmaker-explorer James Cameron was not sure of the depth he would be able to reach aboard his experimental underwater torpedo.
For two hours and 36 minutes, the 8-meter-long craft sank gradually into the black water, until Cameron saw the bottom of the Marianas pit appear before his eyes. If he thought he had reached 10,898 m below the surface, further calculations reassessed his performance at -10,908 m.
Why this variation? The technique used to perform the deep water calculations based on acoustic waves, parameters such as water pressure, temperature or salinity rate can disturb the measurements. This uncertainty thus feeds the debates on the Challenger Deep of which one will perhaps never know the exact figure, even if computer models will undoubtedly allow to approach the truth.
Even at -10,908 m, the record for the Piccard-Walsh tandem was not beaten, or even equaled, but the American could claim to be the first man to have attempted this feat alone.
Between the expeditions carried out on board the 1960 bathyscaphe and the 2012 torpedo, almost half a century had passed. It only took seven years to witness a third attempt.
Once his success was assured thanks to brilliant studies (Stanford, MIT, Harvard), then to his success in the world of finance, this Texan who was also an officer in the army turned to extreme sports. Fascinated by the world of high mountains, he became a mountaineer and embarked on the challenge of the “Seven Summits”, that is to say successfully climbing the highest peaks of each continent.
Subsequently, to his surprise, the intrepid Texan realized that no one had thought of applying this principle to the conquest of the deep sea. He then became an underwater explorer, adding to the pioneering side research and bathymetric mapping as part of a program called “The Five Deeps Expedition”.
In December 2018, at the controls of a specially designed submersible, he began by reaching the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, -8,400 m, off Puerto Rico.
Then he continued with the exploration of the South Sandwich pit in the Southern Ocean (-7,437 m), before tackling the Java pit in the Indian Ocean (-7,192 m).
If these three successive manned dives were already remarkable, they represented only a kind of training or general rehearsal before the supreme challenge: the absolute record of depth.
Obviously, he headed for the inescapable Marianas pit in the Pacific, at the head of his team installed aboard a 68-meter scientific vessel, the DSSV (Deep Submersible Support Vessel) Pressure Drop .
But on April 28, 2019, it was alone that he slipped into the narrow cabin of his submarine, the Limiting Factor . For three and a half hours, the science fiction craft sank vertically. Then Victor Vescovo finally saw the ocean floor through portholes. While three small robots were taking samples, he was able to feast for almost four hours on the spectacle offered by the abyss, illuminated as in broad daylight by powerful searchlights. If he could observe living creatures (at least three new species were identified later, including a crustacean), he also discovered, to his great disappointment, a vestige of human activity, a piece of plastic or metal placed on the bottom…
But when the time came to climb to the surface, to the light, to the Pressure Drop , a number remained fixed in his memory: 10,928 m. Record of depth beaten.
The depth of time
As with each new exploit, Victor Vescovo suspected that the performance would be analyzed, that the figure would be debated, even contested, due to the calculation methods mentioned above. But if the devices measuring the depth remained questionable, the explorer had chosen to accompany him in his adventure an instrument with certified precision: a watch. An Omega Seamaster Planet Ocean Ultra Deep Professional.
For the Swiss watch brand, venturing into the heart of the oceans was not a first. But its president and CEO, Raynald Aeschlimann, became passionate about the project of Victor Vescovo to the point of visiting him during the preparation of the expedition The Five Deeps.
Between Omega and the underwater adventure, it was indeed an ancient story since it all started in 1932 with the creation of a Marine model, considered by the manufacturer as the first consumer diving watch. It was however an exceptional man who immediately offered him his hour of glory: Charles William Beebe, an American scientist who invented with Otis Barton the bathysphere, a submersible machine whose spherical shape was to allow it to resist the terrible pressures of the deep sea . In 1930, they took the first step, reaching a depth of 245 meters. Two years later, when the Omega Marine watch had just been launched, they carried their feat to -923 meters on board their bathysphere.
But it was by simply wearing his watch on his wrist, in conditions accessible to everyone, that Charles William Beebe ensured the renown of his timepiece: "I wore my Omega Marine in the Pacific Ocean to a depth of 14 meters, where the pressure is twice higher than normal. Its waterproofness against water and dust as well as its resistance to corrosion represent a real advance for the watchmaking sciences ”, he declared in 1932.
1948 was another big date for Omega. That year was born the first Seamaster, followed nine years later by the Seamaster 300 version specially developed for professional divers working at great depths.
Then came the presentation in 1970 of a waterproof model that entered the legend of underwater watchmaking, the Ploprof, which was tested and chosen by Commander Cousteau.
It only took one year to see the Seamaster 1000 appear in 1971, accompanied in 1972 by the Omega Seamaster 120 Big Blue. "When Jacques Mayol broke the world record for snorkeling with a depth of 101 meters, in 1981, the Seamaster 120 shone on his wrist," says one today within the manufacture.
The Seamaster Diver 300M, launched in 1993, asserted itself as the direct heir to all these emblematic models. As for the Ultra Deep, its history began in 2005 with the disclosure of the Planet Ocean line.
By deciding to fix a Seamaster Planet Ocean Ultra Deep outside his Limiting Factor , during his feat at -10,928 m, on April 28, 2019, Victor Vescovo added his name to the long underwater saga of Omega. And it allowed the brand to write a new page in the history of underwater exploration…
As can be seen by observing the photos of the Limiting Factor, facing the abyss requires particular forms and a significant thickness of the different elements. On the other hand, Omega engineers managed to control the height of the watch which does not exceed 28 mm. But once again, let's listen to those who worked on this project at Omega: “The design of portholes is a critical step in the design of a submarine. The outer surface of those of the Limiting Factor has been designed to minimize the pressure on the inner edges of the cone, where the tension is greatest. Like assembling a porthole on a submarine, mounting the sapphire crystal on the case of a deep water diving watch is a delicate moment. To better distribute the forces, we were inspired by this solid conical design and used Liquidmetal® to guarantee a both resistant and flexible assembly of the sapphire crystal on the case ”.
This innovative welding technique, for which a patent application was filed, made it possible to avoid the use of polymer seals, thus reducing the thickness of the sapphire glass.
As you can imagine, each step in the production of the watch was accompanied by numerous tests. These were carried out inside the laboratories of Triton Submarines (the builder of Victor Vescovo's submarine), in Spain, in Barcelona. Omega could have limited itself to the conditions prevailing in the Marianas pit, but it was decided to add a 25% safety margin. Thus, a pressure of 1500 bar was imposed on the watch. At 15,000 meters below the surface, the Seamaster Planet Ocean Ultra Deep would have withstood…
Last spring, once back on dry land, Victor Vescovo entrusted his watches to the factory to check their performance the day after such an adventure. Result: eight tests conducted over ten days by the Swiss Federal Institute of Metrology (METAS) enabled this extreme Seamaster to easily obtain the Master Chronometer certification…
High-tech materials for everyone
If Omega had awarded Victor Vescovo's Seamaster Planet Ocean Ultra Deep the same grade 5 titanium as that used to build the hull of the Limiting Factor submarine, the brand also offers its consumer watches cutting-edge materials.
Thus, the Seamaster Diver 300M Titanium Tantalum Limited Edition, as its name suggests without ambiguity, proposed for its 25th anniversary, in 2018, a combination of titanium (for the 42 mm diameter case) and tantalum (for the bezel) . Two materials synonymous with extreme strength and lightness. An alloy of gold, copper and palladium was added to play the card of contrast on a diving watch as refined as it is technical. Inside, an automatic Master Chronometer 8806 movement beats, capable of withstanding a magnetic field of 15,000 gauss.
Same dual technological and aesthetic research with the Seamaster Diver 300M Ceramic-Titanium, also driven by the automatic Master Chronometer 8806 movement visible through a transparent sapphire crystal. Its 43.5 mm diameter case, cut in black ceramic and grade 5 titanium, is surmounted by a unidirectional rotating bezel also in black ceramic with a graduation in white enamel. As for the satin ceramic dial, it is decorated with a laser-engraved wave pattern.
Water resistance to 300 meters, screwed crown, helium valve and rubber strap complete the underwater skills of this diver with a strong temperament.
Tested and approved by James Bond
In the film GoldenEye released in 1995, it was an Omega Seamaster Professional watch that was found on the wrist of Agent 007. Thanks to it, actor Pierce Brosnan was able to benefit from two functions at first. nothing to do with watchmaking: a laser beam and a remote-controlled detonator.
In Tomorrow Never Dies (1997), the Seamaster was again equipped with a detonator function. In Le Monde n'est pas sufficient (1999), the watch had LED lighting and a miniature grapple hidden in the case.
Die Another Day (2002) saw the entry into operation of a Seamaster Professional Diver 300M with a detonator and a laser beam. In Casino Royale (2006), the watch became more classic and more attractive thanks to its blue dial. Quantum of Solace (2008) and Skyfall (2012) let a Planet Ocean 600M express its elegance, while Specter (2015) saw Daniel Craig save the world by wearing an Aqua Terra.
Such a bond between James Bond and his Omega watches well deserved the release a few weeks ago of a special globetrotter suitcase offered in a limited edition of 257 copies, housing two Seamaster Diver 300M models stamped 007. One in steel with black ceramic bezel and rubber strap, the other in 18 carat yellow gold. Both have a black dial decorated with the famous spiral evoking the race of a ball drawn by our hero. Driven by automatic Master Chronometer Caliber 8807/8807 movements, these watches can be worn on metal or NATO straps. No doubt to adapt to the different James Bond missions.
See you in April
In this regard, we still do not know what will be the goal assigned to 007 in the next installment in its saga since the movie Dying can wait will not be released until next April. However, the watch he will wear is already known. This is an Omega Seamaster Diver 300M Edition 007 with a titanium case with a diameter of 42 mm. True to the spirit of the collection, it is powered by an automatic Co-Axial Master Chronometer 8806 movement.
Particularity of this new play, it was designed in consultation with the producers of the film, but also with the actor himself. It was Daniel Craig who suggested the idea of a military look, materialized by a NATO strap with dark brown, beige and gray stripes. The watch can however also be worn on a titanium link bracelet.
Much of the appeal of this watch comes from its dial. Made of aluminum, its brown color evokes the patina that some old watches take over time.
On the back of the case are inscriptions like on a real military watch: 0552 is a code used by the Navy, 923 7697 designates a diving watch, the letter A means that the watch is equipped with a screw-down crown, 007 does not require further explanation and the number 62 refers to the year of production of the very first film in the saga, James Bond against Dr No , when the secret agent plunged for the first time in the deep of cinema.
And since there is still question of “diving”, let us specify that Victor Vescovo put an end to his expedition The Five Deeps on August 24th. On that day, it reached Molloy Deep, the lowest point in the Arctic Ocean, 5,550 m below the surface. Almost a simple walk for an explorer who in nine months will have discovered number of new species and accumulated quantity of information on the abyss.
His Omega watch on his wrist, the time has now come for him to put the bag down. But for how long ? Answer probably soon…