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Thursday January 31, 2013

Rolex timepieces survive record-breaking underwater ventures

Filmmaker James Cameron in the Rolex Deepsea Challenger submersible. The Deepsea Challenger is
designed as a science platform and equipped with multiple HD cameras, including some that are 3D capable for film
production. Filmmaker James Cameron in the Rolex Deepsea Challenger submersible. The Deepsea Challenger is designed as a science platform and equipped with multiple HD cameras, including some that are 3D capable for film production.

Two Rolex timepieces survive record-breaking underwater ventures in the Pacific Ocean, half a century apart.

ON March 26, 2012, the experimental Rolex Deepsea Challenge watch plunged to the bottom of the Mariana Trench and returned to the surface in perfect working order.

In this joint scientific expedition by National Geographic and Rolex, filmmaker and National Geographic Explorer-In-Residence James Cameron made history as the first person to reach the deepest part of the ocean in a solo-manned vehicle.

The Rolex Deepsea Challenge was attached to the robotic arm of the Deepsea Challenger, an eight metre tall, vertical torpedo-shaped bright green submersible weighing 12 tonnes. Designed as a science platform, it is equipped with lander vehicles to collect samples for research and multiple HD cameras, including some that are 3D capable for film production.

After a two-hour-and-26-minute descent, the submersible landed at the bottom of the Mariana Trench at a depth of 10,898m, subjecting the watch to immense pressure, and marking yet another record-breaking underwater venture of which Rolex is a part of. The first the Mariana Trench dive made in the bathyscaphe Trieste, crewed by US Navy Lieutenant Don Walsh and Swiss oceanographer Jacques Piccard in 1960, when the Rolex Deep Sea Special was attached its hull.

Driven by a passion to explore the unknown, Rolex has graced more than one ground-breaking expedition with its presence. Its timepieces were there when Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay scaled Mount Everest in 1953, and when Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier in 1947. Rolex was also the first to introduce the world’s first waterproof wristwatch in 1926.

The watch that accompanied Cameron to the ocean floor was developed and manufactured by Rolex specifically for this expedition. Technically and aesthetically, it is an enhanced version of the commercial Rolex Deepsea professional diver’s watch introduced in 2008. As in its commercial counterpart, the experimental Rolex Deepsea Challenge has a Ringlock System case architecture which features a highly resistant nitrogen-alloyed stainless steel support ring as the backbone of the watch. Bulkier than the Rolex Deep Sea Special, the Rolex Deepsea Challenge has a case diameter of 51.4mm and is 28.5mm thick. The domed sapphire crystal, manufactured by high-purity aluminium oxide, is 14.3mm thick and the screw-down caseback is made of grade five titanium alloy.

While the commercial Rolex Deep Sea Special is waterproof to a depth of 3,900m, the experimental Rolex Deepsea Challenge is guaranteed waterproof to a depth of 12,000m. It has been tested in a hyperbaric tank at a pressure of 1,500 bars, corresponding to the pressure at a depth of 15,000m (equivalent to 17 tonnes of load exerted on the watch crystal, and a total of 40 tonnes borne by the support ring in the middle case).

A model of the bathyscaphe Trieste that went down 10,916m into the Mariana
Trench in 1960. A model of the bathyscaphe Trieste that went down 10,916m into the Mariana Trench in 1960.

Walsh, who took on the role of consultant for last year’s expedition, shares during a chat in Singapore where the Rolex Deepsea Challenge exhibition was held recently, “It was an honour to join this expedition and I was the last person to talk to James before he closed the hatch. I said to him, ‘Jim, good luck, have fun – and find that fish.’ ”

When Walsh and Piccard made the dive in 1960, they said they saw a lone flatfish just before they touched the bottom. Cameron never did find that fish, or any fish for that matter, in the deepest part of the ocean on his dive.

“I landed on a very soft, almost gelatinous flat plain. Once I got my bearings, I drove across it for quite a distance ... and finally worked my way up the slope,” Cameron was quoted as saying in previous interviews.

“The only free swimmers I saw were small amphipods (shrimp-like bottom-feeders),” adds Cameron.

The expedition was designed so that he could spend up to six hours collecting samples and video footage at the bottom of the Mariana Trench, but the mission was cut short when a hydraulic fluid leak occurred.

Walsh relates: “He got to the sea floor, took a sediment sample, and then a hose in the hydraulic system broke. The submersible had 12 propellers; you don’t need speed, you want to move slowly but with a lot of precision. But by the time he was down there, only one was working, so he started going around in circles. He still took a lot of images though. It was kind of a bit of a disappointment, but that’s the way it is – sometimes not everything goes perfectly.”

No biological sample was collected, and an attempted sediment core sample was only partially retrieved.

“But that just means I got to go back and get some more. The important thing is that we have a vehicle that’s a robust platform – it gets us there safely, the lights work, the cameras work, and hopefully next time the hydraulics will work,” adds Cameron.

At the Rolex VIP dinner in Singapore, Rolex CEO South-East Asia Dr Christian Gisi says that the expedition was born out of a desire to understand the deep.

“In James’ own words, he was proud to be able to develop a machine that had the ability to go down and lift to the surface some answers, or at least bring back the right questions. The studies of the videos and sample he brought back are still in progress today. It is perhaps a brief look into the possibilities of how life began on Earth. Hidden in the deep we can thus safely assume that there are ground-breaking discoveries to be made that will change the life of mankind,” he concludes.

The Deepsea Challenge exhibition, showcasing both the Rolex Deep Sea Special and Rolex Deepsea Challenge, as well as models of the Trieste and Deepsea Challenger, can be viewed at Rolex Boutique by Swiss Watch Gallery in Pavilion Kuala Lumpur, from tomorrow till Feb 6.

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