Into the deep: Omega shares the story behind its most extreme diving watch, the Seamaster Planet Ocean Ultra Deep Professional
CEO Raynald Aeschlimann and ocean adventurer Victor Vescovo talk the brand's most exciting concept to date
When it comes to diving watches, Omega's Seamaster series has long been held as one of the most accurate in the industry, pushing innovation with each new evolution. But the brand's latest challenge – creating a watch that could match adventurer Victor Vescovo's journey to the earth's deepest seabed – has pushed the boundaries of watchmaking to daring new depths.
The Omega Seamaster Planet Ocean Ultra Deep Professional was created to accompany Vescovo's record-breaking 10,928m dive to the bottom of the Mariana Trench in early 2019, as well as the world's first manned expedition to the deepest point in each of the five oceans – known as Five Deeps.
"The partnership started because I was a customer," say Vescovo, a private equity investor, former naval officer and now undersea explorer. "I wanted a watch to take with me on the dives, and so I bought my Seamaster watch at my local Omega boutique in Dallas. It was only after that we approached the brand about coming on board as a sponsor of the expedition."
The expedition itself was inspired by Vescovo's interests in mountaineering. After climbing Everest, the private equity specialist sought a challenge that was just as daring. After discovering in 2015 that there had been only two manned expeditions to the Mariana Trench, and that neither had reached the deepest part of the ocean floor, the Five Deeps was born.
"There was a symmetry in a way, between climbing the world's highest point – Everest – and then diving to its deepest. We knew we would have to test all our equipment before attempting the world record of the Mariana Trench, and so thought why not take the submersible down to each of the ocean beds?
"I'm not an engineer by training or a professional explorer. My training is in business and leadership. So the biggest challenge, and what was most interesting for me, about the Five Deeps expedition was organising and running it," he says. "It was almost like a venture capital start-up, in that we had 60-100 really great people all contributing their expertise." >>
While the three identical watches created for the venture are not available for public purchase, Omega CEO Raynald Aeschlimann says that they are built using the DNA of every Omega Seamaster, and that the innovations – and three new patents pending – will inform the future of Omega watchmaking.
"I am very excited and proud to present the Planet Ocean Ultra Deep Professional," he said. "It's extraordinarily innovative, but still holds the DNA and spirit of Omega in its elegant design and timekeeping accuracy. It was very special for us to be part of this expedition – with more than 100 people in 20 companies all working together, to bring together their technology and knowledge. Without everyone involved this couldn't have happened, and that connection is what made it possible for us all to create these new things"
At just 28mm thick, the watch is able to withstand a record-breaking 15,000m thanks to breakthroughs in the titanium casing and manta lug engineering, sapphire-to-case assembly via patent-pending Liquidmetal® hot form bonding, and more. The Ultra Deep even achieved Master Chronometer Certification.
"We love to get records," said Aeschlimann. "Especially if they are linked to who we are and our history. For example, I'm often asked if we working on a watch for Mars, and I am happy to say yes. There's no limit. Our DNA as a brand is clearly linked to diving watches, and we celebrate the kind of pioneering spirit that Victor embodies."
In order to test their accuracy and aid scientific exploration during the Mariana Trench dive, two of the watches were attached to the submersible's robotic arms and the third to a Lander, all with a polyamide strap better known for astronautical Apollo missions. Vescovo spoke of an incident during the second manned dive to the trench floor, when the Lander was caught under rock and unable to return to the surface with the submersible for almost 48-hours. As a result, the Omega Ultra Deep was kept at ultimate depth for that time, and when it surfaced was found to have lost less than a second in accuracy per 24-hours. >>
Vescovo said that after four years of planning and preparation, the actual dives called more upon his mental training and readiness more than any other factor. "It was very calm to dive in the submersible," he said. "But there's no cessation of at least some degree of anxiety. You know that as you keep descending that pressure is increasing, and that it will find any weakness.
In fact, I had a serious scare twice when I was diving. It takes several hours to descend at such depths, and twice when I was crossing the 8,000m mark – after about two hours – all of a sudden, I heard a loud bang of metal on metal where a metal band on the outside of the capsule snapped under the pressure. It didn't hurt the sub, but it scared the hell out of me!" he said. "But as my oceanographer and guide Don Walsh told me, 'if you can hear it you're fine.'"
What impress Vescovo the most was the opportunity to turn a technical adventure into a scientific expedition – which will be a major aspect of the five-part Discovery Channel series set to air on television later this year.
"It might have started off as a technical adventure, but as we've gone on the scientific aspect has really caught our imaginations. All our dives are accompanied by geologists, marine biologists and more. We're mapping huge areas the sea floor with an elaborate sonar system, and really trying to help with real assignments while completing these dives," he said. "But there's also a technical mission in proving what a submersible can do. For two people to repeatedly and reliably dive to the bottom of the ocean at any point, any place, any time? That's never been done before at these depths."
Having reached the bottom of the ocean, the question for Omega is now not just how to make its ground-breaking technology work with commercial timepieces, but what record to break next. Aeschlimann has his sights set on the stars.
"I think there is a lot more to do," he said. "Not just in terms of watchmaking, but in supporting extraordinary characters like Victor, who embody the spirit and emotion of Omega watches. We've been to the highest point of Earth, and now the deepest – I don't know what the next limit is, but I know our research and development are already imagining new experiments. We are talking about Mars, about all the planets, but it's just as important to explore the emotional world as well."