Photograph from the Official Website of Blancpain
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Survival instinct: watches for sea, space and combat

Some of the watchmaking world’s best timepieces for exploring the unknown.
Rheea Hermoso-Prudente | Sep 19 2018

Man has never let anything hold him back from going forth and conquering the unknown—be it crushing odds, fanatical opposition, the most perverse of luck, or even fear of dragons and other monsters lurking in uncharted territories. And throughout his (or her!) adventures, man has always had his trusty companions, both living and non-living. Watches, for example, are the infinitely useful but often overlooked exploration tool. It can be used to time excursions into the jungle, help make sure that you don't miss your rendezvous time, or just let you know that it's time for a civilized pot of tea in the wild outdoors. Here are four of the best watches to accompany you throughout your explorations.

 

ROLEX OYSTER PERPETUAL EXPLORER

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It was not yet the Rolex Explorer that made history as the watch on the wrist of Sir Edmund Hilary when he reached the summit of Mt. Everest on May 29, 1953. Sir Hilary's watch at that time was one of the rugged, reliable Rolex Oyster Perpetual watches. Rolex took the learnings from that Everest expedition and launched the iconic Explorer later in the year—the first watch of the series developed especially for professionals. The Explorer featured a hardy steel bracelet and a new Twinlock winding crown and double waterproofness system. Today, the Explorer retains its on-the-edge-of-adventure vibe in its 904L steel case. An Oyster bracelet with an Oysterlock folding clasp that ensures the watch stays on your wrist whatever the situation. While it retains the distinctive 3, 6, and 9 numerals, the display is now luminescent, the exclusive Rolex Chromalight emitting a gorgeous blue glow, making it easier to read in low light. The broader and longer hands also add to the clarity of the display. The movement has also been upgraded, with the self-winding caliber 3132 now powering the watch. Manufactured entirely in-house, the caliber 3132 features a Parachrom hairspring and Paraflex shock absorbers—little details that give the Explorer its shock resistance even under the most extreme conditions. The Rolex Explorer is certified beyond the official COSC, with Rolex's own Superlative Chronometer certification.

 

BLANCPAIN TRIBUTE TO FIFTY FATHOMS MIL-SPEC

As with the other tough watches, the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms started in the military, with the French frogmen in 1953. They needed a tool that could keep pace with the combat swimming that they did, so Captain Robert Maloubier and Lieutenant Claude

Riffaud collaborated with Blancpain CEO Jean JacquesFletcher. The watch they created had a black dial with luminous display comprising bold numbers and legible markings, and a rotating notched bezel that would align with the minute hand to indicate remaining dive time. It was robust at 42mm, and waterproof to 50 fathoms—hence the name. Soon, other naval forces strapped Blancpain's hardy timepieces on their wrists, including the American, German, Spanish, and Israeli special forces.The Fifty Fathoms was the first professional dive watch (beating the Rolex Submariner by a year), the first to have a unidirectional rotating bezel, and had a self-winding movement from the get-go. A few years later, Fietcher's continued efforts at working with dive watches led to a key development in the Fifty Fathoms range. He began testing a new invention, a circular water-tightness indicator at the 6-hour mark. Should any water leak into the case, the indicator would change its color from white to red, letting the wearer know that the watch was compromised. At a time when there were no dive computers, this was a lifesaving innovation.

That was how the MIL-SPEC I was born. At BaselWorld 2017, Blancpain launched a tribute to the MIL-SPEC I, this time in a 40mm case with a unidirectional bezel coated in sapphire. While the watch's looks draw heavily from the original—the black dial, the water-tightness indicator, and the white hands and markers in particular—new touches like the date display window, the more pronounced ridges on the bezel, and the beefier lugs give it a more rugged look. The watch is powered by the in-house automatic caliber 1151, with a decent four-day power reserve.

 

TAG HEUER CARRERA 1887 SPACEX

Calibre 11

While TAG Heuer has mostly been associated with speed on the motoring racetracks, only a few may know that TAG Heuer was the first Swiss watch in space. Astronaut John Glenn had a modified Heuer stopwatch strapped on over his spacesuit, as a backup timer, when he was launched into orbit around the earth in 1962. In 2012, TAG Heuer issued a limited edition watch, the TAG Carrera Calibre 1887 SpaceX to celebrate its 50th anniversary as The First Swiss Watch in Space.

The `SpaceX' in its name (and the rocket logo on the dial) is a nod to the maison's partnership with Elon Musk's civilian space transport company. The Carrera Calibre 1887 SpaceX resembles the original watch, dial-wise, from the vintage-style numerals on the dial to the layout of its sub counters. The dial is starkly white, which contrasts nicely with the markers. Inside is an upgrade from the space watch. It features the eponymous caliber 1887, a self-winding chronograph movement. Everything is contained in a 43mm stainless steel case. A perforated brown leather strap completes the retro feel of the watch.

 

OMEGA SEAMASTER 300

Official Website of Omega

The Omega Seamaster 300 was among the three professional dive watches launched in the 1950s (the other two were the Rolex Submariner and the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms). The watch had a slow start, having issues with water leaking into the watch, ironically, in shallower water. But Omega soldiered on, improving its watch designs and technologies over the years. Then, in 1994, it released the Seamaster Professional 300M—the iconic model for the entire collection. The fact that James Bond donned the Seamaster Professional 300M (the Pierce Brosnan version of Bond, that is), also cemented the watch's allure. The latest version of the Seamaster 300 was launched at BaselWorld 2017, part of the 60th Anniversary Trilogy that also includes the Speedmaster and the Railmaster.

This new watch is truly a tribute to the first model, what with the broad arrow hands, bezel, and dial closely resembling the original. Even the 39mm steel case is the same. The only change on the dial is the use of Super-LumiNova rather than radium on the markers and hands. On the bidirectional bezel, instead of acrylic markings, the hardier aluminum was used. The limited edition Seamaster 300 comes with a steel bracelet, plus a leather and a NATO strap, should you want to change your look. Only 3,557 of this model were made.

 

This story first appeared in Vault Magazine Issue No. 24 2018.