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Why not ? - Omega Planet Ocean Ultra Deep

Why not ? Omega Planet Ocean Ultra Deep

After his question on monster watches, our collector wonders if there are impossible watches.

Mankind has always been motivated by the impossible. The greatest human achievements have all been built on making something seemingly unattainable a reality. The history of watches has often been intimately linked with History with a capital H – the history of adventurers, explorers, heroes. During their exploits they wore watches on their wrists. These small, often simple objects were intended to provide them with simple but critical information. 

For collectors, these “impossible” watches occupy a special place, because they are more than just timepieces: they are witnesses to our ability to overcome. And while few people can achieve the impossible, anyone can dream. 

This being 2019, we’re talking quite a lot about space exploration. About those people who, one day, looked up at the moon and stars, and wondered what our own planet would look like from “up there”. This dream probably dates back hundreds of years, and for hundreds of years it was beyond the bounds of possibility. Only a few gentle dreamers, writers, artists and cinematographers felt compelled to imagine the first space voyages.

With the conquest of the skies, and then space, we saw what “impossible” really meant. It was all around us. It started with a few madmen in their crazy flying machines, who would wheel down their little slopes and hop into the air. Little by little, they were able to go higher. And higher. One of these intrepid pilots was wearing an early Cartier watch, now known as the Santos. Other watches followed – all simple, robust and clear. The sky was conquered. The pilot’s watch had earned its place in the pantheon of explorers’ equipment. 

But the impossible never goes away. After the sky, there was outer space. 

The next frontier was to orbit the Earth. A Soviet pilot became the first man to see our planet from the stratosphere. Strapped to his wrist was a Sturmanskie, the first ever space watch. 

Then came the Speedmaster, the first watch to be worn on the Moon. What could be more impossible than walking on a different planet... ... And living to tell the tale! 

L’Omega Planet Ocean Ultra Deep

© Omega

Omega and Sturmanskie are not the only watch brands to have travelled so far. There’s also Seiko and the famous “Pogue”, Rolex’s GMT, as well as Sinn and Breitling. 

Space is infinite, and people are already looking for the next target. That would be Mars. The trip remains impossible today, but I have no doubt it will soon become a reality. 

The impossible can take many other forms. Or none at all. 

Let’s look at another simple, pretty common example. A mountain. To you and me, that means skiing, snow, holidays. But also: impossibly low temperatures, lack of oxygen, altitude sickness and perilous conditions. 

For a long time, the Impossible had one name: Everest. Seen by Europeans for the first time in 1847, it immediately became THE mountain to conquer. Its Western name comes from Welsh geographer George Everest, who studied India for many years but never actually saw the mountain that bears his name. 

A mountain, an altitude and a single mad desire: to climb to the top. There were many attempts and many deaths. But the impossible happened in May 1953. On that occasion, Rolex conquered the summit of Chomolungma, on the wrists of Tensing Norgay and Edmund Hillary. 

But the Impossible is sometimes a little harder to imagine. And that’s why we find the sea so fascinating. 

Beyond a certain depth there is intense cold, intense pressure and impenetrable darkness. Few people can imagine what the “summit” of the ocean is really like, because depth is a lot harder to imagine than a mountain or a star. 

But this kind of Impossible is particularly fascinating. Some people will tell you that it’s more difficult to reach the bottom of the ocean than the surface of the moon. While space is infinite, there are only two places on Earth that generate the same kind of passion: the world’s highest peak, and its deepest trough. 

But before you plumb the depths, you first have to design a watch that can deal with water. Rolex was the first brand to achieve this technical milestone. Then came the first diving watch: a rectangular Omega, which was taken below the surface of Lake Geneva. 

Divers ventured to ever greater depths – 100 metres, 200, 300 – and their watches accompanied them every time. 

But there is a limit to human diving capacities. Beyond the ocean floor lies the famous Mariana Trench. This geological feature in the Pacific Ocean was discovered in 1875, when it was estimated to be 8,000 metres deep. In 1951 the estimate was revised to 10,900m. Since then the figure has changed several times, to 11,034m, 10,915, 10,924 and 10,971. So, no one really knows how deep it is. And the mystery merely adds to the legend. 

These few metres’ difference are what we’re going to talk about today. Because the Impossible sometimes hangs on those few metres, or centimetres. The few metres that separate us from the summit of Mount Everest, or the bottom of the Mariana Trench.

Why Omega – and Rolex?

We’re all familiar with the brand from Biel, so I won’t go into the history here. But, while I decided to call this article Impossible, I could equally have given it the title “Duel”. 

Because, in the watch world there is one duel that remains endlessly fascinating and polarising, and is the lifeblood of countless online forums: the duel between Omega and Rolex. The watch we’re going to talk about today is more than a timekeeping device: it’s a weapon. 

Rolex “conquered” the mountain. Up in space, Omega won the next round. In the ocean, what with Rolex’s mastery of waterproofing, and Omega’s pioneering dive, we can probably declare a draw. On the military front, Omega has equipped many armies, probably more than Rolex. In terms of legendary names, the Speedmaster faces off against the Daytona, while the Sub dukes it out with the Seamaster. And finally, in terms of marketing, the Rolex name dominates the entire globe. 

But all these watches share many similarities. They have to be simple, solid and legible. No grand complications, just useful technical innovations: resistance to water, to pressure, to magnetic interference. Thus, even though they are associated with incredible achievements, they remain understandable and useful. 

That’s why the battle for the Pacific is so important. It’s an invitation to dream big, but it’s also an assertion of technical supremacy that will one day find its way onto the wrists of watch lovers. 

Until quite recently, the watch that has plumbed the deepest depths was the Rolex Deep Sea Special, a timepiece that is impossible to wear, but fascinating all the same. It survived a descent to 10,916 metres in 1960. In 2013 another Rolex descended to 10,898, falling just short of the depth reached by Jacques Piccard and Don Walsh. Since then the Trench rather dropped off the radar. Or so it seemed. 

Masked by the hullabaloo surrounding the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, Omega was preparing an ambush. 

L’Omega Planet Ocean Ultra Deep

Planet Ocean Ultra Deep © Omega

The Omega Planet Ocean Ultra Deep: deeply impossible

This is a watch that will probably never grace the wrist of a collector. There are only three in existence, and they are utterly unwearable. 

A few years back, Texan explorer and businessman Victor Vescovo embarked upon an unusual adventure, to visit the deepest parts of the planet’s five oceans. It was called the Five Deeps Expedition. Obviously, the expedition would be incomplete without rising (or descending) to the challenge of the Mariana Trench. A few weeks ago, the challenge was met. Three Omega Ultra Deep timepieces went along for the ride, attached to the robotic arms of the submersible vessel Limiting Factor. 

The Omega Ultra Deep is no ordinary Planet Ocean. It’s the watchmaker’s flagship diving watch, but on steroids.

First, it’s immense. It measures probably 55 mm across, with a depth of 28 mm. The case, bezel and dial are made of grade 5 titanium, which ensures that it remains an acceptable weight. In fact, the same metal was used in the hull of the Limiting Factor. 

Omega equipped the Ultra Deep with an extremely thick crystal, sealed to the case with Liquid Metal gaskets. While the overall look of the piece resembles the Planet Ocean, there are two elements that make the Ultra Deep unique: the absence of a helium valve (HEV), and the strap attachment system. 

At almost 11,000 metres below sea level there’s no need for an HEV because the watch is not being worn by divers under saturation. So there’s no small crown at 10 o’clock. 

L’Omega Planet Ocean Ultra Deep

Planet Ocean Ultra Deep © Omega

But the most surprising change is the way in which the synthetic strap attaches to the case; its “manta” fittings imprison the strap securely between metal jaws. I have no idea if this original construction is technically justified, but it greatly adds to the charm of the watch. 

So, what else is there to say about our Ultra Deep? Overall, its look is very similar to that of the classic Planet Ocean. The hands are similar, as is the dial. The Omega logo is oversized, the figures 3 / 6 / 9 / 12 are blue, as are the Ultra Deep inscription and the NATO strap. 

The bezel insert is also immediately recognisable, using the same typeface as the commercial models. 

So far, so familiar. You have to look at it from the side to appreciate its exceptional characteristics. 

And that’s what is getting Omega fans so excited. The Ultra Deep looks like a Planet Ocean. So, why not use it as a template for a new version of the PO? Slimmer, but with the same case, and same materials. 

For the time being, we can only dream. But let’s not forget that Rolex lists two extreme divers in its catalogue: one that is water resistant to 3,900m, the other to 1,220m. Perhaps we should prepare for a new – commercial – duel?

L’Omega Planet Ocean Ultra Deep

Planet Ocean Ultra Deep © Omega

What does the Devil’s Advocate think?

Achievements, dreams, the impossible. These may be fine words, but the Devil is not convinced. 

But does he have anything negative to say about the Ultra Deep? 

Honestly, not really, unless it’s the fact that it is nothing more than an “impossible” watch. It’s thick, unwieldy, unwearable, and probably pretty heavy, even if it is made of titanium. These would all be major black marks for a commercial watch. But this isn’t a commercial watch. These choices are dictated by technical requirements. 

My only real problem is with the name: Ultra Deep. Yes, there’s a duel going on. Yes, they need a catchy name. I get it. But I would have liked to see a little more imagination from the teams in Biel, who had many more options to choose from. What about bathyscaphe, Five Deeps Challenge, even Mariana Hollow, which is the name of the deepest point of the Trench, more than 11,000 metres down, but which has been measured only once and thus has not been officially ratified? 

How (not) to wear the Omega Ultra Deep with style

The first two images that come to mind for the person who will wear this very special Planet Ocean are a diving suit, or Victor Vescovo’s royal blue jumpsuit. 

I think, however, we should opt for something easier to wear, but something that will nevertheless call to mind some of the great maritime explorers. 

We’ll begin with a pale blue chambray shirt, as worn by Commander Jacques Cousteau. Why not a soft-collared Roma by Proper Cloth ?

On the bottom half we’ll go for a pair of beige pants in a linen/cotton blend by Eleventy, which brings to mind Jacques Piccard’s preferred legwear. 

On our feet, eco-friendly Veja V10 white sneakers complete the nautical outfit.

And if your Omega Ultra Deep just won’t stay on your wrist, you’ll need a sturdy and practical bag to carry it. A Market Bag by Californian brand Apolis might fit the bill, particularly as you can add your own custom text. We’d suggest “For my Ultra Deep”!

Finally, some kind of hat is in order. Cousteau’s red beanie or James Cameron’s navy blue cap? – decisions, decisions. 

Maybe the best option will be an Alinghi cap, exactly like the one I’ve been wearing for years. Because Omega is now a partner of the Swiss yacht, which recently won the GC32 World Championships!


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