Today, Omega unveils a watch that will make history in the diving community, a hell of an impressive piece, the result of years of experience in the field of professional dive watches. Omega has just announced the existence of an extraordinary watch that made the world’s deepest dive to the very bottom of the Mariana Trench. Meet the Omega Seamaster Planet Ocean Ultra Deep Professional, a watch tested at 1,500 bars or 15,000 metres and which survived a world record dive of 10,928 metres a few weeks ago.
Deep, deep diving and watches
If the highest point on Earth is Mount Everest at 8,848 metres, the world’s deepest known point in the oceans is even more impressive. Located in the Pacific Ocean, at the southern end of the Mariana Trench near the Mariana Islands group, the Challenger Deep has a depth of 10,898 to 10,928 metres (35,755 to 35,853ft) and is currently the deepest known point in the seabed hydrosphere. And while the path to the highest point on Earth has become something of a tourist trap (relatively speaking, of course), very few have fathomed the Challenger Deep; to date, there has been a total of six attempts, three conducted with unmanned robots and three manned expeditions.
On 23 January 1960, Jacques Piccard and US Navy Lieutenant Don Walsh, on board the bathyscaphe named Trieste, were the first men to reach the bottom of the Challenger Deep, at a precise depth of 10,911 metres (or 35,797ft) – a record they still held until recently. Strapped to the outside shell of the Trieste was a watch, a prototype created by Rolex, the Deep Sea Special No. 3 – currently in the collection of the Smithsonian Museum in Washington DC. The watch, designed to resist to more than 1,100 bars of pressure, surfaced intact.
The second manned attempt to reach the Challender Deep took place more than forty years later after the first attempt. On 26 March 2012, Canadian film director James Cameron piloted Deepsea Challenger, a 7.3-metre deep-diving submersible, which reached a depth of 10,898 metres. Impressive as this first solo dive to the Challenger Deep was, Cameron did not manage to break the depth record of Trieste. Once again, a Rolex watch was attached to one of the robotic arms of Deepsea Challenger, and once again, it surfaced intact.
The Five Deeps Expedition
Recently, Omega has joined the Five Deeps project. One of the most fascinating expeditions in many years, the Five Deeps expedition is the world’s first manned expedition to the deepest point in each of the five oceans: the Puerto Rico Trench in the Atlantic Ocean (8,376 metres); the South Sandwich Trench in the Southern Ocean (7,434 metres); the Java Trench in the Indian Ocean (7,290 metres); the Challenger Deep in the Pacific Ocean (10,928 metres); and the Molloy Deep in the Arctic Ocean (5,573 metres).
This project is the brainchild of adventurer and submersible pilot Victor Vescovo. Above the surface is the DSSV Pressure Drop research vessel equipped with the highest fidelity full ocean depth sonar. The action below the waves takes place in DSV Limiting Factor, a Triton-built submersible commercially certified by the international maritime authority DNV-GL for extensive, repeated dives to extraordinary depths. On the ocean floor, three ‘landers’ are deployed to gather important scientific data.
Four of these five ultra-deep points in the ocean have already been reached, including the Challenger Deep in the Pacific Ocean. In May 2019, the DSV Limiting Factor reached a depth of 10,928 metres – the deepest point ever reached by mankind – breaking the 59-year-old record of Jacques Piccard and Don Walsh. For more details about the Five Deeps Expedition, check the website here.
Omega is also participating in this extraordinary underwater adventure and has provided not one, but three models of the Seamaster Planet Ocean Ultra Deep Professional; a watch designed specifically and secretly by the Biel-based brand to reach the Challenger Deep.
Omega’s path to breaking the deepest dive record for a watch
Omega’s background in dive watches is uncontestable. In fact, the brand has one of the greatest track records in this field and launched one of the first sea-tested watches, the Omega “Marine” back in 1932. This watch, used by Charles William Beebe, the American explorer who created the “bathysphere”, served during his historical 14-metre dive in the 1930s. “I wore my OMEGA Marine in the Pacific Ocean at a depth of 14 metres, where the pressure is twice the normal one. Its tightness to water and dust and its robustness to corrosion represent a true progress for watchmaking science,” stated Charles William Beebe.
In 1948, the first Seamaster was born. Born in peacetime, the Seamaster was a civilian version of the waterproof watches made for British aviators and sailors – fully explained in our in-depth video here. Omega’s professional dive watches surfaced in 1957 with the creation of the Seamaster 300 CK2913. Later, the Plorpof research programme, which gave birth to legendary watches – such as the Ploprof 600m aka the first watch in 904L Steel and the Seamaster 1000 – was conducted with the help of Jacques-Yves Cousteau.
Many other stories between Omega and divers exist, such as free diver Jacques Mayol wearing his Seamaster 120 when he plunged to a record-breaking 101m in 1981. But today is clearly another milestone in this lineage of deep divers. Indeed, Omega was part of the record-breaking descent successfully conducted by Victor Vescovo in May 2019 to a depth of 10,928 meters. Three Omega watches were part of this adventure, two on the robotic arms of the submersible and another on a data-gathering unit known as a ‘lander’. This watch is the Seamaster Planet Ocean Ultra Deep Professional, a purpose-built experimental piece that has just accomplished the world’s deepest dive, ever.
the Omega Seamaster Planet Ocean Ultra Deep Professional
Producing dive watches is part of the daily routine at Omega, but creating a watch suitable for the Five Deeps Expedition, capable of tolerating depths of 11,000 metres (and more), required an entirely different level of ingenuity and a team of experts with diverse engineering skills. Designed to withstand enormous pressures, the Ultra Deep is packed with full ocean depth technology, inspired by the solutions used on the submergence vehicle DSV Limiting Factor.
As you would expect, this new Seamaster is a professional tool, made with resistance in mind only. Notwithstanding its enormous capacities and tolerances, Omega has managed to keep it surprisingly slim, at less than 28mm. “A watch does not have to be enormous to withstand enormous pressures,” was the idea behind this piece. Still, even though being a professional prototype made with no concessions, the watch still looks very familiar, as sharing most of its traits with a regular Seamaster Planet Ocean 600m… Just under vitamins (pretty strong ones, indeed). Same dial, same hands, same indexes, same tracks. No doubt, the Seamaster Planet Ocean Ultra Deep is a true Omega Seamaster.
The body of the bezel, casebody, caseback and crown of the Seamaster Planet Ocean Ultra Deep are machined cutoffs from the forged grade 5 titanium hull of the submersible Limiting Factor (DNV-GL certified) – certifying the origin, characteristics and quality of the material.
The crystal of a dive watch is always a thorny issue; its thickness, its assembly to the rest of the watch without sacrificing water-resistance… In this case, inspiration was taken once again from Victor Vescovo’s submersible Limiting Factor and its viewports. The design of viewports is a critical step in the development of a submersible. The loadbearing surface of the Limiting Factor‘s viewports has been engineered to minimise pressure on the inside edges of the cone, where the stresses are highest. Similar to the viewport assembly on a submersible, the sapphire-to-case assembly on a full ocean depth watch is an area of concern. To spread the stress distribution, Omega took inspiration from this loadbearing conical design and used Liquidmetal® (a technology used by Omega to create the scales on ceramic bezels) to ensure a firm yet flexible sapphire-to-casebody assembly. This innovative patent-pending hot-form bonding made it possible to avoid the use of polymer seals and to reduce the sapphire’s thickness.
The rest of the watch is as unconventional as its hull. Fully integrated into the titanium casebody, the lugs of the Seamaster Planet Ocean Ultra Deep Professional are left open to lower the risk of exceeding material limitations at full ocean depth, as both the watch and the strap can be subjected to high traction loads. They are called “Manta” lugs due to their distinctive look.
All of these technologies allow the Omega Seamaster Planet Ocean Ultra Deep Professional to resist pressures of up to 10,928 metres or 1,100 bars – a record for a mechanical watch. All of the watches were pressure tested at Triton Sub’s facility in Barcelona in the presence of a DNV-GL surveyor. The chosen maximum pressure is linked with tolerances required in the Mariana Trench, but to be extra sure and to comply with dive watch ISO 6425 standards, Omega insisted on adding a 25% safety margin, which meant the watches had to perform perfectly up to 1,500 bars or 15,000 metres.
Last but not least, the Seamaster Planet Ocean Ultra Deep Professional is, above all, an Omega watch with an automatic movement inside. The watches were subjected post-dive to one of the highest levels of testing in the watch industry and put through the rigorous 8 tests over 10 days set by METAS. Even after their extreme underwater journey, each of the three watches that made it to the Challenger Deep achieved the Master Chronometer certification.
What is most impressive here is that a watch of these characteristics, which has broken the record for the deepest dive and endured immense pressure, has been constructed with “achievable” technologies. Even though the goal was to create a watch for a very specific and extreme mission, Omega made sure to employ materials and technology that could be commercialised. In a final statement, Omega claims that “bold adventurers can be confident that (this) record-breaking Ultra Deep technology is destined to surface again in the very near future“. We can’t wait to see where this will lead!
Altogether, an awe-inspiring achievement by Omega, Victor Vescovo and his team.
More details at omegawatches.com.