4 watches that helped mankind make history

The timepieces that played a vital part in aiding mankind to explore the deepest, darkest and most unknown parts of our world.

April 6, 2015

Omega Speedmaster (above) 
First watch on the moon
Not only was the Omega Speedmaster the first watch on the moon, it is the only watch to have visited earth’s nearest satellite, being NASA’s official timepiece for all six lunar landings. The vital role the watch played cannot be understated, having also played a key part in returning the astronauts of the unsuccessful Apollo 13 mission back safely to earth.

After returning to earth Buzz Aldrin mailed the historical watch to the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC, but it never arrived. Suspected stolen en-route, the watch has never been recovered. In 2013, Omega launched a limited edition Speedmaster to mark 45 years since the successful Apollo 11 mission, and it was fittingly nicknamed "Dark Side of the Moon'.

Watches of history. Zenith
First watchmaker to both poles

As one of the undisputed leaders during the great age of exploration, Ronald Amundsen literally went to the ends of the earth to break new ground. Credited as the first explorer to reach the South Pole (1911), the first expedition leader to (undisputedly) arrive at the North Pole, and the first to traverse the Northwest Passage. For these highly dangerous missions the Norwegian explorer approached the Swiss manufacturer Zenith to create highly accurate and reliable timepieces.

In January 2012, Johan Ernst Nilson took Amundsen’s exploits more than a step further when he completed his own ‘Pole2Pole’ expedition. Flying in to the North Pole, he then proceeded across the Artic, through Greenland and down the entire continent of the Americas, before sailing to, and trekking across Antartica to reach the South Pole. For Nilson’s adventure Zenith created a limited-edition ‘Pole2Pole’ El Primero Flyback Stratos (pictured), a lightweight chronograph precise in its timekeeping, visible at night and made with a synthetic strap instead of leather.

Watches of history Rolex. Rolex Deep Sea
First watch to the bottom of the ocean
On January 23, 1960, in the waters off Guam, US Navy Lieutenant Don Walsh and Jacques Piccard (the son of the vessel’s designer) plummeted 10,911 metres to the deepest known part of the earth’s oceans. Encapsulated in a bathyscaphe names Trieste, the pair voyaged to Challenger Deep in the Marina Trench and into a world as alien as space itself. Not satisfied with simply equipping the submariners with timepieces within their pressure controlled environment, Rolex used knowledge gained from two prior record breaking models and strapped a prototype Rolex Deep Sea Special to the outside of the Trieste.

The watch withstood nearly eight tonnes of pressure per square inch at a depth of nearly 36,000 feet and at the time was the most extreme natural environment ever encountered by a timepiece on earth or in space. Piccard later wrote to Rolex: “Happy to announce that your watch works as well at 11,000 metres as it does on the surface.” On March 26, 2012, movie producer James Cameron emulated Walsh and Piccard’s exploits with his own DeepSea Challenge expedition. Once again Rolex were involved and this time created a Sea-Dweller DeepSea Challenge prototype which was once again strapped to the outside of his submarine. While only five of the prototypes were made, Rolex has released a more practical version (pictured).

Watches of history Baumgartner. Zenith El Primero Stratos Flyback Striking 10th
The first parachute jump from space
The early 20th century may have been recognised as the golden age of exploration, but that’s not to say that adventurers who explore new limits do not exist. On Sunday October 14, 2012, millions of people around the globe held their breath as Felix Baumgartner was lifted to the very edge of space, shuffled to the edge of his capsule, and stepped off into the void. At 39,045 metres Baumgartner hurtled through the freezing thin air of the upper atmosphere and accelerated to a speed of 1,342km/h.

In doing so Felix Baumgartner became the first human to break the sound barrier unaided. During his four minute and twenty seconds of ‘flight’ (in the same way as a brick flies), Baumgartner wore the El Primero Stratos Flyback Striking 10th Chronograph from his sponsors Zenith. The piece features a 45.5mm stainless steel case, transparent sapphire glass back, ceramic disc bezel and includes a flyback striking chrono driven by an automatic EL Primero 4057B movement and powered by 50 hours of power reserve.