A tale of two watches

This experimental Rolex watch was attached to the bathyscaphe <em>Trieste </em>when it reached the ocean floor in the Challenger Deep, on 23 January 1960. Image: ANMM. On loan from the Smithsonian Institution.

This experimental Rolex watch was attached to the bathyscaphe Trieste when it reached the ocean floor in the Challenger Deep, on 23 January 1960. Image: ANMM. On loan from the Smithsonian Institution.

Timekeepers of curiosity

Peering through the small porthole, Lt Don Walsh USN saw a cloud of floating silt. It had been kicked up by the bathyscaphe’s less than gentle landing, 10,916 metres below the surface of the ocean. Walsh and fellow pilot Jacques Piccard hoped the milky white soup would clear quickly so they could take photos of what lay beyond.

Outside the porthole, the experimental Rolex ‘Deep Sea Special’ wristwatch was attached to the outside of the bathyscaphe. The unusual high glass dome of the timepiece protected the face of the watch as it continued to tick away, keeping time even under immense pressure.

Twenty minutes later, the thick fog persisted, drifting in slow motion. Reluctantly, Don and Jacques decided to begin their ascent. It took three hours for the Trieste to return to the surface, completing a record-breaking journey: Don and Jacques were the first humans to reach the deepest part of the ocean, the Challenger Deep in the Mariana Trench.

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What is it about deep water?

If you’re a swimmer, even though you know you’ll be fine, just the idea of being suspended above something tens, let alone thousands of metres dark and deep can cause that weird tingling combination of excitement and fear.

As part of the USA Gallery program, we’ve been negotiating with Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts to bring Deepsea Challenger to the museum. This is the submersible vessel piloted by James Cameron 11kms down to the bottom of Challenger Deep in the Mariana Trench. It’s a bit like having the lunar lander from Apollo 11 on display, only in reverse!

DeepSea Challenger at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, photo: A Tarantino WHOI

DeepSea Challenger at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, photo: A Tarantino WHOI


What makes it extra special is that Deepsea Challenger was built (in secret) in Sydney. Continue reading