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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