Over the years there have been numerous watches that were engineered with a specific challenge or technical feat in mind. Among others, the desire to explore the uncharted depths of the sea gave rise to one of the most popular watch categories on earth: the beloved dive watch, which we recently discussed in another recent installment of this series. Looking outside of that bracket, however, watches and global exploration in some form or fashion have maintained a particularly tight bond. The desire to go further, to break new ground, and to discover the undiscovered are all factors that push the determined few out into the vast unknown. Thanks to the watch industry’s propensity for over-engineering, a number of fantastic watches have become the requisite tools of these adventurous individuals, forced to survive extreme temperatures and other forces of nature all while maintaining accurate time.
The Rolex Explorer
THE SUMMIT OF EVEREST
There cannot be any surprise that this beloved Rolex lands front and center regarding watches and exploration. Starting in the 1930s, many explorers mountaineering through the Himalayas relied on Rolex for timekeeping—then using versions of the Rolex Oyster. As the years pressed on, and these pioneering explorers grew more adventurous, this growing level of activity culminated in the expedition of Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, as the duo reached the summit of Everest on May 28th, 1953. Commemorating this momentous occasion, the Rolex Explorer was launched later that very same year, and has remained a mainstay in the Rolex catalog ever since. Rolex has also maintained its support for mountaineers and explorers throughout the years, and including supporting the likes of Ed Viesturs—the world’s leading high-altitude mountaineer, and the man famed for reaching the summit of the world’s 14 highest mountains, all of which reaching in excess of 26,240 feet.
The Breitling Emergency
SEARCH + RESCUE
We can make jokes about “overkill” and “overengineering” in the watch world all we want, but sometimes the byproduct of this still genuinely practical to a small nice of the buying market (not to mention being James Bond-level cool). Enter the Breitling Emergency. The idea behind this piece was simple: to add a personal locator beacon to a wristwatch that could actually be picked up anywhere around the globe. To be clear, they REALLY mean everywhere! Operating on two different frequencies, when the automatic antenna of the Breitling Emergency is deployed, a distress signal goes out on a pair of frequencies compliant with the Cospas-Sarsat international satellite alert system in order to alert and guide the nearest available search and rescue teams to your location. Over the years over 40,000 units have been sold, and though hard data is unavailable, Breitling stands by the fact that a significant number of lives have been saved on account of this ingenious system. Of the watches that an up-and-coming adrenaline-seeking explorer should add to their arsenal, the technical advantage of the Breitling Emergency is a tough one to argue with.
Bremont has been a partner of a number of challenging expeditions over the years, including Olly Hicks’ trans-Atlantic crossing in a kayak, and Ben Saunders’ solo and unsupported crossing of Antarctica.That said, their watches are continually engineered to a very high level of durability and shock resistance, which has made them particularly favored amongst military organizations, and generally those with a significant sense of adventure. Our particular pick from the Bremont collection actually pays homage to a different kind of explorer—the highly skilled pilots of the Lockheed U-2 high altitude reconnaissance craft operated out of Beale, California. Often focused on aviation, the goal with the U-2 was to ensure a level of operating accuracy regardless of the stresses to which the Lockheed and its pilots are exposed to during their 12+ hour missions. With an operating altitude of at least 80,000 feet, and exposed to extreme cold, Bremont laboratory-tested the U-2 to 100,000 feet, and to temperatures of 50 degrees below zero celsius.
Tudor North Flag
BRITISH NORTH GREENLAND EXPEDITION
Tudor’s entrant into the category also pays homage to a historical expedition of sorts. The North Flag’s name pays tribute to a troubled two-year expedition named the British North Greenland Expedition from 1952-1954, in which 25 men—a mix of civilian and military scientists—whose research endeavors at camp North Ice survived some of the coldest temperatures ever recorded, determined the depth of Greenland’s ice sheet, and even survived a harrowing low-altitude plane crash when attempting a supply drop. The data gathered by this brave crew provided invaluable in the development of cold-weather combat equipment for the British military. In the case of the Tudor North Flag, visually we see more of a spiritual successor to the Tudor Ranger ii from the 1970s than we do the aesthetics of the Tudor Oyster Prince models that accompanied these brave explorers on their journey. On the flip side, its design and execution is properly suited to the tool/exploration watch category, featuring a stainless steel case, an integrated bracelet, a highly legible dial, and most importantly, Tudor’s in-house Manufacture Caliber MT5612 automatic movement. It’s also the most affordable of our picks, coming in at an entry price of $3,980.
Author: Justin Mastine-Frost