Q&A: Alain Hubert (Rolex)

Alain Hubert is a certified mountaineer, polar guide, civil engineer, and entrepreneur. But more than anything, he is an explorer. 

When did you realize that you wanted to live a life of adventure?

Probably when I first reached the summit of a mountain, in Austria. The sun was setting and I had below me a sea of clouds stretching to the horizon. At that particular moment, I knew that my life would be one of a mountaineering. Through that, I became a polar explorer. But essentially, I’m an entrepreneur without any boundaries between all my activities.

You first ascended the East Ridge of the Amadablam in Nepal in 1983. How have exploring tools evolved since then? What is the biggest advancement you’ve seen during your career?

Definitely the lightness of all our equipment, and the synthetic fibers for clothing and all the technical materials, which gives us the possibility of pushing the limits while at the same time being closer to nature. One of the most important evolutions was the GPS and, later, satellite phones. Not for the progression of comfort, but for ultimate safety. Although now I am a little nostalgic when I think of the total isolation of my first expeditions.

What about watches?

My first Rolex was the Explorer II. I still use it on expeditions because I know it will not stop out on the ice and it is also the one I wear every single day of the year. In the middle of the Arctic Ocean, I’m surrounded by an environment that is white as far as the eye can see. You can only find your way by using the sun and the wind. But my Explorer can be used as a compass to help me keep my bearings in any conditions. I just have to look at my wristwatch to check my direction in relation to the sun. When I’m not on expedition, a quick look at my watch is enough to remind me that I made some fantastic expeditions and it makes me dream of new adventures.

How has the brand impacted the field of exploration, not only for you directly, but overall?

Rolex has such a long tradition of supporting exploration that the name has become intrinsically linked with it. It’s a connection with all the explorers who have experienced firsthand the fragility and exponential speed of change in the environment. This partnership with explorers and scientists has put Rolex in a privileged position. It has become a form of recognition of achievement.

What’s the most dangerous situation you’ve experienced during a climb or expedition? Is there a time you remember being scared?

Certainly my first encounter with polar bears in the Arctic. One huge male surprised me from the top of a block of ice. I had just been pushed back by an extremely strong wind while trying to cross an open lead in the middle of a big storm. I thought it was the end. And yet, at the same time, I was fascinated by the majesty of this animal, rightly called Lord of the Arctic.

In 1998, you set a world record crossing the Antarctic continent in 99 days, the longest crossing ever made on foot and ski. What other record would you like to attempt?

Nowadays breaking a record is no longer the most important goal in my life. When looking at the huge challenge of building a future—to be able to survive and live together on planet Earth as a human family—I have to do all I can. [I want to] share this new human adventure.

So how can we build a more sustainable world overall? You come from an engineering background, and developed the solar- and wind-powered Princess Elisabeth Station in Antarctica. What lessons did you learn?

The Princess Elisabeth Antarctica Research Station was designed and built with the International Polar Foundation. It is a zero-emissions station, with a micro-smart grid that produces all the energy needed for our activities. Having to adapt the rhythm of our activities to the availability of the energy, which depends on the sun and the wind, we realized that it wasn’t that difficult to change our habits—and that it didn’t imply suffering or reducing our standard of living. Building a more sustainable world will only be possible if we reconsider our relationship with energy. This is absolutely feasible. But the question is: Are we able to adapt?

Raptures of the Deep

Photographs by Junichi Ito
Styling by Stephen Watson & Jared Lawton

Doctors call it nitrogen narcosis. Diving’s old guard call it Martini’s Law. Both mean the same thing: For every 15 meters of depth, the physical effect is equivalent to one drink. Euphoria? Hallucinations? All that and more. But you don’t need an underwater trip to see that modern sports watches are reaching higher levels of dry-land appeal. Slowly surface. It’s time to decompress.

Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore Selfwinding Chronograph, $26,600; audemarspiguet.com
Cartier Calibre de Cartier Carbon Diver Watch, $8,950; cartier.com
Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe Day Date 70s, $12,700; blancpain.com
Hublot King Power Titanium Oceanographic 4000, $20,600; hublot.com
LEFT: Rado Tradition Captain Cook MK III, $2,550; rado.com RIGHT: TAG Heuer Aquaracer Calibre 5, $2,400; tagheuer.com
Panerai Luminor Submersible 1950 3 Days Automatic Oro Rosso, $26,700; panerai.com
Rolex Sea-Dweller, $11,350; rolex.com
LEFT: Vacheron Constantin Overseas, $20,900; vacheron-constantin.com RIGHT: Bell & Ross BR 03-92 Diver, $3,700; bellross.com

Supper Club

Surveying the heroes of the Brooklyn food scene with a selection of fine chronographs.

Photographs by Doug Young

It’s almost as easy to lampoon the great awakening of American eating (“The chicken’s name was Colin. Here are his papers.”) as it is easy to lampoon modern-day Brooklyn (“Nah man, Martha’s, that new artisanal mayonnaise spot.”) But the fedora foodies are moving to Ohio, and the half-cocked concept joints closing down, leaving behind only the smartest, realest, most passionate culinary characters. The kind of characters that made Brooklyn’s food scene so remarkable to begin with. The kind of characters that make modern dining feel like a privilege.

In recognition, we spent two days touring the borough, catching up with its most exciting and influential local chefs. We talked about food and progress and the city. Then we dressed them in exciting and influential chronographs, newcomers and mainstays, and photographed them inside the kitchen.

Each chef had a different way of thinking about food. But they all agreed on one thing: It’s a damn good time to be cooking (and dining) in Brooklyn.


Name: Chef T.J. Steele

Known for: Spending more than a decade in Mexico, embedded with local cooks and mezcaleros, then returning to New York and blowing minds.

Wearing: Panerai Luminor 1950 3 Days Chrono Flyback Automatic Ceramica 44mm, $14,700; panerai.com

He says: “All the décor comes straight from my friends in Oaxaca. The bar tiles are from Francisco Toledo and Dr. Lakra. They did the murals, too. There was this famous cantina down there, and it had a mural with three pigs cooking a woman. So we kinda did our own thing with it. Three goats. Pretty great, right?”

Claro
284 3rd Avenue
(347) 721-3126


Name: Emily and Melissa Elsen

Known for: Making patisseries cool again.

Wearing: (Emily, left) Omega Speedmaster 38 Co-Axial Chronograph, $4,900; omegawatches.com + (Melissa, right) Rolex Cosmograph Daytona, $12,400; rolex.com

They say: “Old-school Brooklyn baking is very much Italian, very traditional. New Brooklyn is lot of people like us. More casual, more home-style. When we came here in 1999, it was all delis, you know? Now there’s a coffee shop on every corner.”

Four & Twenty Blackbirds
439 3rd Avenue
(718) 499-2917


Name: Chef Dale Talde

Known for: Besides finishing sixth on Top Chef? Probably the pretzeled dumplings.

Wearing: Jaquet Droz SW Chrono $17,300; jaquet-droz.com

He says: “There’s an ability to take risks out here. Maybe more so before, when rent was cheap. It was the Wild West. When we opened, I couldn’t name another restaurant on Seventh Ave. Did I think I’d still be serving that pretzel dish six years later? No. But I’m happy doing it, because that’s what the neighborhood wants. This restaurant belongs to their neighborhood. If you’re a chef, and you haven’t caught onto that yet, you’re fucking lost.”

Talde
369 Seventh Avenue
(347) 916-0031


Name: Chef Erin Shambura

Known for: Creating a buzzy, wine-focused Italian restaurant that actually lives up to the hype.

Wearing: Hermès Arceau Chrono Titane, $5,100; hermes.comShe says: “We wanted a 1950s Italy feel, but in a modern-day Brooklyn setting. I lived in the Veneto, about 30 kilometers from Venice. The traditional, hand-extruded pasta has sentimental value to me. We’ve got this Tajarin, an egg-based noodle, a play on carbonara, so instead of heavy black pepper in the sauce, the black pepper is in the actual noodle. We’re serving it with ramps, house-cured pancetta, finished with an organic egg … People have so much more knowledge about food than they ever have. They’re eating so many more things. So we can have the pastas, but also sardines and whole fish, presented on the bone. It’s beautiful.”

Fausto
348 Flatbush Avenue
(917) 909-1427


Name: Chef Vincent Fraissange & Cat Alexander

Known for: One of the borough’s smartest seasonal menus, dished up at an unpretentious bistro hidden under the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway.

Wearing: (Vincent, right) Jaeger-LeCoultre Polaris Chronograph, $23,900; jaeger-lecoultre.com + (Cat, left) Throne Watches Fragment 2.0, $495; thronewatches.com

They say: “We got married three years ago, and started a catering company. We were looking for spaces, basically a commissary kitchen, and saw the ‘For Lease’ sign. We live like a block away, and this was a famous butcher shop in the neighborhood, Graham Avenue Meats, a staple for like thirty years. Once we signed the lease, we were like, ‘Man, the neighborhood really needs a restaurant.’ So we just went for it.”

Pheasant
445 Graham Avenue
(718) 675-5588


Name: Chef Justin Bazdarich

Known for: Initiating Brooklynites to gourmet-level, rustic wood-fired eats.

Wearing: Patek Philippe Ref. 5905P Chronograph with Annual Calendar, $78,250; patek.com

He says: “My other restaurants [Speedy Romeo] have wood-burning ovens. At first, New York City said we couldn’t have a wood-burning grill. We had to figure out all this stuff with permitting, but we got it done. So I’m sticking with that wood-fired theme here [at Oxomoco], but just doing Mexican cuisine.”

Oxomoco
128 Greenpoint Avenue
(646) 688-4180

Nordic Trek

 

Photographs by Alex Strohl

Iceland is defined by its lack of humanity. Instead of being edited by men, chopped down and drilled into and paved over, this place was shaped by nature. Rainfall and erosion, volcanic eruption and glacial collapse, life and death and the rightful order of things, all conspiring with the passing of time to shape the most beautiful natural landscape on the planet. We see something like that, and we want to understand.

FEATURED IMAGE AND ABOVE: Scenes from Deplar Farm, the luxe resort on Troll Peninsula. The property is so remote and expansive, some of its snowmobile routes and ski runs have never been run; guests who open them get naming rights.

So it’s only natural that we create devices to mark the hours, weeks, decades—to measure then and now and record the change. Few men contributed more to that endeavor than the horologist Antoine LeCoultre. During the 19th century, his name became synonymous with innovation and accuracy; later, it was spelled out across the dials of icons, like the Reverso, the Geophysic, and the Polaris Memovox.

Our man Strohl wearing his Polaris Memovox in the field. Limited to 1,000 pieces, it’s a rare and special thing, perfect for this kind of once-in-a-lifetime adventure,

The latter watch, a midcentury landmark, famously introduced an underwater alarm function for intrepid divers. This year, Jaeger-LeCoultre is releasing an updated version, instantly recognizable to anybody familiar with the original. Like its eponym, the new Polaris Memovox has the distinctive trapezoidal indices and vanilla-tinted lume hands, that sleek 42 mm case with its signature three-crown layout. But now the case is water-resistant to 200 meters. The hands are wider; the lume is brighter. The crowns are redesigned, tweaked ever so slightly, in the interest of improved ergonomics. Important changes, but small ones, shaped by the passing of time.

So when Alex Strohl made for Iceland, it’s only natural that he did so with a new Polaris Memovox on his wrist. The Spanish-born photographer took to the country’s scenic passes. He went freediving and explored on foot. He sailed across fjords and wheeled up mountains. And he photographed it all. Seeing it all through his lens, we can better understand the place—and, maybe, time itself—just a little better.

Freediving between the North American and the European tectonic plates, near Reykjavik. The water is said to be some of the purest in the world.
Hitching a ride with the local sailors across the fjord in Ísafjörður.

Aero-Aesthetics: The Untold Story of the Aviation Watch

By Sam Fritsch

The aesthetics of enlisted men have been kicking off fashion crazes for centuries, often by way of civilian trendsetters. Consider Humphrey Bogart’s trench coat, Tom Cruise’s Ray Bans, Andy Warhol’s camouflage prints. Or, in the case of the pilot’s wristwatch, Charles Lindbergh and Professor Philip Weems.

The evolution of the aviation watch from a practical instrument to modern wardrobe staple is woven into “Time and Navigation,” on display at The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C. The exhibit explores how the intersection of time and navigation has changed and shaped our world over the last three centuries. It’s broken up into four sections: seagoing navigation, space navigation, satellite navigation, and air navigation. The latter is of particular interest, as it highlights the unique challenges associated with adapting techniques that worked at sea for use in the air.

Artifacts on show include early chronometers, sextants, and charts used by famous aviators. There’s also interwar flying gear and all types of radio equipment, plus the crystal oscillator of the 1920s, which electrically vibrated a crystal, measured its resonance, and gave the time down to the microsecond. But the real treasure is the 1930s-era Longines’ Lindbergh Hour Angle Watch — and the story behind it.

Navigation during the pioneering days of aviation was a struggle. Airplanes weren’t ideal places to do mathematical calculations: there was an open cockpit, pilots wore thick gloves, and the sky was often obscured, making it difficult to see the horizon. Also, the tools weren’t good. Accuracy suffered; pilots didn’t always end up where they thought they were going.

Roger Connor, curator of the “Time and Navigation” exhibition, says that on Charles Lindbergh’s famous 1927 flight from New York to Paris, he didn’t bring a radio or a sextant because they simply didn’t work very well. These tools were also heavy, and he’d rather carry extra fuel to accommodate for navigational errors. Incredibly, when Lindbergh became the first person to make a nonstop solo transatlantic flight, he did so using a compass and a clock.

Charles A. Lindbergh poses in front of Ryan NYP “Spirit of St. Louis outside a hangar in St. Louis, Missouri, May 11, 1927. Image provided by National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution.

But he was nicknamed “Lucky Lindy” for a reason: on the day of his historic trip, the net wind drift across the Atlantic was zero, ideal conditions for navigation. After he made headlines, other pilots thought the trip would be equally as easy; many were injured or killed trying to replicate similar flights. Soon, aviators realized the complexities of negotiating long-range flying.

“Lindbergh himself got lost a couple times (while flying) and finally the lightbulb goes on for him that he needs to figure out how to navigate, because no one else had figured out how to navigate well in an airplane,” explains Connor. “He started asking around and finally someone told him, ‘Oh, this P.V.H. Weems guy has been doing a lot of work on this problem and he’s got some pretty good ideas.’”

Celestial navigation innovator and instructor, P.V.H. Weems.
Image provided by National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution.

Philip Van Horn Weems, an Olympic wrestler and Annapolis graduate, was a decorated veteran of both World Wars and the Godfather of modern avigation. As a US naval officer in the late 1920s and early 1930s, he’d pursued new ways of approaching navigation, ultimately creating a new standard for tabulating Greenwich hour angle to improve accuracy, a technique that the military would use for another three decades. This development earned him a position teaching at the Naval Academy at the dawn of precision flying and, later, early space travel. In 1953, Weems was awarded the Magellanic Premium for his contributions to navigation, an honor that has been given only 33 times since its establishment in 1786.

But as far as his developments have gotten him, Weems had a humble beginning: he started with a simple Waltham torpedo boat wristwatch, which was a standard early 20th century military chronometer. He added a hacking feature to it, meaning he could continually adjust it to the second. This new “hack” watch allowed airplane navigators to set the time on their watches using radio signals, instead of setting their time in port like they did with ships.

“Why is this a big deal? Well, if you can’t adjust it to the second, you might be up to thirty seconds off the minute, even if it’s technically set accurately,” Connor explains. “And that type of inaccuracy could mean you’re flying a few miles off of the equator, so it’s a big error. The ability to set the watch to the second really simplifies the process of calculation, and that’s what it’s all about in the airplane: you have to do it quickly and easily.”

After the two men met in 1928, Weems gave Lindbergh one of these second-setting watches and taught him how to use it. Soon after, the Navy assigned Weems to teach Lindbergh celestial navigation, which differs from traditional navigation because the movement of the stars is slightly different than that of the sun. The two came up with the idea of a watch that measured celestial time, so that airplane navigators didn’t have to work out corrections mathematically. Instead, they’d just check the time on their wrist.

The Lindbergh-Longines Hour-Angle Watch wristwatch, marketed in the mid-1930s, eliminated a simple but troublesome calculation in celestial computations.
Image by Eric Long, provided by National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution.

Lindbergh and Weems went to Longines with the idea of creating the Hour Angle Watch, which used Weems’s method of calculating the celestial fix. The bezel and dial of the watch would “allow navigators to read off the hour angle of a celestial object at Greenwich, eliminating a simple but troublesome calculation.” Longines was ecstatic at the idea of making a Lindbergh watch, and aggressively marketed the collection in the mid-1930s. Because of Lindbergh’s fame, the watches became wildly popular, and not just among aviators. In doing so, the duo became unlikely sartorial heroes, making the flight-ready aesthetic into a salable item, helping blaze a trail for decades of high-style, aero-inspired timepieces.

“The aviation watch became a fashion accessory and it’s funny because, going back to Lindbergh and Weems, they’re the ones who actually kind of created that fashion craze,” Connor explains. “The practical watches had big knobs so you could adjust them with those thick pilot gloves on, but obviously they were shrunk down for the fashion watch. It wasn’t really for aviators anymore, it was really so you could walk around and say, ‘Oh yeah, I have a Lindbergh watch.’”

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