Jaeger-LeCoultre’s latest limited-edition packs vintage diving flair (and a hint of hand-painted artistry) into a contemporary package.
The business of retro design can be tricky. Remain too faithful to the original, and you risk looking regressive. (Or, worse still, lazy.) Lean too far in the opposite direction, and you’ll lose the old-school charms. There’s no universal recipe for success. Paying homage can be the quickest way to end up creatively bankrupt.
For an example of retro done right, cast an eye toward Vallée de Joux, and the folks at Jaeger-LeCoultre. Last year, they wanted to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Memovox Polaris, a landmark mid-century design and the first diving watch with an amplified underwater alarm. Instead of a single tribute, Jaeger-LeCoultre developed an all-new Polaris collection, offering everything from a three-hand automatic to a rose-gold chronograph and worldtimer. Each offered a unique riff on the 1960s Memovox aesthetic. The throwback vibes were strong, but the collection felt thoroughly modern. No small accomplishment.
Now we have the newest addition to the Polaris lineup, the Polaris Date Limited Edition, initially available only to North American customers. All the better for the brand’s U.S. clientele to secure their piece of the rock; produced in a series of only 800 pieces, the Polaris Date Limited Edition represents one of the more exclusive (and desirable) new Polaris models yet.
Panerai’s latest collection isn’t just promising the spirit of high-seas adventure, it’s actually dropping you in the deep end.
Aspiration and high-end watches go hand in intricate hand. Indeed, what you wear on your wrist tells people not just who you are, but who you aspire to be. Wear a certain watch, and you’re a part of man’s first mission to the moon. Wear others, and you’ll conjure the savoir-faire of a British secret agent, the determination of history’s greatest diver, or the impossible cool of cinema’s finest pool shark. Companies have whipped up as many of these kind of promises as there are ways to tell time, yet rare is the watch that actually delivers on one.
Both promising and delivering is Panerai’s new Submersibles series: three watches inspired by the storied brand’s heritage and packaged with the real experiences and characters they evoke.
The Submersible Guillaume Néry, a limited edition of 15 pieces comes with an invitation to dive with the world champion of freediving in French Polynesia
For example, those who purchase Panerai’s new Marina Militare Carbotech won’t just get a dive watch designed in collaboration with the Italian Navy, they’ll get the real-life experience of training alongside COMSUBIN, the Italian Navy’s equivalent of the U.S. SEALs. As you might imagine, gathering more than three dozen willing and able customers who can afford the Marina Militare Carbotech’s roughly $40,500 price tag, and then flying them halfway around the world to train in the choppy waters off the Italian peninsula alongside real candidates for Italy’s most elite naval outfit is not without complications.
“Our head of retail is a little nervous,” says Panerai spokesperson Aileen Schiro. “It’s the first time COMSUBIN has let the public into their operations. That was the most difficult to coordinate, as I understand it. A big part of their work is sea rescues. People get stuck, it’s very very rough water. There’s pirates, it’s scary stuff. They helicopter in and drop in to do rescues. Skydiving. So the experience embodies all of that. It’s very authentic.”
Those unwilling or unable to experience that level of authenticity can still enjoy the timepiece itself, of course. Each watch in the collection comes in two versions: a special edition that comes with the experience and one without. For the COMSUBIN piece, there were 33 experience editions available, one for each of the gold medals of valor the unit has received in its history. Each one has a unique carbon fiber dial that’s both lighter than titanium and stronger than steel to help the watch withstand pressures up to 300 meters in depth. The design also incorporates a new luminescent aspect: The dial’s markers are made with blocks of lume that have been 3-D laser-cut. Finally, each case features the engraved image of either a frogman or a diver on the reverse. (As with the rest of the collection, these have sold out, though the success of this first edition might lead to more in the future.)
The purchase of the Submersible Marina Militare Carbotech allows for 33 owners the opportunity to train with the COMSUBIN, Commandos of the Italian Navy for a few days.
The collection’s other two watches take similar cues from the brand’s existing partnerships with intrepid characters. Staying with the naval exploration theme, the second piece is the Submersible Chrono Guillaume Néry Edition, which takes its name from the record-breaking free diver and photographer. Those who purchase one of the 15 available experiences—one for each world record Néry has broken—will be offered the chance to visit French Polynesia to dive with the man himself while staying at his house. (The Néry, similar to all experience-based pieces in the collection, retails for just shy of $41,000.)
The experience is timed so that divers will witness nearby whale migrations, with or without the guidance of an elite diver. “A big part of the area is an eco-preserve,” Schiro says. “Getting the visas to go in is very difficult.” As part of the purchase process, interested parties had to commit to be available on the trip’s predetermined date. (One presumes a certain level of physical fitness might be useful as well.)
The watch itself, designed with Néry’s input, is appropriately sporty, with white luminescent markers that remain visible even in the pitch blackness of a deep dive. There’s a unidirectional bezel for timing dives, and the back is engraved with the “126”—the record-breaking number of meters Néry dove underwater on a single breath. The experience edition also includes an etching of Néry himself, along with the island of Moorea, the site of the customer’s guided adventure.
The final piece is a collaboration with adventurer Mike Horn, the first person to explore both the North and South poles in the same year. The experience on offer here allows buyers to join him on his amphibious, glacier-climbing expeditionary sailing ship, The Pangaea, as he navigates the ice floes of the Arctic. (If the timing works out, guests will also witness the Northern Lights.)
Though the experience is limited to 19 people, all who opt for just the watch will get something rather unique. Horn’s timepiece reflects the explorer’s committed environmentalism: the straps are made with recycled plastic materials, as is the packaging, which is itself recyclable. The Submersible Mike Horn Edition is also the first chronometer be made with a form of aeronautical-grade recycled titanium. It’s also subject to extreme-weather robotics testing designed in part by Horn itself. The result is sporty, sleek, and durable—a suitable piece for no matter where your personal adventures take you.
Created by Panerai for explorer Mike Horn, the Submersible case is made from EcoTitanium, a world premiere new material introduced by the Panerai “Laboraatorio di Idee” with a strap made out of recycled plastic.
Last year, electric-car racing superstar Jean-Éric Vergne became the fourth man to capture the Formula E championship trophy. Now, he’s added a different kind of hardware to his collection: a new TAG Heuer chronograph.
By Max Prince
FIA Formula E, the world’s foremost electric-car racing championship, is on a roll. There’s the redesigned-for-2019 race car (beautiful) and the talent level of the drivers (exceptional). There’s also the new deal with officials in Seoul, where the series will hold a race starting next season. BMW now has a team. So do Jaguar, Audi, Nissan, and Citroën’s luxury subsidiary DS Automobiles. In 2020, both Porsche and Mercedes will enter the championship. Oh, and TAG Heuer, one of the series’ founding partners and official timekeeper, has also extended its sponsorship. Talk about momentum.
At press time, the 2019 Formula E Championship season is almost a wrap, and it’s been a wild one. Each race—or ePrix, in official parlance—has been won by a different driver, and the championship is up for grabs. One of the few certainties is that, after finishing second at the opening race in Saudi Arabia and later notching an overall win at the Sanya ePrix in China, veteran driver Jean-Éric Vergne is sure to be in contention.
Vergne, 29, is no stranger in the winner’s circle. Known as “JEV” to his fans, the Frenchman made a splash when he captured the French Formula Renault 2.0 title at the age of 18. He then took the British Formula 3 title, raced in Formula 1 for Scuderia Toro Rosso, and served as development driver on the Ferrari team. Vergne first joined Formula E in 2014, racing for Techeetah—which started out as a privately owned underdog among larger corporate teams— beginning with the 2016–17 season. Last year, he won four ePrix on his way to taking the Drivers’ Championship, cementing his place in history as one of electric-car racing’s first superstars.
That notoriety has paid dividends. In addition to capturing the 2018 Formula E trophy, Vergne also joined TAG Heuer as a brand ambassador. (His watch of choice? The new 45mm Carrera Heuer 01 Chronograph, contrast black-stainless case on a black rubber strap.) The partnership represents something of a electric-car racing power duo: Formula E’s greatest sponsor and its championship driver.
Entering the home stretch of the 2019 season, we caught up with Vergne before the Monaco ePrix to talk history, watches, and the bright future of electric-car racing.
Watch Journal: You raced in Formula 1 before joining Formula E. How does driving a battery-powered race car compare to a V-8 or turbo V-6? What changes did you make to your driving style?
Jean-Éric Vergne: It changes a lot. But the main difference is the sound and the vibrations—you don’t get [those] anymore with the electric car. Then you have less power with the electric car, but you have quite a lot of torque. So you still have a very good impression of speed coming from the powertrain. But, with any type of driving, the tracks are so different that it’s very difficult to compare driving Formula 1 and Formula E.
WJ: You’ve been affiliated with some of motorsport’s top factory teams, including Ferrari. How is driving for a smaller team like Techeetah different? What are the advantages and disadvantages?
JEV: The last two years here we were a private team with the smallest budget. And it was quite fantastic for me as a driver—I had a lot of things to say in the team. I played a much, much bigger role than a driver would play on a factory team, because we were basically building this team from scratch. [My input] had a lot of implications in all the decision-making for the team. [A race team is] a little bit like a boat, you know? If you are small, you can steer much quicker in the direction you want. So that was our strength. I will say that was a big advantage. Then the weakness is that we did not have any testing days, because [that] was only allowed for the manufacturers. But, nevertheless, we were able to win in front of all the big manufacturers. That was quite nice.
WJ: In recent years, other racing series have been dominated by a single driver. Lewis Hamilton has won four of the last five Formula 1 titles. Sébastien Ogier has won the last six World Rally Championship titles. But Formula E has had a different champion in each of its four seasons. Why is that?
JEV: I think the level is so competitive that it makes it very hard for the driver to win every season, every championship. The other thing is that all the cars are extremely similar. We don’t see a [prominent mechanical] difference between the first and last team in Formula E, at least compared to Formula 1. Our budgets are also a lot lower than Formula 1 or the World Rally Championship. Which helps explain why, for example, a small private team like Techeetah was able to compete against a giant like Audi. I think that’s the main difference. This year, it’s more complicated—it’s been a bit of a weird season. But it’s still very difficult to say who’s going to win.
WJ: Last year, you won the Formula E Paris ePrix and finished first in the 24 Hours of Le Mans LMP2 class, driving for the G-Force team. [The latter win was later revoked on a technicality —Ed.] As a native Frenchman, which was more exciting?
JEV: Winning in Paris was an absolutely crazy feeling. It was the best win I ever had, but winning Le Mans was so very special. Obviously as a driver, you always want to win the overall classification [which is LMP1, the class above LMP2] because, you know, that’s the first car finishing in 24 hours. So hopefully one day, I will be able to race in the top category of LMP1, or whatever new category they are going to come up with. I will give it all to win, that’s for sure. But this year, I’m already on a very good LMP2 team, and we’re going to try and win it again—and not be disqualified twenty-four hours later!
WJ: Speaking of Paris, how did growing up near the city inform your taste in music, culture, and fashion?
JEV: I think I started to learn all of that when I started moving away from France, started traveling around the world, and living in other countries. So I guess I’m a multicultural in terms of, you know, fashion, music taste, all of those things.
WJ: So why did you start collecting timepieces? We’ve always noticed the great watches sneaking into your Instagram feed.
JEV: You know, like every man, you love the cars, you love watches, and obviously the other stuff. When I was younger, I obviously didn’t have the money to afford nice cars—the cars that I wanted—but I have a little bit of money to afford the watches I liked. So I always tried to find good watches. To me, this is only jewelry that a man can wear. And watches are an investment as well. It’s a beautiful thing to have and this is something I love. I love to change watches, and that love just keeps increasing year after year.
WJ: What about watches appeals to you? Is it just the mechanical aspect, or something else?
JEV: Well, [the mechanics] obviously are very important to me when I choose to buy a watch. Also the number of watches being made, the rarity. And there is something appealing to me about the story behind the brand, the story behind a specific watch. When the watch is beautiful, but there is no story at all, it kind of bores me. TAG Heuer is an iconic sponsor of my sport, of my world, since I was a kid and TAG was collaborating with [the late Formula 1 champion] Ayrton Senna, and before that, Steve McQueen. When I see the Monaco, it reminds me of all the history, the great people that wore this watch. To me, beside the fact that it’s a beautiful watch, that is what really attracts me, you know? The story behind it, and the history.
WJ: TAG Heuer’s ad campaigns have also featured Michael Schumacher. He crashed into you at the Singapore Grand Prix in 2012, and the television cameras caught a nice moment of you two talking. What was he telling you?
JEV: He said he was sorry. Then he said something else funny—but I can’t really say. [Laughs]
WJ: Do you have a philosophy about time?
JEV: Time is everything to me, and you need to be as quick as possible. But everything in life is time, you know, from the moment you are born, until you die. So I guess what really matters is to make the most out of your time.
WJ: Last question: What does the future hold for the Formula E series, and electric-car racing in general?
JEV: That’s a question I cannot really answer. The only thing I know is that the Formula E is going very well. Manufacturers are getting interested, getting into the championship. We are now nine manufacturers, which is massive. I see a bright future for Formula E, and obviously I’m extremely happy to be part of it, to be able to write the history of Formula E. Hopefully I can write it even more—with more wins and more championships!
“Be Prepared.” The Boy Scouts motto suggests that in order to avoid mishaps, you must be ready for any type of emergency that might arise. Designed for action, this selection of military-inspired watches truly are ready for anything—from the frontlines of Hollywood to a weekend of hunting, camping, and fishing. Never be taken by surprise again, and always remember to bring snacks.
Photographs by Junichi Ito Styling by Stephen Watson Prop Styling by Linden Elstran
Photographer Ben Thouard doesn’t just surf the big waves—he takes you inside them.
Photographs by Ben Thouard
Not to be like this, but you’d really rather be Ben Thouard right now.
The ruggedly handsome, well-mustachioed Frenchman isn’t just a seasoned surfer and a vet behind the camera, he’s someone who’s managed to make a profitable, fulfilling life out of combining those passions. Between commercial and purely artistic projects, he’s managed to forge a photographic style that captures the insides, underneaths, tops, sides, and more of the waves he rides and loves. Along with lensing and publishing SURFACE, a collection of his wave photography, and touring the world behind solo exhibitions, he’s also settled down into true domestic bliss on Tahiti, which serves him as both home base and muse.
It’s this mix of the adventurer and artistic spirits that attracted Ulysse Nardin, who recently added him to a growing crew of endorsed explorers that includes sailors Dan Lenard, Sébastien Destremau, and Romain Pilliard, snowboarder and surfer Mathieu Crépel, Kitesurfing champ Alex Caizergues, and freediver and fellow photographer Fred Buyle.
We grabbed Thouard for a moment to talk about the match between him and the watchmaker, how he managed to become an ardent surfer despite growing up in France, his love of the ocean, and more. It’s a colorful set of answers you’ll wish you were the one giving.
Let’s start at the beginning: how did you get into surfing? I’ve always been fascinated by the ocean and waves, so it didn’t take long for me to focus on surfing. I discovered the sport with my older brothers when I was around 8 and fell in love with it right away.
Why did you fall so hard? It’s just you and the ocean. It takes your mind away from any troubles you have on land.
And how’s the surfing in France? Not many people think of it as a destination for the sport. I’m from the southeast of France, where there are very few waves. You have to be patient and wait for the right conditions to surf—so that probably grew my passion even more.
I read that you inherited your love of the sea from your father. What’s the most important lesson you learned from him? Yes, my father had a sailboat and we spent much of our free time onboard. The most important lesson I learned was to never turn your back to the ocean—not that the ocean is bad, but because it’s powerful and unpredictable. You have to be in constant observation and ready to move and adjust. It’s a continuous challenge, and this is what I like about it.
And when did photography come into the mix?I found my father’s old film camera at home, bought a few rolls, and started playing with it. Since a very young age, I’ve always been attracted to art. I’d been painting for years before I started surfing and long before I discovered photography. Then photography took it all over. Then I started mixing it up with surfing. All of a sudden, I imagined photography as my occupation and the world opened up to me. I knew it was going to be challenging, but being able to create, witness, freeze, document, and show people my work with the ocean was something much stronger than anything else.
And that’s when you chose to become a professional photographer. There was no choice to make—this was it! Once I made the link between surfing or the ocean and photography, I knew.
And that was when you were—what—15? What did your family think?To convince my parents that I wanted to become a photographer was a completely different story, especially since my dad is a surgeon. But they knew I had a strong personality and that if this was what I wanted to do, I was going to do it two-hundred percent, so they followed me and supported me.
What do you consider to be your greatest adventure to this point?When I was 19, I quit school, bought a ticket to Hawaii, and started work as a freelance photographer. Also, when I moved from France to Tahiti, eleven years ago. I realize that all these amazing experiences were related to my wish of adventure and exploration.
And what’s the most remarkable thing you’ve seen underwater?Definitely the images I created for my book SURFACE—you’re able to see the landscape through breaking waves. I imagined these photos in my mind a while ago without really thinking it was possible. Then I realized Tahiti was the place to capture them. I put all the energy I had into this project. It was the most amazing moment I’ve seen out there!
How is an adventurer different than an average civilian? Is the difference something you’re born with? Something you learn?A bit of both I think! It’s definitely something you’re born with, but also something you wish to develop. It’s easy to stay home on your couch and escape from any challenge. To go on an adventure you have to accept challenges and enjoy it. I think that’s a state of mind and some people just don’t like it. You also have to give yourself the chance to experience these challenges.
Many cultural critics believe that we’ve lost our sense of wonder. Do you agree? No! I don’t agree at all—not in my case at least. It’s true that some people don’t have that taste of adventure in their life, but I believe that the next generation has a strong desire to go out there and experience life.
Talk about your process. When you’ve got a new project brief and a clean sheet of paper, where do you start? It starts in my imagination, then I go out there and try to shoot it. This always leads me to shoot new and different photos. Then the inspiration comes from the ocean—magic just happens in front of me and I try to capture it.
How did you get involved with working with Ulysse Nardin?I’ve always been intrigued by the relationship between watchmaking, photography, and the ocean. They’re all related by one main factor: time! Ulysse Nardin truly connects these elements as the brand is deeply rooted in the sea. The ocean is a huge part of my life, so the partnership felt very natural. It began with Ulysse Nardin reaching out, as they wanted to build a team of “Ulysses” to tell stories about the sea. I loved the idea of being in a group of explorers who share my passion.
The UN Diver watch you use can travel to depths of 300 meters—what’s the deepest you’ve been? Personally I’ve only experienced a depth of sixty meters or so in scuba diving, but swimming in the heavy waves, you definitely need a timepiece that can endure heavy pressure. Only the best and the strongest can follow you on your journey. My favorite is the Ulysse Nardin Diver Chronometer. It’s comfortable on the wrist and easy to read even when I’m underwater.
Were you involved with the design of the watch? Are you working with Ulysse Nardin in other initiatives? Not yet but I am of course open to it!
You’ve lived in the south of France, Hawaii, and Tahiti—what are your favorite aspects of each place and what are the differences? Do you have a favorite? Each place is special in its own way. France will forever be home. It’s where I grew up and where all my family is from. I love going back there every year! But Tahiti is definitely the best place I’ve found on earth. Where I live is very quiet, very remote, but it gives my wife, two daughters, and me a wonderful quality of life. I have the perfect playground as a water photographer, and I was able to create my own style of photography.
What unconquered challenge are you looking forward to facing? Is there a place or person that you’d like to photograph, a place that you haven’t visited, or a dream photo assignment? My own large-scale exhibition in Paris where I can show people the amazing power of the ocean as well as its delicacy and fragility! Over the last few years, I have almost exclusively worked on my personal projects, and less and less for clients. I’ve had the chance to devote most of my time to something I loved, which lead me to create my book SURFACE and to producing a dozen of exhibitions over the last year. I will definitely continue to work in this direction and hopefully make that dream happen!