Gérald Clerc Is Taking The Diving Watch Truly Overboard, So You Can Too
The term “tool watch” might elicit a few sniggers at the back of the class. But while there are indeed watches marketed specifically at the sort of people who’ll never know better, there are also watches that are tools in the proper sense – and a diving watch is one of them.
So much so, there’s even an ISO standard, number 6425, which sets out the minimum requirements for a watch that – unlike so many so-called “pilot” watches or “driving” watches – can and should be used according to its raison d’être. After all, it is rather useful to know how long you’ve been diving and, by that token, how much oxygen is left in your tanks. It was Blancpain who first invented the circumferential timing bezel in 1953 for French naval frogmen, then Rolex made it standard practice, along with screwed-down crowns and rubber gaskets, just in time for the newfangled amateur sport of “S.C.U.B.A.” to explode onto the scene (helped in no small part by the popularity of scuba’s co-inventor Jacques Cousteau and his awe-inspiring underwater films).
Maison Clerc, founded in Geneva over 140 years ago, excelled during the Sixties and Seventies in crafting diving watches that more than met this waterborne demand – authentic exploring machines equipped with hermetically sealed innovative cases, thick glass, impressively sturdy gaskets and robust screw-down case-backs. Boosted by his family firm’s renowned heritage, and – in no small part – his own personal passion for exploring the depths, Gerald Clerc determined in 1998 to prove that the waters of this particular horological speciality need not be stagnant.
He revived Maison Clerc, and – in brave contrast to its more traditional creations that once found favour with artists like Salvador Dali, Paco Rabanne and Maurice Chevalier – unveiled a formidable line-up of waterbabies that remain defiant in the face of the status quo; a veritable tidal wave against to the cookie-cutter, circular classicism of the big brands.
Hugely complex and massively architectural cases guarantee water resistance all the way to 500 metres, where the aforementioned ISO 6425 only asks for 200. In the case of the GMT Power Reserve, it’s 800m, and it’s kitted out with a helium escape valve – just in case you’re a commercial saturation diver, whose watch’s crystal is likely to pop off during decompression owing to all the tiny helium atoms that leaked into the case during that fortnight at the bottom of the ocean welding the steel legs of an offshore oil rig. Don’t you just hate it when that happens?
Jokes aside, the truth is the diving watch is that potent cocktail of plebian extremity; a typically unfulfilled exercise of high engineering that serves as a powerful status symbol on civvy street. Just as you’ll never take your supercar to 207mph unless you’re riding shotgun with Jenson Button on a McLaren jolly, you’ll almost certainly never take your Clerc down to 800m. In fact, the furthest down a watch has ever been was 534m in 1988, and even that required its elite Compagnie Maritime d’Expertises diver to wear a hyperbaric suit.
But your Clerc watch represents more than unfulfilled potential – it represents engineering on a superhuman scale. A bold technical achievement that you can wear proudly every day. Indeed, the Hydroscaph case alone corresponds to one of the most complex constructions in contemporary watchmaking. Developed in close co-operation with a team of underwater exploration professionals, it comprises 81 to 103 individually machined parts ensuring that each individual case is truly unique.
We should all be grateful people like Gérald Clerc are keeping things fresh, cutting edge, and – to be frank – a hell of a lot sexier than a Rolex.