Underwater worlds and their inhabitants are frequent themes in the watch world and also play a role in art, architecture and the media. In this feature from WatchTime’s Special Design Issue 2019, we look at watches influenced by the oceans and their endangered flora and fauna.
Ulysse Nardin brings a shark into the concrete canyons of Manhattan and uses this surreal image to create a memorable advertising motif. The architectural firm Snøhetta has built an underwater restaurant off the coast of Norway. The media report daily about the dangers that microplastics pose to the oceans and their inhabitants. Today the underwater world seems to be in the public eye more than ever. As a habitat in jeopardy and a natural wonder that will never fully reveal its mysteries, it may be this interplay of fragility, beauty and the unknown that makes the sea and its occupants such an important theme, not only for scientists, but also for artists, architects and designers.
The watch world’s affinity for the ocean is by no means new. Brands such as Blancpain, Omega and Rolex have long been renowned for their high-performance divers’ watches. These famous brands began collaborating with underwater photographers and athletes decades ago. World records and fantastic pictures from the blue depths have long been effective marketing tools. But along with these, the theme of protecting the natural world has been playing an increasingly important role in recent years. Blancpain, for example, developed limited-edition divers’ watches with the acronym “BOC” (Blancpain Ocean Commitment). For each BOC watch sold, Blancpain donates money to projects for the protection of the oceans. Omega has undertaken similar activities and supports various organizations and projects dedicated to marine conservation.
It seems as though the oceans can no longer be thought of without also thinking about the necessity of protecting them. Awareness of their peril seems to have made the blue depths more fascinating than ever. Ulysse Nardin’s shark certainly looks dangerous as it floats through the streets of New York, but it is also a lonely representative of an underwater world caught in an urban landscape. The surreal appearance of the motif makes it an aesthetic hit, but it also subtly raises a provocative question: Is the shark really dangerous to humans in our daily lives? Or are we humans a danger to the shark – and to corals like those painted on the dial of Ulysse Nardin’s new Freak Vision Coral Bay?
This fusion of creatures from the ocean and objects from human civilization is also a cornerstone of two major contemporary art projects. The British artist Jason deCaires Taylor designed several spectacular underwater museums in which his sculptures were installed on the ocean floor, one in Cancun in Mexico and one off the coast of Lanzarote in the Canary Islands. Although his sculptures often show 21st-century humans going about their daily lives, Taylor’s work also sometimes highlights contemporary issues such as the plight of refugees. A strong environmental awareness is always a decisive aspect in this artist’s work. Alongside its aesthetic appeal, his sculpture park is also designed to create new underwater habitats. As the years go by, coral, seashells and algae will ever more densely encrust his creations so that a genuine symbiosis between art and nature will come into being. Taylor conceived his newest project, “Coralarium” in the Maldives, so that it will attract oceanic organisms to colonize the art installation. He also built an artificial coral reef, creating a new habitat for this endangered species. Taylor builds most of his projects in the vicinity of popular tourist destinations – partly with the intention of creating attractions for scuba divers and thus relieving the burden that divers place on natural coral reefs in these heavily visited regions.
Taylor’s coral-encrusted sculptures bear a remarkable similarity to many of the artworks in one of the most attention-getting exhibition projects of recent years. For a show entitled, “Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable,” the British artist Damien Hirst invented a tale about a treasure that sank 2,000 years ago along with a ship belonging to Cif Amotan II, a freed slave who had amassed a fortune and whose wrecked vessel was recently discovered. The exhibition that Hirst presented in two museums in Venice displayed artwork that was allegedly brought to light from the unexpectedly discovered wreck of the sunken ship, which he appropriately christened, “The Unbelievable.” Hirst’s exhibit was an artistic spectacle that received very mixed reviews. But the appearance of many of the display pieces was not without a certain eccentric appeal. Hirst took various historical-looking artifacts and covered them in an impressive way with lavish layers of artificial seashells, sponges and corals, thus making them bizarre offspring from Neptune’s kingdom.
Poseidon’s realm could also be the source of MB&F’s Aquapod divers’ watch, which resembles a jellyfish. The dial of Artya’s Son of Sea Blue Capri goes so far as to integrate genuine elements from the ocean: algae and fish scales. Other timepieces similarly celebrate the underwater world on their faces: alongside Ulysse Nardin’s coral watch, Chopard’s summery and bejeweled Happy Fish similarly brings the wonders of the sea to its dial.
The ocean has always held fascination. Its depths continue to appeal in new and highly expressive ways.