“This is Trieste. We are on the bottom of Challenger Deep. . . . Over.”
– U.S. Navy LT Don Walsh, on January 23, 1960
The watch that is water-resistant to 35,840 feet…in the metal…
Yes, that’s right — 35,840 feet deep, or about 11,000 meters — is how deep the Rolex Deep Sea Special has been. That’s the equivalent of almost 7 miles below the surface. In fact it was to the bottom of the deepest part of Ocean — the southern end of the Mariana Trench known simply as “Challenger Deep” — that the watch and two brave souls went, 50 years ago. It was January 23, 1960, to be precise, and the two brave souls were U.S. Navy LT Don Walsh and Swiss engineer Jacques Piccard. They piloted TRIESTE, a crude vessel known as a bathyscaph, to the “Challenger Deep” and back. And they took a very special Rolex with them. The feat of a human, or a watch, descending to such depths has never been repeated.
Thanks to the great people at Liljenquist & Beckstead of McLean VA (Washington DC), I recently had the privilege and honor to experience firsthand this Rolex Deep Sea Special. As one of the pre-eminent Rolex dealers on the East Coast (among the many other luxury brands they carry — A. Lange, Hublot, Breguet, et al.), Lijenquist & Beckstead was selected to play host to a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the TRIESTE‘s descent aka the “Deepest Dive”.
Specifically, they put on a fine event hosting U.S. Navy LT Don Walsh (co-captain of the TRIESTE) and senior representatives of Rolex USA. And of course, the legendary Rolex Deep Sea Special was front and center.
I must say it was quite an honor to shake hands and chat with LT Don Walsh. If you want to know what a true American Hero is like, you need go no farther than Don Walsh. In my brief conversation with him, Don was wonderful — easy to speak with and clearly full of knowledge stemming from his lifetime of experience in and around the marine environment. I only wish I had more time to question and listen to the stories of his achievement and adventure. Don was gracious to make himself available for several hours at the store, chatting with fans and enthusiasts, signing autographs, shaking hands, and posing for pictures (don’t mind that non-Rolex wearing fellow on the right):
In the below photo, Don Walsh explains the TRIESTE. The sphere at the bottom of the vessel that Walsh is pointing to is where he and Piccard were situated for the mission — about the size of a large refrigertator, according to Walsh. And for **just** 9 hours! Interestingly, as Walsh explained it, the Rolex Deep Sea Special was not technically affixed to the outside of the vessel (though obviously was still exposed to the ocean elements and every bit of the pressure). Did I just shatter a bit of popular watch folklore?
Not surprisingly, Don Walsh has been a Rolex-wearer since 1960. And the man knows how to throw down a wrist shot:
Doing a bit of research on the topic, I came to discover that there are myriad reports of Don Walsh and Jacques Piccard’s famous journey. For example, Jake’s Rolex Blog has extensive writings on the subject. Thus the reason that the focus of this article is on my personal experience with Don Walsh and the Rolex Deep Sea Special and not much more. I will, however, recommend two very recent, very nicely written articles that I came across that I think you will enjoy.
The sunlight began to fade a few hundred feet down. Shades of gray turned to black. The steel structure groaned as the water pressure increased, and the Trieste sank toward the fabled gorge in the Pacific Ocean floor known as Challenger Deep.
One thousand feet. Two thousand feet. At 2,400 feet, the two crewmen dimmed the cabin lights to let their eyes adjust. At about 13,000 feet, they entered the abyssal zone — “the timeless world of eternal darkness,” one of them wrote later.
At 31,000 feet, they echo-sounded for the bottom. There was no return. At 32,400 feet, a thick window cracked with a bang. Farther down they went. Into the bleak hadal zone, named for Hades, the ancient Greek underworld. Finally, at 35,800 feet, then-Navy Lt. Don Walsh, 28, phoned the surface: “This is Trieste. We are on the bottom of Challenger Deep. . . . Over.”
…National Geographic bestowed its highest honor, the Hubbard Medal, on Walsh in a ceremony at our Washington, D.C. headquarters. The U.S. Department of the Navy also awarded Walsh its Distinguished Public Service Award.
“Don Walsh is one of only two people to have visited Earth’s deepest place, and no one else has come close,” said Gil Grosvenor, National Geographic’s chairman of the board. “His accomplishment ranks along with those of our other Hubbard Medal recipients, people like Robert Byrd, Charles Lindbergh, and Robert Ballard.” Jacques Piccard died in 2008, at the age of 86.”
In summary, let me again extend my thanks and congratulations to everyone at Liljenquist & Beckstead for the fine event. And a very special thank you also goes to freelance photographer Dunks Photo for the first class camera work.
50 years later, I and the rest of the world look back in awe and wonder on the inspirational achievement of Don Walsh, Jacques Piccard, and the Rolex Deep Sea Special!
You can see many more (and slightly larger) pictures of the event in my photo report by clicking here.