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You and Me and the Deep Blue Sea
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You and Me and the Deep Blue Sea

Thursday, 22 August 2019
By Victoria Townsend
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Victoria Townsend

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8 min read

In-depth with Panerai ambassador and world freediving champion Guillaume Néry

Oh no! Not another alarming report about the state of the seas! You bet it is, and even if we’ve seen and heard it all before, we sometimes need another look at facts and figures to really fathom the damage. In February 2019 National Georgraphic.org wrote: “The numbers are staggering. There are 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic debris in the ocean. Of that mass, 269,000 tons float on the surface…” And according to earthday.org (2018) “about 8 million metric tons of plastic are thrown into the ocean annually, of which 236,000 tons are microplastics.”

Submersible Chrono “Guillaume Néry” Edition 47mm in DLC (PAM00982) © Panerai
Submersible Chrono “Guillaume Néry” Edition 47mm in DLC (PAM00982) © Panerai

Plastics? Microplastics? The danger is real. They’re killing birds, fish, turtles, mammals, coral and plants, not to mention the fishing nets that harness and kill hundreds of dolphins and other marine animals daily. For the fish that do survive, they’ve swallowed plastic poisons that we in turn consume. According to marine scientist Marcus Eriksen, “some four billion plastic microfibers per square kilometer litter the deep sea.” Whether plastic, microfibers, or invisible radioactive wastes, they all travel the oceans via wind patterns and currents. Known as gyres, there are 5 of them: one each in the North and South Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, and one in the Indian Ocean.

Every minute, the equivalent of one garbage truck of plastic is dumped into our oceans, and it’s expected to increase.

Five massive plastic islands have now materialized around the world as a result of these gyres. The one in the Pacific between the U.S. States of California and Hawaii is the size of Texas. That’s 268,581 sq mi, or 696,241 sq km; for comparative purposes, continental France with Corsica is 547,030 sq km. The worst is yet to come: every minute, the equivalent of one garbage truck of plastic is dumped into our oceans, and it’s expected to increase: by 2050 there will be more plastic in the oceans than fish (by weight).

If you’re thinking you’re not responsible, an estimated 80% of marine debris originates from land sources that flow into the sea. It includes plastic, paper, wood, metal and other manufactured materials, transported to beaches and to all depths of the oceans: some as far as 11 km deep. Cigarettes and filters, plastic food wrappers and containers, caps and lids, tableware, plastic beverage bottles and plastic bags all compose the new marine environment. Cosmetics and toothpastes contain microbeads.

And watches in all this?

Divers, with their direct experience of the seas, were among the first to alert the world to the problem, and watch brands, especially those that make dive watches, such as Blancpain, Breitling, Carl F. Bucherer, Omega, Oris, or Rolex, have long initiated and / or participate in scientific and clean-up programs. Far from being marketing gimmicks, their aim is not just to help clean but also to educate today’s and future generations.

Submersible Chrono “Guillaume Néry” Edition 47mm in titanium (PAM00982) © Panerai
Submersible Chrono “Guillaume Néry” Edition 47mm in titanium (PAM00982) © Panerai

Officine Panerai, with its exciting new offer for a limited number of lucky Panerai watch owners to participate in a once-in-a-lifetime personalized experience with a brand ambassador, has chosen French free-diver Guillaume Néry as Ambassador of the Sea. Firmly anchored in the marine world with its history as supplier of precision instruments and timepieces to the Italian Navy, the brand is a perfect partner for this two-time World Champion and breaker of four constant-weight free-diving world-records. Néry boasts an official record of -126 meters, can hold his breath for 7 minutes, and…is a filmmaker who presents his underwater documentaries on-line, as well as in private and public institutions. Mediatic events such as his recent underwater performance at the Aquarium de Paris, organized by Panerai, contribute to the notoriety of a cause he has been defending for more than 10 years.

Love at first sight

Born in Nice, France, on the Mediterranean coast, Néry discovered freediving at the age of 14. “It was love at first sight” he tells me, “to explore the depths”. Years of competition later, a life-threatening diving accident in 2015 (through no fault of his own) left him with time to reflect upon future competitions, but also upon his long-time desire to share the beauty of the sea through films. “I had been filming underwater scenes since 2010, and realized, with my fiancée, that we could really touch people by conveying emotion, with art and images.” For both of them, the deteriorating environment is a “problem that is extremely grave, for the entire planet and for all of humanity”. He knows what he’s talking about. He has filmed in all corners of the globe, including Antarctica, and confirms that the most visible sign of the problem is plastic, everywhere. The most shocking image he has ever seen? “One early morning, I went to a small beach in Cuba, where hardly anyone goes; the entire beach was totally covered by plastic.” And while he attributes a notable depletion of fish stocks to pollution, overfishing, he says is also a serious problem.

Panerai is reputed to be extremely reliable under all conditions, with a precision and resistance that are extraordinary.
Guillaume Néry

Before becoming an ambassador of Panerai, Néry enjoyed a 12-year collaboration with Ball Watch. “I’m grateful to them for accompanying me from the beginning of my career, and I’d always said that only when I encountered another brand with a very strong history and story, prestigious, with quality, would I leave them. During my discussions with Panerai, I quickly realized we came from the same universe, with a love for the sea, with shared Mediterranean roots.” There is also the technical side. “Panerai is reputed to be extremely reliable under all conditions, with a precision and resistance that are extraordinary. As a free diver, going into very extreme environments, it was necessary for me to be associated with such a brand.”

The “Nery Experience”

Panerai asked him to create a new watch “that would represent my universe, to accompany not just me in my explorations, but also all adventurers, including those who go into the depths with a diver watch”. The result was two watches resistant to 300 m: the Panerai Submersible Chrono ‘Guillaume Néry’ Edition 47mm PAM00982 in titanium with a blue ceramic disc on the unidirectional rotating bezel and blue rubber strap, and the Limited Edition model of 15 units: a DLC coated PAM00983 with a blue/green and black dial and black rubber strap. Both have a dedicated Guillaume Néry engraved caseback. “And both are beautiful” he says. “I am not a watch designer, but I did participate in the discussions, and my first and foremost request was to use the colour blue, to represent the sea. And I wanted the Submersible case, which is perfect for divers thanks to its large size that provides easy readability. I like the size, for men. It is very present, yet perfectly wearable, not over imposing. And because it is made in titanium, remains very light. I wear it all the time.”

The global situation is not improving.
Guillaume Néry

Owners of the Limited Edition model will accompany Néry to Polynesia, where he lives half the year, “to dive and discover my ocean world”. This exceptional personal experience, one of three imagined by Panerai CEO Jean-Marc Pontroué, is foreseen from September 25th to the 28th. “The owners and future participants were known from the beginning, almost as soon as the watch was presented at SIHH 2019”, adds Néry.

Submersible Chrono “Guillaume Néry” Edition 47mm in DLC (PAM00982) © Panerai
Submersible Chrono “Guillaume Néry” Edition 47mm in DLC (PAM00982) © Panerai

He remains humble about the impact of his films. “The global situation is not improving, and while positive actions may give some results, everything circulates, and frankly, I am quite pessimistic. I do have some hope with younger people, who can be more affected by the images they see, and perhaps even influence their parents to change their attitudes. But it will take time before the level of consciousness results in real action. Both cleaning-up and education are necessary, and yes, people need to communicate and exchange, but changes are required also at political levels to have real results.”

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