Blancpain Is Making Time For The Reef

The Swiss manufacture’s history with the ocean runs deep — and includes concerted efforts to aid the plight of The Great Barrier Reef.

By Robb Report Staff 22/03/2023

A swirling, kaleidoscopic tableau of colour and coral. Underwater visions of angular, flamboyant, even famous fish (looking at you, Nemo), and the muffled sounds that cocoon the exploration of warm tropical waters. It’s other-worldly, this section of Far North Queensland. Wondrous and transportive.

At least that’s what one still envisions of the Great Barrier Reef. The reality is sadly opposed and devoid of such splendour—reefs are arguably decimated due to the increased frequency of coral bleaching, a loss of marine life due to warming waters and the volume of plastics infiltrating already fragile habitats.

Ever since the first documented mass-bleaching event in 1998, weve heard repeated warnings about the perils facing Australia’s most famous crop of coral—a 348,700-square-kilometre living structure (the largest on earth) that hugs the northeast coastline.

“My concern is that my kids growing up won’t know the reef like I know,” says Dr. Adam Barnett, director of the Biopixel Oceans Foundation. “I don’t want to take my kids snorkelling in 10 years and them be excited about just seeing one coral—that’s what I’m scared of.”

Despite such words, Barnett also breathes some hope into the conversation.

“When all that stuff came out about the reef being dead, it was a little bit of miscommunication by the media. There was a lot of coral bleaching and die-offs in the Far North Queensland waters, but the reef is too big to die completely. And bleaching doesn’t mean death—it can recover.”

The Biopixel Oceans Foundation is the first Australian organisation to receive support from esteemed Swiss watch manufacture Blancpain—the move informing the horologer’s Ocean Commitment initiative, a near 20-year-old program that has seen more than $70 million donated in support of research and conservation efforts.

“The traditional funding model for research organisations like us is long gone,” adds Barnett. “First off, you need a government in place that actually believes in the effects of climate change, but it’s fortunate there are companies out there, like Blancpain, who want to help us do the research and try to conserve the reef.”

Blancpain’s history with the ocean runs deep, developing the first ever dive watch, Fifty Fathoms, in 1953. The famous timepiece was the brainchild of then Blancpain CEO Jean-Jacques Fiechter, an avid diver who sought a timepiece with which to properly explore the waters below.

Current CEO Marc A. Hayek—also a keen diver—has continued Blancpains aquatic alignments and conservation efforts, while also reintroducing the Fifty Fathoms in 2007. Today, it represents around 35 percent of Blancpain’s sales.

“The Blancpain Ocean Commitment has grown in importance over the years,” Hayek tells Robb Report. “Whereas in the past we had to focus on raising awareness, today we can more often take part in field activities. Because after awareness, comes action.”

As for his company’s push into Australian waters: “The Great Barrier Reef is a gigantic lung which can positively or negatively influence other regions, depending on how it is protected. Part of the Great Barrier Reef has already disappeared. We have to limit the damage in order to save it.

“I mean, Australia is a jewel of the ocean and of nature in general. Ningaloo Reef, Western Australia, and so many other places are teeming with wildlife whose health is crucial to the rest of the world. So its not just Australia were trying to give something back to, but the entire world.”

The money committed to the Biopixel Oceans Foundation has seen the group—with links to the Emmy award-winning underwater film crew Biopixel, as headed by marine biologist and self-confessed “fish nerd” Richard Fitzpatrick—create a series of documentaries with Blancpain, highlighting the environmental work underway on the reef and the personalities behind driving such efforts.

Biopixel was formed in 2013 by Fitzpatrick and Australian IT entrepreneur Bevan Slattery, and holds what is the largest marine natural history archive of the South Pacific, creating high-definition visuals for the likes of the BBC, National Geographic and, now, the Blancpain-aligned series, based on their various aquatic expeditions.

The impressive “Megafauna” projects in 2019 and 2021 enabled the team to discover an aggregation of whale sharks off the coast of Far North Queensland— a previously undocumented gathering, which also led to the possible discovery of a new shark species.

While documenting whale sharks—two of which have been affectionately named Blancpain and Fifty Fathoms—is exciting and important work, tracking the animals is central to the research, as scientists look to analyse the movements of marine animals between protected areas and endangered zones. “What we’re trying to do is get people invested in the reef beyond the coral. We all know about what’s happening with the coral, but we need people interested in the wildlife that is so central to the reef and that without the reef wouldn’t exist,” offers Fitzpatrick. “The documentaries allow us to showcase what’s here in an interesting, engaging way, and this expedition that we filmed wouldn’t have been possible without the help of Blancpain.”

It was the Biopixel Oceans Foundations commitment to the reef that recently drew the Swiss manufacture from its Le Brassus headquarters to the balmy, tropical climes of Cairns. “We’ve been completely persuaded by the Biopixel Oceans Foundation,” says Hayek. “First, because it acts on multiple fronts: scientific research, awareness—through images of exceptional quality—and restoration. Also because it shows a great seriousness and commitment which mirrors its deep will to make a difference.”

Like the environment that surrounds them, the small community of scientists, researchers and videographers in Cairns are all connected, forming their own ecosystem of shared data, projects and researchers, something that Robb Report witnessed on a recent reef expedition.

As part of the journey, we headed to a newly built pontoon and research centre at Moore Reef, a two-hour boat ride across the Coral Sea from Cairns. Wedged into an unflatteringly tight wetsuit and among a group that included Andy Ridley, the founding CEO of Earth Hour and founder of Citizens of the Great Barrier Reef, Alicia McArdle, manager of the Mars Assisted Reef Restoration System (yes, the famed chocolate brand also wants a healthy reef) and Professor Matt Dunbabin, creator of an artificial intelligence robot to help regenerate the reef, we indulged in a magical underwater experience, far removed from those fatalistic media reports.

“It’s definitely helping, but we need the tools,” says Dunbabin when quizzed about the impact of these and other initiatives designed to assist the reef. “The reef’s too big to die completely, but until we do something about climate change, we need to give it the tools to adapt and evolve.”

Fitzpatrick views the reef as the canary in the coal mine, and also highlights the most important of words in relation to the Great Barrier Reef—recovery. “We need to get carbon neutral. It’s the only way we’re going to save the planet … Yes, the reef is bleached in parts, but bleached coral can recover. It doesn’t mean it’s dead.”

A refocus on the reefs resilience should be better vocalised, too. “There needs to be a greater focus on that,” says Eric Fisher, biology manager and master reef guide with GBR Biology. “After every major bleaching event and tropical cyclone, the reef has a great ability to recover and come back, and we need more stories like that.”

These are small wins when compared to the numerous challenges confronting the Great Barrier Reef. But they offer tangible hope—for the future of the reef and for future generations.

“The notion of ‘generations’ is dominant in the watchmaking universe—we create our pieces with the future in mind. And to ensure the future, that of the next generations, we must protect the environment,” says Hayek. “Any positive action makes a difference. Even the smallest actions count. We must all, as human beings—and not just as an industry— play our part and act for our planet.”

biopixeloceans.org; blancpain.com

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The Boldest, Most Exciting New Timepieces From Watches & Wonders 2024

Here are the highlights from the world’s biggest watch releases of the year.

By Allen Farmelo, Carol Besler, Paige Reddinger, Oren Hartov, Victoria Gomelsky, Cait Bazemore, Nick Scott, Justin Fenner 10/04/2024

Watches & Wonders, the world’s largest watch show, is in full swing in Geneva. The highly anticipated cascade of new releases is marked by confident individual brand identities — perhaps a sign that watchmakers are done scrambling through the violent collision of restricted supply and soaring demand for high end watches. All seem to be back on solid footing.

Steady confidence is a good thing. Consider Jaeger-LeCoultre offering up traditionally styled grand complications or Vacheron Constantin revamping the classic Patrimony with smaller cases and vintage-inspired radially brushed dials. Consider TAG Heuer celebrating the 55th anniversary of the square Monaco with a skeletonized flyback confidently priced at US$183,000, or Moser similarly showing off a fascinating skeletonized tourbillon in its distinctive 40 mm Streamliner at US$86,900. IWC has leaned hard into their traditionally styled Portugieser line, including an astounding Eternal Calendar complication. We find the storied French houses of Cartier, Chanel and Hermes blurring the lines between jewelry and watchmaking with the technical prowess and artistic whimsy that originally earned these brands their exalted place in the hearts and minds of sophisticated aesthetes. Confidence abounds in 2024.

We could go on and on with examples, but the watches below will demonstrate that for 2024 the big watch brands dared to be themselves, which appears to have given them the confidence to take some seriously compelling horological risks. We have separate coverage of off-show releases and, of course, Patek and Rolex, so keep and eye out for those.

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Patek Philippe Brings Back Collector Favourites at Watches & Wonders 2024

Both the Nautilus Chronograph and Aquanaut Travel Time receive a welcome return.

By Josh Bozin 10/04/2024

If you’re a watch fan, there’s every reason to believe that a Patek Philippe Nautilus, Patek Philippe Aquanaut—or both—would be high on your wish list. Both collections are of historical significance, helping pave the way for the influence of the steel sports watch category—and subsequent chokehold on the market today.

So, when Patek Philippe unveiled its newest releases at Watches & Wonders in Geneva, it was a pleasant surprise to see the return of two of the best past iterations of the Nautilus and Aquanaut collections.

Patek Philippe
Patek Philippe Nautilus Chronograph

First, we get a new Nautilus Chronograph, with the return of the revered 5980, now replete with a new case in white gold and a denim-like strap (a contentious issue among watch pundits). Discontinuing all Nautilus 5980 models earlier this year, including the collector-favourite 5980/1AR in Rose Gold, left a sombre feeling among Nautilus fanatics. These celebrated chronographs, renowned for their distinctive porthole-inspired design and air of sporty elegance, are some of the most sought-after watches in the Patek Philippe catalogue. Thus, the revival of the 5980, now in white gold, is a cause for collectors’ celebration.

The new offering retains its chronograph function with mono-counter tracking 60-minute and 12-hour counter at 6 o’clock on the dial, but now comes on a new denim-inspired, hand-stitched fabric strap with a Nautilus fold-over clasp in white gold—some will love it, some won’t.

Patek Philippe
Patek Philippe

The Calibre CH 28‑520 C/522 powers this new Nautilus with its flyback chronograph, all of which is visible through the transparent sapphire crystal caseback. The dial is also incredibly eye-catching, with a beautiful opaline blue-gray hue accentuated by white gold-applied hour markers with a white luminescent coating. It is priced at approximately $112,000.

Also returning to the fold is the Patek Philippe Aquanaut Travel Time, now with its own bluish hue dial—similar to its Nautilus counterpart. After discontinuing the Aquanaut Travel Time 5164A this year, as well—a watch often regarded as the greatest Aquanaut to date—Patek Philippe surprised all with the new 5164G in white gold. Its greatest attribution is the clever Travel Time GMT function, which clearly rivals the Rolex GMT-Master II as perhaps the travel-friendly watch of choice (if acquiring one was that simple, of course).

For those who prefer the Aquanaut’s sportiness and easy-wearing rubber strap, this newest iteration, with its Opaline Blue-gray dial and matching rubber strap with a deployant clasp, is undoubtedly an icon in the making. The new 5164G has a 40mm case and features the Calibre 26‑330 S C FUS movement, which can also be viewed via the transparent sapphire crystal caseback.

Expect to pick up the new Aquanaut Travel Time for around $95,250.  

Patek Philippe
Patek Philippe Aquanaut Travel Time

 

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Rolex Kicks Off Watches & Wonders 2024 with a New GMT-Master II

The new stainless steel GMT-Master II has already been dubbed the “Bruce Wayne”.

By Josh Bozin 09/04/2024

It may not be the GMT that watch pundits were speculating on—or that collectors were hoping for—but the new Rolex GMT-Master II with a new grey and black ceramic bezel adds dazzle to the revered Rolex collection, which this year celebrates its 70th anniversary.

The idea of a new Rolex GMT launching at the world’s biggest watch fair is cause for a little madness. While the watch community eagerly awaited what was thought to be the discontinuation of the highly sought-after GMT “Pepsi” and the return of the GMT “Coke,” the luxury Swiss watchmaker had other plans.

Instead, we’re presented with a piece that, on paper, hasn’t changed much from previous GMT releases. That’s not to say that this isn’t an impressive release that will speak to consumers—the new GMT-Master II ref.126710GRNR, dubbed the “Bruce Wayne,” is definitely a sight for sore eyes.

Rolex
Rolex

This new GMT retains the same dimensions and movement as the other watches in the GMT collection, along with its 40mm size case and the option to fit either an Oyster or Jubilee bracelet. The obvious changes, albeit subtle, come in the way of its mostly monochrome return; a fact that will appease traditionalists. If you’re opposed to the attention-drawing “Pepsi”, “Sprite”, or “Batman” iterations, this model is a stealthier pick—much like pseudonymous Bruce Wayne.

The other noticeable change is the “GMT-Master II” now applied in green text and a 24-hour hand in green; perhaps a nod to the 2007 Basel World GMT release.

Like many Rolex timepieces, this will generate great hype and attention, so don’t expect allocations to come easily.

Rolex
Rolex

Model: GMT-Master II
Reference Number: 126710GRNR

Diameter: 40mm
Case Material: Stainless steel
Dial Colour: Black
Lume: Chromalight on hands and hour markers
Water Resistance: 100m
Bracelet: Oyster or Jubilee

Movement: Caliber 3285
Functions: Hours, minutes, seconds, date, GMT
Power Reserve: 70 hours
Winding: Automatic

Price: $17,150 (Oyster); $17,500 (Jubilee)
Availability: Now. Non-limited edition

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Moments in Time

Silversea’s Kimberley adventures transport passengers into a different dimension.

By Vince Jackson 09/04/2024

Whoever refuted the theory of time-travel has clearly never set foot in the Kimberley, a geological relic where craggy landscapes forged hundreds of millions of years ago remain untouched, and dinosaur footprints are still etched into the ochre terrain. And while traversing one of the planet’s last great wildernesses in a 4X4 holds rugged appeal, a more refined way to explore the Western Australian outback is by cruise liner. 

Enter the Silver Cloud, one of Silversea’s most luxurious vessels, available for 10- or 17-day expeditions. Upon arrival via private executive transfer, expect a level of intimacy that’s often conspicuous on other cruise experiences. With a maximum of just 200 guests, attended to by 212 staff, the Silver Cloud can lay claim to the greatest passenger-to-crew ratios operating in the Kimberley. Twenty-four-hour butler service is standard for every suite, along with ocean views—no matter if you plump for a modest 22 m² Vista Suite or supersize to a 217 m² Grand Suite.

Yet bigger is not necessarily better on water; the ship itself is compact enough to manoeuvre into isolated coves and waterways that larger vessels—or, indeed, four-wheel-drive Land Cruisers—are unable access. Each sunrise brings the promise of an unforgettable adventure, whether hopping on a Zodiac at Koolama Bay to witness the cascading thunder of the 80-m-high, twin King George Falls, or embarking at Swift Bay to scramble over rocky standstone and view the disparate rock-art forms on display at the sacred Wandjina art galleries—some reckoned to be up to 12,000 years old.

Another example of the Kimberley’s ability to propel you back through time.

Prices from $15,500 pp (10 days) and $23,900 pp (17 days); June 9-19, and August 8-25 or August 25- September 11 respectively; silversea.com

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Kelly Slater’s Hawaiian Hideaway Hits the Market for $30 Million

After seven years of ownership, the legendary surfer is selling his beachfront compound on Oahu’s north shore for $20 million.
Published on April 5, 2024

By Wendy Bowman 08/04/2024

Always wanted to live like a surfing legend—specifically, a pro shredder with countless accolades under his board? Now’s your chance, because the picturesque Hawaiian spread that Kelly Slater has owned for the past several years has just popped up for sale on Oahu’s north shore, as was first reported by The Wall Street Journal.

The asking price is an impressive $30.3 million—or around $18.2 million more than the 11-time champ dolled out for the beachfront digs seven years ago, back in spring 2017. Acquired largely for personal reasons—he fondly remembers crashing at a nearby house with teen surfing buddies in the 1980s—Slater has long floated the place on the rental market, once for as much as $121,500 per month.

Sited amid a gated parcel spanning just over a half-acre, alongside one of the most sought-after streets in the Haleiwa area, the property was built in the early 2000s, and offers a main home and pair of guesthouses—for a total of six bedrooms and eight baths sprawled across a little more than 706 sqm of Asian- and Hawaiian-infused living space, all with access to 101 feet of secluded shoreline.

Though interior photos are scarce, previous listings show the primary dwelling is showcased by a soaring living room displaying an open-trussed ceiling, a curving hardwood staircase tucked off to the side and glass doors spilling out to a covered lanai. Other highlights include a formal dining room, media room, and kitchen outfitted with natural wood cabinetry and an expansive island. Two bedrooms include an upstairs primary suite, which boasts an ocean-view balcony, a seating nook, walk-in closet, and bath equipped with dual vanities and a soaking tub.

Outdoors, the garden-laced grounds host a boardwalk spanning a pond, along with an infinity pool and hot tub bordered by a grassy lawn; and topping it all off are the aforementioned ancillary accommodations, which consist of a three-bedroom guesthouse with its own kitchen and living area, plus a one-bedroom apartment resting atop the detached three-car garage. There’s plenty of Polynesian artwork left behind by a previous owner that’s reportedly part of the sale, too.

The 52-year-old Florida native, who told WSJ he is wrapping up what may be his final year as a pro surfer, also operates numerous business ventures ranging from a private surfing ranch to a sustainable footwear brand, and coming soon, a skin care and sunblock line.

In addition to his for-sale compound, Slater and his longtime partner Kalani Miller also maintain a primary residence he calls a “small beach shack” on Hawaii‘s Banzai Pipeline reef break, plus homes in Florida, California and Australia.

The listing is held by Paul Stukin of Deep Blue HI, an affiliate of Christie’s International Real Estate | Southern California.

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