Gianluca Genoni is a large guy, tall and powerful. When he demonstrates how he breathes in preparation for an apnea (breath-holding) demonstration, the air emerging from his lungs howls like a gale. No surprise that he is a diving champion: on 28 September 2012 he set a new world record, reaching a depth of 160 metres using an electric water-scooter to descend and ascend, surviving purely on the air in his lungs.
In this feat he was accompanied by his Blancpain 500 Fathoms, water-resistant to 1,000 metres, with a decompression valve, and a dial that ensures perfect legibility even in the dark of the sea depths. He was underwater for 3 minutes and 41 seconds. His numerous world records include static apnea with oxygen, in which he held his breath underwater for just over 18 minutes.
Gianluca Genoni has been a brand ambassador for Blancpain for seven years, and he was present both at the Baselworld watch show in April 2013, and in Milan in November, for the anniversary celebrations of the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms hosted by president and CEO Marc A. Hayek. In 1953, practical diver’s watches did not exist, and so Jean-Jacques Fiechter, then CEO and himself a keen diver, set out to create one. The result was a watch that prefigured what would become classic features: a uni-directional bezel with markings to check dive time and air reserve; reliable water-resistance; automatic winding, to reduce the number of times that the crown has to be unscrewed; legibility in light and dark conditions; and anti-magnetism.
The version presented this year, the Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe, has the classic look of its illustrious 1953 predecessor, but it is powered by a sophisticated calibre incorporating a non-magnetic silicon balance spring. The unidirectional bezel can be turned in one-minute increments. Legibility is ensured in all conditions by a contrasting dial with luminescent gold hour-markers. The watches are fitted with a triple-loop NATO strap, broad, practical and robust, introduced back in the 1960s when the British Ministry of Defence was looking for a sturdy strap for its military watches.
During his underwater adventures, Gianluca Genoni habitually entrusts his own life to the reliability of his Blancpain watch. In the Milan presentation of the Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe, he assured the safety of the journalists present using the same timepiece. In fact, this was no ordinary press conference: we were all in a pool, following Gianluca’s instructions and learning how to hold our breath underwater. We were all surprised to discover that, through correct breathing and relaxation, we reached 3 minutes plus.
I asked Gianluca how his cooperation with Blancpain began.
"It all started in 2007 in Cannes, when Blancpain launched a new Fifty Fathoms model. They asked me to perform a demonstration, and at that event I met Marc Hayek who is an expert diver. We discovered that there are many things uniting Blancpain’s approach to watchmaking and my own sports activities: a quest for technology and perfection in details, and the fact that many people are involved in a project, whether this be the development of a new complication or a record dive attempt. Diving is a very pure discipline, because you are alone, just you and the natural environment. A Blancpain watch has the same sort of purity – it is a brand that has never used quartz! From then on, we have worked together during my various record attempts, and at the same time I have discovered the fascination of fine watches! As well as being a testimonial for Blancpain, I enjoy seeing the new models and finding out more.”
How do you see your collaboration with Blancpain developing?
“Blancpain are closely involved with projects concerning the marine environment, and this is something that I also feel very strongly about. So, apart from the apnea records, I am involved in drawing attention to these issues, and there are important synergies with Blancpain in this area. In part, this is due to Marc Hayek’s passion for diving, and so their objectives include enhancing the appreciation of the marine environment by everyone who is, in one way or another, in contact with the sea.”
At the event, Roberto Castagna, Blancpain brand manager for Italy, presented the new Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe, a superb combination of classic good looks in both men’s and women’s versions, and the faultless practical reliability that makes them perfectly at home underwater. The legend continues.