FILMMAKER, EXPLORER AND ROLEX TESTIMONEE JAMES CAMERON HAS BEEN THE PROUD OWNER OF AN OYSTER PERPETUAL SUBMARINER FOR DECADES.
James Cameron tells the story of the passion for diving that turned the legendary watch into his inseparable companion. He shares extraordinary adventures few have ever seen — from exploring the deepest ocean to conquering the heights of Hollywood.
The Submariner has been my constant companion throughout all of my work as a deep ocean explorer, and my film career. This watch represents the things I aspire to be – strong and dependable over the long haul, striving for excellence but understated, classy but not glitzy or gauche, never ostentatious but never anonymous. And it loves the ocean – it loves the water and is not afraid of pressure. Like me.
When I was in my twenties, without any money, I was a passionate scuba diver and free diver. I wasn’t looking for ‘A’ diving watch, I was looking for ‘THE’ diving watch, the one that the divers I knew and respected were wearing. Before I bought my Submariner, I knew it as the watch the dive community considered the best. When you had one, it signified that you’d arrived – that you were a diver to be reckoned with. That for you, diving wasn’t a hobby, it was a mission. And that your relationship with the ocean was deep and lifelong.
“It was a kind of wedding ring, a symbol of your marriage to the sea.”
From the earliest days of diving, a dive watch has been the most important instrument for keeping yourself alive in a realm that’s inherently hostile to humans – there’s NO AIR. As much as the underwater world may seduce you with its wonders, you can only spend limited time there. At some point you have to go back. And you rely on your dive watch to tell you precisely when.
I learned to dive in 1970, before there were dive computers. We learned to use the US Navy tables, to know how long we could stay on the bottom, before we’d absorbed too much nitrogen and had to come back up. In those days you dove with three instruments: a watch, a depth gauge, and a pressure gauge on your tank that told you how much air was left. And if you were fancy, a compass.
Divers literally live or die by their watch. Even now, in the age of diving computers, I always set my bezel as a backup. Computers can fail, but my Rolex won’t.
“When I put it on in the morning, the day of a dive, it is part of the ritual of mental preparation. And part of the thrill of knowing I’m about to go to a place that not only have I never been to before, but that possibly no one has ever been to before.”
When I finished Aliens in 1986, it was the first break I had in three years of work establishing myself as a filmmaker. So, I went on a year-long dive safari, to apologize to the ocean for being away for so long. I had a little money, so I could afford the Rolex Submariner I’d always wanted. And, with my Submariner, I joined the ranks of the master divers I’d admired.
The rest is history. I wore that watch at all times, except while sleeping, for the next 26 years and I never needed another watch after that. I’ve been given a number of fine watches as presents over the years, but they collect dust on my dresser. I finally told my good friends, if you’re thinking of getting me a watch for my birthday, don’t, because I’ve got my watch.
When I made my next film, The Abyss (1989), I met people from all over the ocean community – from the deep ocean explorers who became advisors to the film, to the marine roboticists who supplied our remotely operated vehicles, to research submersible pilots, to the seasoned divers of our underwater photography team. And it was no surprise that most of them wore a Submariner. We all shared a deep commitment to the ocean and diving. The Submariner was a symbol of that club.
I’m not a person who’s ever spent a moment’s thought on brand loyalty. I’m not loyal to sodas, shoes, or any particular make of car. I don’t think of brands as defining my identity. It’s just not how I view the world. I’m a bit surprised to look back over my life and realize how much the Rolex brand has meant to me.
To say that I am loyal to these watches is an understatement. They’ve always been loyal to me, and kept perfect time in harsh conditions – from the South Pole, to the Titanic wreck, to the sets of some of the most challenging motion pictures ever made, to the bottom of the Challenger Deep itself. I return that loyalty; giving a Submariner to a friend, whether that person is a diver or not, is the highest compliment I can pay. I have always been pulled in two directions – toward the arts and storytelling in one direction, and toward engineering and physics in the other. I have reconciled these two passions by becoming a filmmaker, an artist who relies on advanced technology for my art. To tell a story, I may use some of the most advanced computing technologies in existence. Even setting aside visual effects, basic filmmaking has always involved precision machines – cameras that use the finest optics and movements human engineering could provide.
The engineering side of my brain loves finely made machines, from a turbocharged racing engine to the rotor system of a helicopter, to the rocket engine of a spacecraft. I am endlessly drawn to the idea that our minds can create these precision machines that then can take us places our bodies couldn’t otherwise – across the sky, under the ocean, even to other worlds. As an explorer, I rely on machines to keep me alive in the harshest realm imaginable, in the deep ocean where the extreme pressure tests the strongest metals to their limits. I know that I’ll survive only by trusting the principles of engineering, and the precision fabrication that went into my diving machine.
Real elegance is a kind of Zen simplicity. In a dive watch, where you may be hundreds of feet down, in darkness, with your vision impaired by a mask or helmet, by the distorting effect of water, by bad visibility, even by the mind-numbing effects of nitrogen narcosis, I want a simple, clear display. And I want reliability. I want a tough watch that can take on the harshest elements. In darkness, low visibility and strong currents, I’ve never had difficulty reading my Submariner. The bezel is chunky and easy to turn, with a positive detent I can trust. The band is reliable – I know that watch will never come off my wrist – and yet it’s extremely easy to unsnap and quickly resize to fit over my wetsuit.
Despite its ruggedness and clear sense of purpose, I’m comfortable wearing my Submariner to the most upscale function, whether it be a black tie dinner or a red carpet event. One should be able to code-shift across all social strata without losing one’s sense of self. My Rolex dive watch keeps me grounded.
“I wore the same Submariner in the Mir submersibles, on my 33 dives to the Titanic wreck, that I wore on stage when I won the Oscars for Titanic.”
Just as I’m at home in both worlds, my watch is the right choice – the only choice – for both the deepest and remotest places on the planet and the glitziest red carpet event. I don’t believe there’s another watch in the world that wouldn’t look out of place in one or the other of those settings.
I feel connected to the Rolex legacy through my own actions as an explorer, artist and innovator. Through my work, I’m earning a place among the other wearers of this watch, who have done so many remarkable things, in the arts, in sports, in exploration and the sciences. It is a brotherhood – and sisterhood – of accomplishment.
And speaking of sisterhood, I love how the watch looks on a woman’s wrist. It tells me something about that woman – that she’s not afraid to say she is equal to any task, any environment, any challenge. Seeing this watch looking so at home on the wrist of a strong, capable woman, makes me realize that the watch doesn’t represent values that are necessarily masculine, but values that are human: strength, integrity, reliability, elegance, clarity of purpose.
My tour of the Rolex facilities in Geneva a few years ago left me with a much deeper appreciation of the science and technology that goes into every Rolex watch. Seeing the fabrication process, with its insanely high standards for materials, precise tolerances, and layers of quality control was illuminating. But what really impressed me were the people. What we think of as a dispassionate process actually turned out to be the expression of the will, the purpose and the passion of the people who stand behind these watches. Their pride and dedication are what make these watches so dependable when we take them out into the world, into the craziest and most remote places possible.
The commemorative Rolex Deepsea with a D-blue dial that is now my constant companion is a reminder, no matter where I am or what I’m doing, of a very special moment in my life, when my tiny team of innovators built and operated our DEEPSEA CHALLENGER submersible and accomplished our dream of diving to the deepest place on the planet, the Challenger Deep. The watch connects me to the legacy of all the other explorers who’ve carried their Rolexes to the most distant corners of the Earth, including my friend Don Walsh who took one to the Challenger Deep in 1960.
Rolex has stood for accomplishment and exploration for almost a century. I’m proud to be a small part of this great tradition.