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In Captain Nemo’s Shoes With Clerc

Science-fiction meets reality in the collaboration between the independent watchmaking brand Clerc and Sub Aviators Systems, a submarine manufacturer for tourists.

By Louis Nardin

You’d think you are in some Jules Verne story living a mind-blowing and memorable adventure when travelling in the Super Aviator submarine by Sub Aviators Systems (SAS). In order to do that though, you’d have to accept being encapsulated underwater in a super-resistant module sealed by a transparent dome. But once you get in and dive underwater, the most unreal and fascinating adventure ensues.

SAS and Clerc invited a few journalists to discover hands-on their recent collaboration by going for a dive in the Super Aviation, the only individual submarine that can glide through water like an airplane. That was in mid-July, in Vancouver, Canada, where Nuytco Research (NR) keeps the Super Aviator for maintenance.

Clerc Hydroscaph Chronograph The Clerc Hydroscaph Chronograph

NR is a world specialist in extreme diving vehicles and equipment. Some examples of its work are the submarines for James Cameron’s The Abyss or even the Exosuit, the recent generation of independent diving suits. Further, NR collaborates regularly with several forces and emergency corps and partakes in research projects carried out in extremely deep waters. NR is set to manufacture the future Orcasub submarines, the commercial version of the Super Aviator.

Reinventing exploration

According to Gérald Clerc, owner and CEO of Clerc, the investment made in SAS starts a whole new chapter in the history of collaborations between watchmaking and other domains. He explained: “Clerc and SAS share the same vision; to reinvent exploration by creating reliable and innovating instruments. In our case, we are focusing on submarines and more specifically on controlling unexpected obstacles. This is why Clerc has been carrying out tests at the Nuytco Testing lab for the last eight months. For example, several key factors such as temperature variations, water resistance or the resistance of the attaches have been tested on the CHY-585 in particular. We will also help SAS with the manufacturing of the Orcasub submarines, especially with regards to interior finishes, binnacle customization and comfort. We share a curious clientele that is always seeking new adventures.

Gérald Clerc Gérald Clerc owner and CEO of Clerc watches

We will also create synergies in this direction. This will make a new way of exploring available, which, on top of that, is very addictive”.

Flying underwater

The Super Aviator is a bit like the shark-shaped submarine in Tintin that “Q” reinvented in James Bond. Driven by two propellers, it was designed like an airplane with wings, a rudder and an elevator. It is controlled by a joystick and a rudder bar, which makes it a child’s game to take the controls and zigzag.  Unfortunately, the water in the Howe Sound was murky that day and nothing much could be seen. But it didn’t really matter. The pull of gravity, which seemed to have disappeared during the dive, was felt again as soon as the engine is started to begin the test. This, in turn, explained why the bucket seat in which we were strapped is equipped with a rally car harness. Once we realized we were strapped in and hence not bound to slam into the controls, we started realizing the possibilities and the incredible sensations the submarine can provide. In addition, underwater visibility was enhanced by the submarine’s nice slow pace and the fact that there weren’t many bubbles in the water.

John Jo Lewis John Jo Lewis SAS Co-Founder of Sub Aviator Systems

The strange and paradoxical feeling of living both an extreme and peaceful adventure at the same time remained all the way through the aquatic flight.

Inside this unique submarine, you find yourself both literally and symbolically in a bubble. Silence reigns in the submarine, apart from the beep of the sonar and the noise coming from the headsets of conversations with the other passengers or with the assisting boat on the surface. Yet, almost miraculously you manage to block out the radio’s crackles so captivating are the décor and the surreal feeling of being weightless on earth. You become part of the Silent World, film by Jacques-Yves Cousteau which won the “Palme d’Or” at the Cannes Festival in 1956. The submarine weaves through the water as if it were in an art gallery. The surroundings dictate the pace and the turns. We stopped to admire a jellyfish passing over the submarine and later randomly accompanied a small group of translucent and phosphorescent organisms in their migration in the pitch-black water. Divers who are used to wearing heavy equipment will never see this world with the same eye when they experience this.

Abyss submarine The submarine from the movie Abyss

Secure and easy

The Super Aviator and the Orcasub have given a new meaning to deep-sea diving and John Jo Lewis, SAS Director, wants to be the first one to take advantage of it. In collaboration with NR, he ensures he will have precious expertise, work philosophy and quality of executions.

For instance, NR’s skills made the Super Aviator functional, secure and user-friendly. The submarine is easy to maintain and drive. It is certified by Lloyd’s, NR’s long-time partner. The insurance company’s experts analyze each element or change carried out in the machine.

The same will apply for the Orcasub which, for example, will be able to lowered into the sea with the help of a ramp or a crane. SAS plans to add it to private yachts where the submarine will be in its element with the jet-skis and other big water toys. It will have an 80-hour autonomy and a 10-knot top speed and it will weight between 2,700 and 4,600 kilos. Unsurprisingly, the free ticket into Poseidon’s kingdom remains a privilege. The first model of the range, the Orcasub O1KS, features steel cockpits, it can descend to a maximum 305 meters (1,000 feet) and it costs USD 1,850,000. The most efficient one, though, is the O6KT that features titanium capsules and can dive to 1,828 meters (6000 feet). Its price is USD 9,880,000.

John Jo Lewis & Louis Nardin John Jo Lewis and Louis Nardin

The Clerc models: visible and powerful

Larger than average, the Clerc models have enough space for several technical details to be added for customization. With neat beveling at 12, 3, 6 and 9 o’clock, the bezel is the most evident and significant one. These stark cuts visually form a frame in this round component.

Hence, they create a tension that gives the models a true presence, which stands out even more when they are worn on the wrist. The bezel can be turned and is locked by a crown that can be used by a small, embedded lever. This quite special system equips all models introduced in spring.

Interestingly enough, the Hydroscaph Chronograph has blade-shaped pushers that fit perfectly with the round-shaped case. On a more technical level, the two central hands on the dial ensure time is displayed in the best way possible. The first hand is a traditional second hand and the second one is the seldom-used minute hand. Both lines are water resistant to 500 meters. The Hydroscaph is fastened on the external panel of the submarine and has easily survived the 160-meter dive the submarine made on that day. There are very few people who have been able to witness such proof of reliability.

Clerc Hydroscaph Chronograph The Clerc Hydroscaph Chronograph on Mr Clerc's wrist

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