The Big Blue: Test Driving the Richard Mille RM 032 Les Voiles de Saint Barth with Free Diver Arnaud Jerald
Richard Mille celebrates the return of the famous regatta with a daring limited-edition timepiece.
Les Voiles de Saint Barth Richard Mille regatta is one of the most exciting sailing races in the world. Held in one of the most exclusive island paradises in the world, St. Barths, this six-day event features 700 sailors from 71 teams competing for a place on the podium (and a titanium RM 028 diving watch).
That is why Watchonista traveled to Saint Barth to talk to Jerald about his sport, its parallels with yacht racing, and the importance of time when you are diving deep into the ocean
Rolling in the Deep
Free diving is the sport of diving underwater without the use of breathing apparatus, especially in deep water. In pop culture, it is best remembered for the 1988 film The Big Blue, directed by Luc Besson. This movie is a heavily stylized and fictionalized story of real-life free divers Jacques Mayol and Enzo Maiorca.
Born and raised in Marseille, when Jerald was 7, he started snorkeling with his family. Each time they went, he would dive deeper and deeper, so at 16, his dad enrolled him in a free diving course. “At this point, I had been diagnosed as dyslexic,” Jerald told Watchonista. “I was having a hard time fitting in at school.” Then, when he reached the 30m mark and opened his eyes. “I couldn’t see any light; I couldn’t see fish,” he said. “But I saw myself with my own eyes.”
After this revelatory moment and inspired by champions like Mayol, Jerald dedicated himself to free diving. “I woke up every morning and learned more about the depths,” he said.
His goal was not only to break records but also to do it safely, so he trained both physically and mentally, training his body and studying geographical conditions and techniques to stay mentally focused. “At 22, I broke my first world record,” said Jerald. “Now, I have four world records without blackout.”
Often adjusting his training and competition regimen to push his limits without going over the brink, Jerald told Watchonista that it’s a crazy protocol which sometimes takes him away from home and family for six months of the year while he familiarizes himself with the location of a competition. However, he told us that, in the end, “I’m happy not to break any more records to avoid a blackout.”
Breaking the Waves
Only 26 years old, Jerald’s determination to have a long and healthy career in free diving aligns perfectly with Richard Mille’s approach to watchmaking. Both are interested in pushing the limits of tradition but in a sustainable way.
The allyship between both parties is one of the purist partnerships in watchmaking. Richard Mille may have superstar ambassadors like Rafael Nadal, Pharrell Williams, and Michelle Yeoh; however, the brand also backs high jumper Mutaz Essa Barshim, sprinter Akani Simbine, and heptathlete Nafi Thiam. Some may not have the global name recognition as others, but one thing they all have in common is that they are all considered innovators in their games.
While free diving looks like a solitary sport, added Jerald, it requires a large team: “I have doctors. I have technicians that operate a drone live stream to monitor the dive.” Unfortunately, competing can be expensive, but when Jerald was lucky enough to be approached by several potential sponsors, he said that finding a simpatico partner was much more important than the money.
First becoming aware of Richard Mille through its connection to auto racing, Jerald said: “I noticed the race car and the cool watch. But I felt like I didn’t have the credibility to approach them until I made my first two world records.” And by the time that happened, the timing was right in other ways.
Like the sport of free diving, Richard Mille is always evolving. And at the 11th edition of the Voiles de Saint Barth, Jerald helped the brand launch its new RM 032 Les Voiles de Saint Barth timepiece, a highly technical creation that can withstand a pressure of 30 atmospheres (300 meters) by following the ISO 6425 standard for diving watches.
Currently, Jerald holds the record in the bi-fin category in 2021 with an incredible 117 meters (for context, when Mayol tried to reach 100m in the 1980s, doctors warned him that he would implode). However, this season, Jerald’s goal is not to set another world record but to focus on the artistry of the sport.
Aesthetically, the watch features a distinctive combination of Caribbean blue and white Quartz TPT. The constant quest for optimal water- resistance and durability has led to the complete integration of these elements into a grade 5 titanium case middle. By contrast, the lugs, inserts and caseback made of Carbon TPT are combined with grade 5 titanium pushers which operate the chronograph and lock the rotating bezel. Finally, the complex construction bears the seal of Les Voiles de Saint Barth Richard Mille on the back.
Although he didn’t do any deep-sea diving during the Voiles de Saint Barth, Jerald did take the RM 032 out for many adventures. From swimming in the ocean to sailing to après dinner dancing, the watch was on his wrist all week. But with the RM 032 measuring 50mm in diameter and close to 18mm in height, this diver is not discreet. So we had to ask him how it felt, and he replied, “It doesn’t feel like anything,” its titanium construction doesn’t weigh the wrist down.
“Mentally [diving] is different,” Jerald said. When free diving, Jerald likes to focus on the task at hand. “It has all the functions I need. When I am diving, I am disconnected from time. Three minutes is like three days. I’m trying to find focus on happy memories. And after I surface, I need a few hours to process the emotions.”
Emotionally, Jerald also has a strong connection with the watch on the land. After he emerges from a dive, he focuses on the moment, creating a new memory. “I can’t wake up in my wet suit, but I can hold the watch in my hand. It becomes part of the story of your life. If you can transmit these memories to an object, you can also transmit that story through generations.”