Don’t Say The Word Impossible To Jacob & Co.’s Johan Ernst

Don’t Say The Word Impossible To Jacob & Co.’s New Partner Explorer Johan Ernst Nilson

Watchonista’s Sophie Furley sits down with Jacob & Co.’s new partner, Johan Ernst Nilson, to talk about the new Astronomia Everest, a timepiece that contains water from both the North and South Poles and a piece of rock from Mount Everest that he personally collected.  

By Sophie Furley

Johan Ernst Nilson is a Swedish explorer who has spent the last 25 years exploring the planet. He is one of only 21 mountaineers to have completed the Adventure Grand Slam – climbing all Seven Summits and reaching the North and South Poles. He has undertaken 52 expeditions, visited 178 countries, and has spent over 3,000 nights in a tent! He has co-created an Astronomia Everest with Jacob & Co. that contains vials of water from both the North and South Poles and a small rock from Everest, all collected by Nilson himself. 

Is it true that you have been testing Jacob & Co.’s Astronomia timepieces while mountaineering?

Yes, I have. We went on an expedition to the Himalayas, where we flew a helicopter up to 7,000 meters to see how the watch would cope at high altitude with a decrease in air pressure and a drop in temperature to -30 oC /-40oC. We also wanted to see how it would cope with shaking and hitting against rock and ice when climbing.

I thought that I would come back to Jacob with a cracked watch and a list of things that needed fixing for the next watch, but there wasn’t really anything at all. I was surprised at just how strong the sapphire crystal is.

If we could rewind for a moment, how did you get into mountaineering and exploring?

It is kind of a silly story. I was working as a piano player at the Grand Hotel in Stockholm. And I was sitting there playing the piano when my friend remarked how interesting it was that I was so good at music. And I told him that it was also a lot of hard work, practice, dedication, and focus.

“Yeah, but you can’t just do something in life because you are motivated,” he replied. “You can’t just become a rocket scientist just because you are focused,” he said. 

“Sure, you can,” I replied. He then reminded me that I was the worst player on the football team and said that I could never just cycle to Hamburg, for example, because I was dedicated to doing it.

I told him, “Listen, I can bike to the freaking Sahara if I want to, but I don’t want to.” We got into a bit of an argument about it, and I got a little bit angry and quit my job at the Grand Hotel, bought a bicycle, and cycled to the Sahara!

After 52 days, I arrived in Morocco, and then I came back again to prove my friend wrong. That was the start of a 25-year, 52 expeditions, 178 countries, 3,000 nights in a tent (or eight and a half years) journey! 

How did you connect with the founder of Jacob & Co., Jacob Arabo?

He asked me if I wanted to do a watch with him, and I really liked his idea. What makes Jacob special – in comparison to most other big brands – is that when you go into the store, you see so many entirely different watches, which take so much time to create in terms of design and effort. I thought that was so interesting.

When I started out, people would say, you can’t just go to the North Pole or Everest, and yet I proved them wrong every time. So, like Jacob, I am inspired by the impossible. We come from completely different areas, but we inspire each other. 

The Everest model is a really special Astronomia that you helped create in more ways than one. Can you tell us a little bit about it?

I get a little bit emotional when I look at this watch because I remember when I first started out: I slept in a tent for 60 days at the North Pole to get the water that is now inside the watch.

From there, I went to the South Pole to get water, and then I climbed Everest to take a little stone that we cut into small pieces to put inside the watch. The three major areas of the planet are inside this watch – the three poles where the three largest glaciers exist – the Arctic, Antarctica, and the Himalayas.

What do you feel when you look down at your wrist at the Astronomia Everest?

This is a conversation piece. If you are at a dinner, sitting next to someone, you get talking, and you tell them there is actually water from the North Pole inside. They are like, “No way, get out of here! Can I see that?” And I can tell them that with the sale of each watch, we are donating money to charity, and the owner gets to come with a friend to join me on a trip to Mount Everest by helicopter to see where I got the rock. There will be 24 timepieces for 24 time zones, so we will be making a pretty spectacular donation to the world of philanthropy, so I am happy to do this.

What’s the charity?

We haven’t decided yet, but it is going to be something connected to the Arctic, Antarctica, Mount Everest, and/or glaciers and nature.

You have been climbing for many years now; what changes have you seen in the climate since you first started?

It is a mix of a lot of things. One thing is that the glaciers are disappearing, radically, that’s a big change. You see also how people have been littering and throwing garbage [on glaciers]. Then, you also see that fishing has changed in the Arctic areas. 

But I have also seen villages miles away, in places where you can’t even see Mount Everest, having droughts. So, it is also these kinds of changes that I see. It isn’t only about the glaciers disappearing. It is about the domino effect of everything that happens around it. 

How important is it for you to raise awareness about what you are seeing?

Awareness is the first step to discuss these things. You sit at a dinner party, and you discuss the watch, and you get talking about the environment. People who can buy a watch for almost $900,000 are pretty powerful, and they can make a difference, or at least, they hang out with people who can, so it can be powerful. 

You are often called an adventure activist, what does this mean?

I am not a politician. I cannot change the laws or regulations. I am not a scientist, so I cannot prove the figures, but I am a window to this world. I go to places where the politicians and the scientists never go, and I bring back material, film, etc.

A lot of scientists call me up saying, “When you do interviews, TV shows, etc., can you take these facts and figures because you have a voice and through the media, we can reach the politicians.” So, I am kind of like a messenger.

Have you climbed the Seven Summits?

I have done something called the Adventure Grand Slam. I think only 10 people in the world have done this. It is the highest point on all the seven continents around the world, plus the North and South Poles.

What is the most dangerous situation you have found yourself in?

Falling through the ice and then getting trapped underneath it in the North Pole was pretty dangerous. But also having big rocks fall next to my head on Mount Everest, having a shark bite my kayak when I was traveling from Stockholm to Africa, having lions sleeping on my tent when I was sleeping out in the bush. So, many things.

What drives you? What makes you want to go out again?

I am inspired by the impossible. In the beginning, it was about proving that I could do it. But now, it is more about proving it to myself, and it is also a lifestyle. It is beautiful to set a goal and try to find out if you can do it. 

What’s the next challenge?

I’m going back to the Himalayas now for about a month or two. Then I am going to the Arctic in March for a project. I am working on a very big podcast for Spotify, 50 episodes, and I have a new book coming out. I have a lot of things going on. 


If there was a young person out there who wants to follow in your footsteps, what advice would you give them?

For me, the word impossible doesn’t exist. Impossible is just a word that we invented to explain things we don’t understand. Everything that we see around us was impossible 1,000 years ago. All the dreams we have that are impossible now will be standard in 1,000 years.

So, what I would say to kids is: Just because you don’t know how to do something doesn’t mean it cannot be done in the future. And just because it has never been done doesn’t mean that someone can’t do it. So everything is possible; it just takes time.

All The Details About The Astronomia Everest

This 47mm timepiece is based on the brand’s Astronomia Sky timepiece and features a double-axis gravitational tourbillon on one of four satellites. The other three satellites hold a turning one-carat diamond, the time display, and a spinning globe. The collection is limited to 24 pieces with 12 pieces in 18-karat blackened gold and a celestial black dial and 12 in 18-karat white gold with a celestial blue dial.

Both versions are fitted with a black rubber strap. The price for these pieces is $884,800 (8,848 is the height of Everest in meters), a portion of which will be donated to charity.

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