I have always wanted to visit Norway, ever since my grandmother told me that our family descended from the Vikings (we all have platinum blonde hair) and my dentist confirmed my ancestry by informing me that I had a Norwegian jaw (not sure what this meant exactly, but he had obviously taken a course in dental anthropology). So when my mother invited me to join her on an all-expenses-paid cruise up the Norwegian Fjords, it sparked my interest.

Now, I would like to say that I “jumped at the chance,” but to be honest the idea of cruising filled me with dread. I blame James Cameron’s epic romance-disaster film Titanic for fueling my unease of crossing the North Sea in a multistory floating hotel. But my mother is a persuasive woman, and before I had a chance to back out, we were booked on Cruise & Maritime Voyage’s (CMV) Magellan for a week of adventure.

A Working Holiday

To distract me from my angst, I thought that testing a few watches along the way might be a nice way to keep busy. I dropped CMV’s press officer a line enquiring whether the ship’s captain would be interested in helping me test a few maritime timepieces, and the next thing I knew the telephone was ringing and I was talking to the charming Paul Foster who immediately started planning horological/maritime logistics.

I had struck gold: not only was the captain a keen watch collector, the ship’s hotel director was also a watch aficionado and both were happy to collaborate with my rather unusual request.

The enthusiasm didn’t end with the ship’s crew either, as the watch brands I contacted were also quite intrigued by the prospect of having a real life captain test their watches. So, packed with sea-sickness pills, an HYT H4 RC44, an Omega Seamaster Planet Ocean Master Chronometer, an Ulysse Nardin Marine Chronograph and the brand’s Lady Diver, an Oris Diver Sixty-Five and its ladies’ Aquis Divers Date 36mm, a TAG Heuer Aquaracer and an Eterna Super KonTiki, I was all set.

The first thing that struck me as a virgin cruiser was the extreme organization that is required to get 1,250 passengers off a ship and another 1,250 passengers onboard in the space of a few hours. When you think of the fuss it takes to get 300 people on an airplane, you can imagine the organization needed in getting that many people to their cabins (all freshly cleaned too). CMV had the whole changeover thing down to a fine art with staggered arrivals and dozens of check-in desks.

We had planned to take a few photos of the captain before we set sail and I had asked if Revolution’s photographer Justin Hast could just “pop on board” to take some pictures. I was politely informed that no one would be “popping” anywhere due to tight security. So after being vetted, checked and x-rayed, Justin was allowed on board and we had the pleasure of meeting the Captain, Stathis Goumas, and Hotel Director, Daniel Reiter, who were more than happy to remove their timepieces for a brand new watch.

Now, it has to be said, my mother was a little a skeptical about me bringing work on holiday, but when we were whisked past the queues, straight up to the ship’s bridge, and the Captain was asking if she was my sister, she started to get into the swing of the watch testing malarkey!

After a fun photo shoot around the ship, it was time for Justin to disembark. He looked slightly relieved—I think he may be a Titanic fan too!

Time To Relax…Or Not!

My idea of a holiday is not wearing a watch at all. I like to follow the sun’s journey across the sky as I go from a sun lounger to the sea and back again. Cruising, however, is a whole different story as everything is organized to the minute. No wonder there are luxury watch boutiques in every port, if you forget your watch at home, you need to purchase one quickly. From fitness classes to Nordic walking around the ship’s deck, bingo, quizzes, craft projects, photography lessons, geography and geology information about Norway, excursions on land, drinks with the Captain, dinner and evening entertainment, you don’t want to miss a thing.

But if I thought passengers had it hard keeping up, the ship’s staff was in an entirely different dimension of time as Mr. Reiter shared with me over the duration of the cruise.

On our first morning at sea, we had agreed to meet at 10 am to exchange watches for the day ahead. Sitting in his office talking about how he liked wearing the TAG Heuer, I casually asked him how important timing was in his line of work. He smiled and passed me a piece of paper with an Excel chart on it. In the smallest font, only just legible to the human eye, there must have been 200 things to do with the exact timing of execution—8:02 meeting with bar manager, 8:09 meeting with pastry chef, 8:14 delivery of supplies to ship, and it went on, minute after minute way past midnight.

Below Deck

Each day, we would meet at the same time and exchange watches. During our morning chats we would talk about watches and cruising, while the door would open and close with questions about anything from the quality of the tap water in the bar, to the disposal of the trash, the length of the loudspeaker announcements, the upcoming weather and so forth. It was intriguing. The difference between the passenger experience and working on a ship was a world apart. Sensing my fascination, Reiter invited me on a tour behind the scenes of the ship to see how an ocean liner functions. I was captivated. It was like the first time I toured a watch manufacture, when you suddenly realize the incredible amount of work that goes into making each and every component of a timepiece. Visiting the ship was the same. I saw several different kitchens where thousands of dishes are prepared each day, the pantries organized by food group (there was one room with 30,000 eggs), the laundry, the printing press, the hospital and its operating theater, the costume wardrobe for the dancers, the trash and recycling department…it was incredible.

Back above deck, news of my watch testing activities was spreading fast (my mother, no doubt) and our dinner companions were curious to learn more about the watches we were testing. Each evening my mother and I would wear a different timepiece to show our new dinner friends. It is funny how a watch can launch a thousand conversations.

News was also spreading below deck as the ship’s Chief Engineer had rather taken a shine to the Omega Seamaster, and the delightful Olga, Head of Guest Services, had flashed on the Ulysse Nardin Lady Diver. In the evening in the bar, the waiters were also keen to hear how the day’s testing had gone. Watches were proving as effective as puppies in making new friends!

Omega Seamaster Planet Ocean Master Chronometer
Ulysse Nardin Lady Diver

The Test Results

After stopping in Amsterdam to visit Anne Frank’s house, docking in Eidfjord to see the Vøringfossen waterfall, arriving in Flåm to ride on one of the world’s steepest and most spectacular railways, and getting off ship for a fabulous tour of the historic city of Bergen, it was time for our return to the UK and a day at sea, which gave me the opportunity to catch up with both gentlemen to collate the results of the test.

The most important thing for both Goumas and Reiter in their choice of “work” watch was legibility of the exact minute. “I am not allowed to put the word ‘around’ in the logbook,” explains Goumas. “Everything is recorded to the minute and I am constantly checking my watch. We can’t be late; just one or two minutes extra in port can result in huge costs. We also had a case this week where a sick passenger needed to be transferred to hospital by helicopter. We needed to know the exact minute the helicopter would arrive, the exact minute to bring the passenger to the top deck, and more everything is recorded in the logbook.”

Reiter’s schedule also involves precise timing: “Everything onboard is governed by time and it is very important for me to be on time. I don’t like to be late or have people waiting for me. I am constantly checking the time on my computer or on my watch,” he says.

Where the vast majority of us are first attracted to a watch’s design, it was interesting to see that for both Goumas and Reiter, function was the most important element in their appreciation of a wristwatch, followed by design. Comfort was also a very important factor for them as they are on their feet most of the day and moving around. So without further ado, here’s what they had to say:

HYT H4 RC44

Reiter: This was a phenomenal watch. I am always talking to my team about thinking out of the box and this watch, with its unique way of reading the time, inspired me to think differently.

Goumas: I liked the futuristic look of this watch, but I had to take it off as I couldn’t read the minute precisely. Legibility is essential in my work as I need to see the minute at a glance.

OMEGA SEAMASTER PLANET OCEAN MASTER CHRONOMETER

Reiter: I really liked the sporty design of the Omega with the orange touches. It was also extremely comfortable to wear.

Goumas: I have a soft spot for Omega. Firstly, as I am Greek, I like that ‘omega’ is a letter in the Greek alphabet! It is funny, at first I wasn’t keen on the orange. I am 56, not 26! But when I put it on, it really caught my eye and I loved how light and comfortable it was.

ETERNA SUPER KONTIKI

Reiter: The design of the Eterna is very elegant. I think if the dial was blue, I would wear it all the time.

Goumas: I love the design of the dial and the bracelet is very flexible. It is a big watch for big guys—I have particularly small wrists—but I loved the look of it.

HYT H4 RC44
OMEGA SEAMASTER PLANET OCEAN MASTER CHRONOMETER
ETERNA SUPER KONTIKI

ORIS DIVER SIXTY-FIVE

Reiter: This was a very legible watch with the black dial and luminescen markers, but I am not a big fan of vintage styling.

Goumas: I could wear this watch every day. I loved it. The timing is so clear; you can see the time from half a mile away! I also like the old fashioned design.

ULYSSE NARDIN MARINE CHRONOGRAPH

Reiter: This watch was sporty, elegant and legible. I would definitely wear it.

Goumas: I loved the blue dial on this watch. As I am Greek, blue is a big part of my culture. I also really liked the strap. My only comment would be to have a tiny bit more SuperLumiNova on the hands to increase legibility when I am on the bridge at night.

TAG HEUER AQUARACER

Reiter: I like the design of the TAG Heuer—the dial, bezel and strap all go really well together, I would definitely wear this one on a daily basis.

Goumas: This was very clear and legible, as well as light and comfortable.

As I was entering all these details into my computer, an announcement came over the loudspeaker system to inform all passengers that the weather in the North Sea was not looking good and that we should brace ourselves for gale force winds on a Beaufort Wind Force Scale of eight, so I got to test my sea sickness pills too!

After such a fabulous trip, my mother is already planning another seafaring vacation so I might need to turn this into a regular column! Oh well, worst things happen at sea!

ORIS DIVER SIXTY-FIVE
ULYSSE NARDIN MARINE CHRONOGRAPH
TAG Heuer Aquaracer

Also Read