Silence in the Water

Just the title of 1975’s “Jaws” likely quickens your pulse. You can hear the strings hit now: BUUUUUH NUH, BUUUUUUH NUH, BUUUUUUH NUH, as a wall of teeth closes in. Jaws’ infamous theme underscores most Americans’ relationships with sharks. The film cast its villain as an agent of dispassionate chaos, selling tickets under the tagline, “You’ll never go in the water again.” That wasn’t true, of course. But I’ll bet that theme has lingered somewhere in the back of your mind before every ocean dip.

“The shark in an updated version [of Jaws] could not be the villain,” Peter Benchley, author of Jaws, later wrote. “It would have to be written as the victim; for, worldwide, sharks are much more the oppressed than the oppressors.” Following Jaws’ breakout success and film adaptation, Benchley expressed deep regret over the fear his novel spread. Benchley worked tirelessly to rehabilitate sharks’ image, and fought for their conservation, until his death in 2006.

Benchley was right, of course. Sharks are misunderstood. For 450 Million years, they’ve ruled earth’s oceans, noble and beautiful, keystones to complex food chains and habitats. But that era-spanning run is closing. Fast. Overfishing and environmental risks threaten shark populations globally. Now, more than ever, Hollywood’s most-infamous villains need our compassion and understanding. And our help.

Ulysse Nardin has been invested in ocean conservation for a long time now
Ulysse Nardin has been invested in ocean conservation for a long time now

“One of my ambitions with Ulysse Nardin in the U.S. was to align the brand with a nonprofit organization that is taking immediate action in the field of ocean life conservation and shark research, specifically,” says François-Xavier Hotier, U.S. president of Ulysse Nardin since 2018.

On his quest for partnership, Hotier quickly discovered OCEARCH through their social media channels and Shark Tracker app. “I have always been fascinated with the science of sharks and am blown away by the impact OCEARCH has had in the field. I see the marine scientists aboard their ships as modern heroes of the sea,” he says.

OCEARCH was one of the first research groups to safely catch and release live sharks using new and innovative methods for scientific studies. Hotier felt OCEARCH was the right partner for Ulysse Nardin, so he reached out to Chris Fischer, OCEARCH’s founder.

The two finally met over dinner. An instant bond was formed. The men discussed their mutual love for the ocean, the urgent need for the research that Fischer’s team is leading, and the ways scientific data might impact ocean life conservation. Over the course of the evening, the partnership took root.

Revolution caught up with François-Xavier (FX) Hotier and Chris Fischer in a conversation about their partnership, communal goals, and the work they’re doing to protect one of our planet’s most valuable and beautiful creatures.

OCEARCH Founding Chairman and expedition leader Chris Fischer aboard the M/V OCEARCH, which serves as an at-sea laboratory
OCEARCH Founding Chairman and expedition leader Chris Fischer aboard the M/V OCEARCH, which serves as an at-sea laboratory
The OCEARCH ship is specially equipped to capture sharks for tagging purposes with the use of any device that would cause the animal physical harm
The OCEARCH ship is specially equipped to capture sharks for tagging purposes with the use of any device that would cause the animal physical harm

Revolution: How did this partnership come about?

Hotier: In early 2018, it was my mission to engage Ulysse Nardin in efforts to protect the oceans, especially sharks. At Ulysse Nardin, we regularly launch timepieces inspired by a species of sharks and we are heavily involved in preserving them through our partnerships. I was already following OCEARCH on social media and was fascinated by their work. Then last year I read “Emperors of the Deep” by William McKeever. The book’s first chapter begins with OCEARCH’s mission – it was fate. I finished the book and contacted Chris. We met in Fort Lauderdale during a fund-raising dinner we organized for One More Wave. It was trust at first sight.

Revolution: What was it about OCEARCH’s mission that resonated with Ulysse Nardin?

Hotier: At Ulysse Nardin, our heritage is rich in manufacturing navigation instruments, particularly for ships. So, we love to say that the sea is ‘our territory.’ In that spirit, we’re very engaged in sustainability programs that leave the planet better than we found it. Our favorite initiatives have been with shark research programs that really resonate with the brand, like OCEARCH.

Revolution: And, Chris, how did OCEARCH start?

Fischer: We started with a fishing show on ESPN Outdoors. It was about getting the whole family out exploring the ocean with fishing, free diving, and food. During that time, we began taking scientists out with us when we were working on the water. In about 2007, the scientists we were assisting started telling us about the global shark problem. They said we were down to about nine percent of our large sharks around the world primarily due to shark fin soup. We were losing 80-100 Million sharks a year. I replied with a question, ‘What does that mean for the ocean?’ I had no idea. They said, ‘If we lose the sharks, we lose the ocean.’

Revolution: OCEARCH is a research organization. Was that a deciding factor for Ulysse Nardin to work with them?

Hotier: Yes. During their expeditions, OCEARCH conducts groundbreaking research and facilitates collaboration between marine scientists and educators. Their work provides vital knowledge into shark physiology. People must understand, sharks keep the balance of the food chain in the ocean; they are vital to the ocean’s ecosystem. For Ulysse Nardin, it’s a matter of corporate social responsibility to contribute to healthier oceans now and for future generations.

Fischer: Awareness is everything. If we can’t get global scale around the issues the ocean is facing, how are we going to deliver a planet we are proud of to our grandchildren? Studies show 70 percent of our oxygen, 97 percent of our water, and food for billions of people come from the ocean. It was clear, if we lose the ocean, we lose the planet.

For its 28th expedition, OCEARCH launched an expedition in the Lowcountry - Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina - during which the team sampled and tagged Hilton, a mature male white shark
For its 28th expedition, OCEARCH launched an expedition in the Lowcountry - Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina - during which the team sampled and tagged Hilton, a mature male white shark

Revolution: FX, did you always have a fascination for sharks?

Hotier: Yes! As a child, I was watching Cousteau every weekend with my parents. In college, I studied natural and anthropic risks. I know how important shark science is for bacteriology, developing new medicine, etc. It is a relatively new research which provides an untapped source of discovery. There is still so much we can learn from sharks. That’s why I am so excited by OCEARCH’s mission and the opportunity to work with them!

Revolution: Was Cousteau influential for you, too, Chris?

Fischer: After graduating college and some self-reflecting, I thought of Cousteau. As a kid I was fascinated by his work on the ocean and over my life journey, my love of being on the water had transitioned to a love for the ocean. It appeared many had lost their connection to the ocean, because Cousteau’s time on our planet had ended, and there was no group pouring the world’s oceans into every person’s life at global scale.

I was young and dumb enough to set a noble goal at the time and it was, “To pour the world’s oceans into people’s lives at a scale unseen since Cousteau.”

Revolution: So then what is OCEARCH’s position in the context of the current health crisis? How does it relate to battles you are already fighting against pollution, endangered sea species, etc.?

Fischer: With the health of our oceans beginning to spiral downward, it was clear that the current outdated system of ocean research needed disruption. The system requires researchers to compete against each other for grants and this led to very little collaboration. Each researcher was operating in their own silo trying to get ahead of one another, publishing papers in an effort to win the grant game.

And these researchers had no resources to conduct the science. No boats, no access, no money and they really did not understand how to operate outside on the water. Now we have 30 researchers, from 20 different institutions, conducting 20 research projects on every great white shark we touch. This has radically increased the rate of learning, and published peer reviewed papers to ultimately influence policy.

Can you imagine if all the talent across the globe working on COVID-19 collaborated on their learnings in real time, rather than organizations competing to be the first in an effort to monetize the answer? We all have to understand that there is just us. The individual orientation of the past must be left behind to shape our future planet. The money will work out. Doing good is good business.

Revolution: Is that urgency why it’s so important to partner with non-profit organizations?

Hotier: Personally, I think that a luxury brand must actively contribute to its communities. That’s why in the USA we have been partnering with the Medal of Honor Society and the U.S. Navy, with One More Wave, a non-profit created by US Navy Seals that provides disabled veterans with surf therapy. Now we are proud to contribute to OCEARCH’s mission. Each organization has very different goals in how they give back and we are very proud to stand with each one.

Revolution: Chris, we see you’re wearing a chronograph; how does timekeeping mesh with your work?

Fischer: Timekeeping is central to understanding the conditions of each animal we capture, study, and release. The moment we engage an animal, time is captured. Sharks enter a specialized lift on the side of the ship, and then the science team has just 15 minutes to conduct 20 research projects.

It’s like a pit crew in auto racing; movements are synchronized on the lift so that each project can be quickly completed before the animal is safely released. Time also becomes another scientific data point that is integrated into the research and evaluation of each animal. Time is the baseline in our process.

It was natural then, with the brand’s close connection to the world’s oceans, that Ulysse Nardin would spawn shark-inspired timepieces in the wake of its partnership with OCEARCH. Throughout the years, the brand has created several timepieces paying homage to different species. These latest entries are two Limited Editions: The Diver Chronograph Hammerhead Shark and the Lady Diver Great White.

Diver Chronograph 44mm Hammerhead Shark Limited Edition
The Diver Chronograph 44mm Hammerhead Shark Limited Edition on the wrist
The Diver Chronograph 44mm Hammerhead Shark Limited Edition on the wrist

Named for the distinctive structure of their heads, Hammerhead sharks are consummate predators, using their hammer-shaped heads to scan for prey. This limited-edition of just 300 pieces features a hammerhead shark engraved on its caseback.

The Diver Chronograph 44mm Hammerhead Shark Limited Edition
The Diver Chronograph 44mm Hammerhead Shark Limited Edition
Caseback of the Diver Chronograph 44mm Hammerhead Shark Limited Edition
Caseback of the Diver Chronograph 44mm Hammerhead Shark Limited Edition

A special grid pattern engraved behind the shark’s wide-open mouth reinforces the strength and power of the animal. The shark is shown frontally for a bold, assertive look. Touches of red are everywhere, from the bezel joint, to the chronograph seconds hand, and the start/stop/reset pushers. And finally, in the rubber strap with a red hammerhead shark sculpted into the rubber at the 12 o’clock position. The watch’s unique side plate is also engraved with red numbers. This new chronograph is powered by the UN-150 automatic manufacture movement with a silicium escapement and 48 hours power reserve.

Hammerhead Shark Limited Edition, Ref. 1503-170-3/93-HAMMER, titanium or rose gold case with rubber or fabric strap, $11,900; ulysse-nardin.com

Lady Diver 39mm Great White Limited Edition
The Lady Diver 39mm Great White Limited Edition
The Lady Diver 39mm Great White Limited Edition

With more than a touch of elegance and limited to just 300 pieces, the Lady Diver Great White is the counterpart to the men’s Diver Great White. As with its masculine counterpart, the Lady Diver has a domed crystal, and a concave unidirectional bezel. The unique dial is designed to look like the granular skin of a great white shark.

The Great White’s diamond hour markers recall the sparkling surface of the sea. For those who want a brighter shine, the new Lady Diver comes with the option of a 40-diamond bezel, each stone a generous 1.7 mm in diameter (0.92 Carats).

The Lady Diver 39mm Great White Limited Edition
The Lady Diver 39mm Great White Limited Edition
Caseback of the Lady Diver 39mm Great White Limited Edition
Caseback of the Lady Diver 39mm Great White Limited Edition

The caseback bears the stamp of a female apnea diver. A fully integrated rubber bracelet is textured to represent ocean waves or mermaid’s scales.

Thankfully, the watch won’t play the “Jaws” theme, but it is a beautiful reminder of the of the majestic creatures so vital to the health of our planet.

Lady Diver 39mm Great White Limited Edition, Ref. 8163-182LE-3/11-GW, stainless steel with rubber strap, $7,900; ulysse-nardin.com

Learn more about OCEARCH, here.