Galileo. Columbus. Hillary. Armstrong. Piccard. Cousteau.
There are explorers, and then there are legends. The latter is, without a question, a legend.
Jacques Cousteau is the undisputed King of the Sea, having done more to bring knowledge and understanding of the earth’s oceans than any man in history – and became a public figure and men’s icon in the process. The wiry Frenchman was the very definition of explorer – he didn’t rest on his laurels or adhere to the limits of current technology to define the scope of his expeditions.When he reached a barrier, he designed and engineered technologies to push through it.
Most notably, Cousteau developed S.C.U.B.A. equipment – Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus – gear that allowed man to explore the depths of the sea untethered. This invention changed the way we interact with the water forever, and provided greater accessibility to the oceans for the professional and amateur diver alike. He also developed mini submersibles, underwater habitats, and an array of accessory equipment sold through his own brand (US Divers) to help fund his expeditions. Essentially, he single-handedly gave man access to the underwater realms en masse.
Cousteau in his signature red knit cap Deep Sea Explorer, Jacques Cousteau
Seeing as we’re fanatics of vintage diving watches, we also have to thank Cousteau for creating the sport that gave reason for their creation – and despite his questionable behavior as a family man (Cousteau notoriously led a double life and had a second family in secret), we admire everything he stood for, and his commitment to innovation.
During the 1960s and 1970s, Cousteau and his team were approached by a number of watch manufacturers for field-testing of their prototype diving watches. Without their input, it is possible that many of the timepieces we have come to cherish may not have existed. Furthermore, Cousteau was directly involved with the design of one particularly iconic timepiece from Omega – the Seamaster 600 PloProf.
Omega Seamaster 600 PloProf.
A massive (and arguably ugly) hunk of steel, the PloProf (Plongeur Professionel, or Professional Diver) was designed from the beginning to be a no-expense spared tool watch for the harshest conditions on earth – the extreme depths that professional divers call their office. Designed by Omega in conjunction with commercial diving firm COMEX, the PloProf featured a number of important diving watch innovations, including a monocoque case, a unique setting mechanism, and a locking rotatable bezel.
The PloProf had a depth rating of 600 meters, which was well beyond anything that had come to market previously, and was available with several strap options – the most famous of which is the Milanese “Shark Mesh” bracelet pictured here.
Despite Cousteau’s input and Omega’s best effort, the PloProf was passed over as the official choice of COMEX Divers in favor of the Rolex SeaDweller. This was due mainly to the concern of helium build up inside the case at depth, which could cause the crystal to burst off under pressure. The SeaDweller utilized a Helium Release Valve (HRV), which released gas built up inside the case at depth, negating the possibility for critical failure.
Although the PloProf was passed over for professional use and was a slow seller amongst amateur divers (due mainly to its size and cost) at the time of its release, collectors today are rightfully enamored with them. Omega also released an homage timepiece a few years back – the Seamaster PloProf 1200 – increasing the desirability of the original and arguably fueling the fire for the dive watch crave in general.
Like the legend of Cousteau himself, the PloProf is an icon of the golden era of ocean exploration, to which few other diving watches can hold a candle.
King of the Sea indeed.
Words by: James Lamdin - A vintage watch connoisseur and founder of analog/shift (www.analogshift.com) , an online boutique for a curated selection of exceptional wristwatches.