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Braving the current, remembering the past

Together with Panerai, Concierge explores the UAE’s ocean faring heritage and learns all about the inspiration that comes from the depths

For luxury watch brand Panerai, the sea serves as a constant source of inspiration. Numerous collections evoke the magnificence of the ocean and various elements in each timepiece draw from marine treasures. Recently, freediving world champion Guillaume Néry was named brand ambassador for one of Panerai’s latest novelties – the Panerai Submersible Chrono Guillaume Néry Edition – which also bears his name. And as is the norm with several Panerai timepieces, the world beneath the waters serves as the perfect setting to this new edition.

Common threads are woven into the fabric of Panerai’s history and the heritage of the UAE. Visitors to the country can discover how a thriving marine ecosystem meant that life was able to flourish on sandier pastures decades and centuries ago. In the past, freediving was a skill that allowed the UAE population to survive economically, as the ablest men that lived in the fishing villages dotting the coastline, harvested pearls from the ocean floor – a skill Néry now proudly showcases with his many adventures beneath the water’s surface.

Known for his impressive roster of achievements, the renowned freediver was crowned world champion twice, has broken four constant weight free-diving records and can hold his breath underwater for more than seven minutes.

In September 2015, the diver surpassed his own personal best, setting a record for the second deepest dive in history of 126 metres in one breath, only two metres shy of the world record. During the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Panerai was the official supplier of technical and precision tools to the Royal Italian Navy. Panerai watches were also used exclusively by Italian commandos in their underwater operations and it is this DNA that drives the brand to align with modern ocean faring heroes such as Néry.

Here in the UAE, life was once very hard and the men took to the seas for survival, earning a living from fishing or pearling. And it is inspiring when you think of how people made their living searching the ocean bed for oysters.

Before the discovery of oil changed the course of the region’s fate forever, the humble pearl was a true symbol of the UAE. Many Emiratis relied on pearl fishing for their livelihood but obtaining these ocean gems was no easy feat. Pearl diving would see the men away at sea, living on boats for months at a time, surviving on the strictest rations of food and water.

When they arrived at their destinations, they would be tasked with diving the water’s depths, armed with only the most rudimentary equipment – a nose clip made from goat or gazelle horns to help them hold their breath, a woven bag hung around their neck for collecting oysters and a rope attached to the boat that was their precious lifeline back to the surface.

Many divers would reach depths of up to 10 metres facing risks of shark attacks and their own failing lung capacity. Needless to say, it was a dangerous pursuit that required immense bravery. And by the time they were ready to return to shore, the boats would be groaning under the weight of the harvested oysters. These days, technical equipment used with modern methods means divers no longer need to risk life and limb to bring home these fruits of the ocean. But this rich heritage of the nation is kept alive by pearl farms in the region who take cues from modern Japanese pearl fishing methods.

Ras Al Khaimah is home to Suwaidi Pearls, a cultured pearl farm founded in 2004 by the Al Suwaidi family, whose ancestors were among the last generation of traditional pearl divers. In the UAE capital, the Abu Dhabi Pearl Journey gives visitors an in-depth look at the history of pearl diving with a unique cultural experience.

The company offers guided tours that delve deeper into the practice and sees guests board a traditional boat to embark on a leisurely cruise along the quiet channel lying between mainland Abu Dhabi and Hudayriat Island. As they sail along the waters, the tour guide will regale them with tales of the pearl diving experience. The combination of beautiful local scenery and storytelling makes for a memorable experience and the guide will also demonstrate how to open oysters. Any pearls found can be kept as a souvenir of this culturally enriching journey.

Panerai Submersible Chrono Guillaume Néry Edition

Honouring and preserving the legacy of unsung heroes has always remained at the heart of Panerai’s operations, a philosophy also highlighted with the new Submersible Chrono Guillaume Néry Edition. Reflecting freediver Guillaume Néry’s impressive feats, the Panerai Submersible Chrono Guillaume Néry Edition combines excellent technical performance with a remarkably powerful, sporty appearance. It is, above all, a professional diving watch, water resistant to a depth of about 300 metres and makes for the perfect companion to those looking to explore uncharted territories and discover the secrets of the fascinating world that exists beneath the surface of the sea.

Among the many features that make this an exceptional timepiece, the unidirectional rotating bezel is one of the most significant as it accurately displays the duration of the dive. Clarity becomes another priority when divers venture deeper into the waters and thanks to luminous white markers on the timepiece, the dial is legible under all lighting conditions – including complete darkness – and all the elements clearly stand out strongly against the textured shark grey background.

This masterpiece is also a precision chronograph with a flyback function that enables perfect synchronisation with an external reference signal. Its P.9100 automatic calibre boasts a power reserve of three days, a movement that was developed in Panerai’s watchmaking manufacture, the Laboratorio di Idee in the Swiss town of Neuchâtel.

The timepiece is equally appealing above the water’s surface with its 47mm titanium case which blends perfectly with the blue ceramic bezel, the blue hands and the blue rubber strap. And in yet another nod to Néry’s heroism, the screw back is engraved with the athlete’s signature, the silhouette of a diver with a merman’s fin and the depth of Néry’s final world record – 126 metres.

The brand is also offering another limited edition piece with a black DLC titanium case and bezel and a blue-black dial as part of this special collection with 15 pieces only. The fortunate few who acquire this new creation will have the opportunity to participate in an exclusive experience that sees them diving and whale watching in Moorea, French Polynesia with Néry himself.

Discover more at Panerai stores in The Dubai Mall  04 3398444 or The Galleria on Al Maryah Island in Abu Dhabi  02 4919748.

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