Pole to Pole

Professional explorer Mike Horn is on a two-year mission to circumnavigate the globe and he’s depending his life on Panerai’s tool watches to do the job, writes Katherine Arteche.

Standing on the deck of a 35-meter sailboat, it’s hard to imagine that a wooden vessel of this size flaunted its sails across all the world’s oceans. Named Pangaea, it is interpreted in geology to mean a “supercontinent”, which comprises all seven continents joined together. With its linear whitewashed body branded with the words “Mercedes-Benz”, the boat belongs to professional explorer Mike Horn who has traversed storms and tropical climates, and even broken through Arctic ice with it. He set off from Monaco in May 2016 to embark on a two-year adventure, Pole2Pole, where he circumnavigates the North and South Poles.

Mike Horn’s large stature stands easily at six feet tall, his tanned skin dusted with freckles and a bed of hair tucked underneath a baseball cap. Despite his wild encounters against the birds and the beasts in unkind terrains, his body displayed mild scars. He gestured toward a long laceration along his forearm, the result of a self-inflicted wound in order to quickly drain the venom after being ambushed by a poisonous snake in the rainforest. He has amputated part of his forefinger in a frostbite episode, repaired his chipped teeth using super glue, and drilled holes in his toe to restart the blood circulation in his body. His methods, though unorthodox to the average person, relied on his intuition and decisiveness to get him to the next step of his adventure. “I don’t do this to die. I do this so that I can survive,” said Mike. And if his life depended on nothing else but a Swiss-made luxury Italian watch, he would utilize the metal wristwatch to the best of its abilities. And that includes using it as an anchor for his body weight. “I was climbing Broad Peak back in 2010 and I ran out of pitons to get me down the mountain. The only thing on me that was reliable was the Luminor 1950 Pangaea Depth Gauge. I unstrapped it from my wrist, thrusted the watch into the rock face and looped my rope through it to serve as an anchor as I made my way down. Unfortunately I had to leave it there, but I wouldn’t be here without it if not for the strong metal in the case — that was the only thing I trusted.”

The last thing Panerai expected Horn would do with their watch was to leave it wedged into an ambiguous corner of an Asian mountain; yet, lest we forget, the sense of adventure is not foreign to the brand. Case in point, if it weren’t for the use of the Royal Italian Navy, the Luminor would not have become the paragon of strength that it is, this in reference to its cushion-shaped case, larger-than-life dial, and the solid lever crown guard making a watch that is able to withstand even the roughest conditions. Deviations in design throughout the years are subtle, yet the only constant is the continuous research that takes place within the doors of the Florentine workshop. The Italian manufacture focused on building robust, legible and reliable watches, which is to say, suited for exploration. And 51-year-old Mike Horn can attest to that. The bespoke watches Panerai manufactured for him were made for specific missions and the unruly terrain he would face. For instance, the PAM92 Luminor Arktos for his 27-month expedition in the North Pole in 2006, and the Luminor 1950 Pangaea Depth Gauge for the environmental Pangaea mission in 2008, both of which were issued under Panerai’s special-edition collection in quantities of 500 units each. Horn is Panerai’s strongest ambassador for their tool watches simply because I’ve never met anyone else who depended on their watch in life-or-death situations as much he does.

Hence, in adopting the same adventurous spirit, Panerai commissioned the Luminor Submersible 1950 3 Days GMT Automatic Titanio for the extreme Pole2Pole expedition. The bulky titanium case houses the new P.9001 automatic movement which contains double spring barrels to provide a power reserve of 72 hours. The 47mm blue-hued dial is a canvas for main hours and minutes, a GMT hand indicating a second timezone, small seconds at nine o’clock and a date window at three o’clock. With water-resistance at a depth of 300 meters, the thick bezel allows for unidirectional rotation to calculate the immersion time. Besides the Super-LumiNova coating on the hour markers, yellow accents include the words “POLE 2 POLE” to indicate the 500-piece edition, including an engraving of a polar bear and a penguin on the caseback. When he finally reached his destination in the South Pole, Officine Panerai was recorded as the first watch to travel the uninhabited continent. With snow crusted around its edges, the blue dial was ticking perfectly away.

When we caught up with Horn, he still had the remaining leg of India, Kamchatka, the North Pole and Greenland, before he concluded his grand adventure back in Monaco. “Being out here is like in outer space — there’s no life,” he said of the South Pole. “Mind you, these things I admit are extremely difficult. But the will to win is much stronger than the fear to lose.”