How an Everest-Summiting Adventurer and Photojournalist Keeps Time
Checking the hour after his recent SXSW keynote speech, Cory Richards looks over his jam-packed schedule and realizes the day is slipping by faster than he imagined. Living life on the edge provides Cory with unprecedented clarity, a unique perspective much wiser than his youthful 35 years might suggest. After inspiring a massive crowds at the Austin Convention Center, the extreme mountain climber and Nat-Geo photojournalist is quickly able to settle down and explain his ongoing relationship with the passage of time, the watch brand Fossil, and his very first Fossil Q smartwatch collaboration.
Owning a Fossil Blue Chronograph in his twenties, the partnership holds significant sentimental value. "I wore it, and I wore it, and I wore it, and it got just beat to hell. I did not take care of it," he explains.
Richards' personal Fossil watches
"It got scratched, and eventually the crystal cracked, and after I had gone on this hiking trip when I was in my early 20s to Australia, it filled with sea water. The saltwater started to rust the crystal shut. It began to corrode the inside of the face." But Richards kept the watch. "I took a picture of it when I first got into photography, and I sent it into Fossil." The broken Blue Chrono became a deeply meaningful keepsake, an important artifact that not only provides a link not only to his past but to his current work with Fossil.
"I think that's exactly how I got into this partnership," Richards explains. "Because the watch was special to me. My relationship with watches has always been very personal and especially this one. I mean, I framed it, you know? It stopped reminding me of everything that I had to do and starting being this really beautiful little working art piece of everything that I had done. Watches, I think, have this transformative power that can do that."
And what has Cory done?
The National Geographic Explorer of the Year for 2012, he's trekked the Franz Josef Land of the Russian Arctic, climbed the mountains of Southern Antarctica, and explored ancient caves in Nepal. He's documented the unrest of the Karakorum Himalaya—where the political borders of Pakistan, India, and China meet—and summited Everest in 2016 without the use of oxygen, with plans to go back again this year. In 2010-2011, he survived a traumatic near death experience after surviving an avalanche climbing K4, at the Gasherbrum II peak on the border of Pakistan. All the while, he documented these incredible experiences with his photography—even real-time posting the Everest climb directly to Snapchat (@crichardsphoto). With over 36 expeditions on all seven continents under his belt, it's telling these stories that Cory believes can begin to change the course of our history.
"Look, the passage of time in every way is a hint towards our future," he says. "The most beautiful and optimistic thing that I can think of regarding the future is that nothing in the future has ever happened—the projections of the doomsday and how all this is going to go down—and it's our responsibility to sort of fill in time with what we want to happen." When life has no limits, absolutely anything is possible. "Art can be an expression of the present and it can also, at least in my mind, it can play out into the future. By that I mean we can play with the reality that we want to see, right?"
Working on the smartwatch illustrates his point perfectly, "Well, we have a watch that talks now," he says. "That's a thing now. Going back in the '50s or '60s when they're doing Star Trek, this was a creative sort of aspiration. That was just like, 'Dude, well what if you had a watch and you could talk into it?' I mean, all of that sort of precipitates reality. Creativity always comes before the fact, and so often we get our best ideas from art. 'Let's try and make it a reality.' Now, we have the technology." Only the passage of time allows the imagination of science fiction to become the wearable reality of today.
The limited edition Fossil Q x Cory Richards Touchscreen Smartwatch is based on his original Fossil Blue Chrono and runs on Google's Android Wear 2.0 operating system, which connects directly to your smartphone. "It seems funny that an adventurer or whatever cares about what he's doing in a meeting," he notes. And yet, "being polite is key in everything—like when I can get an alarm that just says I don't have to pick up my phone all the time. The other thing is it gives me an ability to track what's happening all day through the step count and things like that. In some ways, again, it combines some of the nostalgia or sentimentality of the old watch in that it shows you what you've done—just in a different capacity. I like that. I also think that the way they made a face that sort of takes on [the same] rust color as the dial of my old watch is cool."
A rugged 45mm case and interchangeable metal and leather strap finish off the watch. The refreshingly honest Cory explains, "This is new, and I hope—and I'm not saying this to garner brownie points; I don't give a shit—but I like to make relationships last because I've spent a lot of time burning them down. And the value of long-term relationships can't be overstated. Because trust, intimacy, and truth grows in those spaces. Every product you make, the more intimately you become involved with the brand, the more authentic it is. The more authentic it is, you know, the more you'll sell it. I hate to say it that way, but it's the truth."
Coming from a man who has stared death straight in the eye and lived to tell about it, I believe it.
The limited-edition Fossil Q x Cory Richards Smartwatch ($325) is available for pre-order March 27 and for purchase on 4/17 at fossil.com.
This story originally appeared on Esquire.com.
* Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.