Zodiac Teamed Up With Shark Photographer Andy Mann to Break the Rules of Swiss Timepieces
Andy Mann is famous for swimming with sharks. The photographer shoots species like the oceanic whitetip (his personal favorite) for National Geographic and his half a million Instagram followers. He’s right in the mix when he’s doing it, just feet from his subjects. It’s a matter of getting the right shot, and creating a connection-“sharing intimacy,” as he puts it-with the viewer.
“You’ve got to be close to the animal,” he explains. “You’ve got to be right there.” Right there. Next to a shark, which he calls “the charismatic creature that draws us all to the ocean,” but other people call their worst nightmare. Mann is adamant that the latter characterization is the result of most of us woefully misunderstanding sharks, just like we misunderstand most of the crucial stuff he knows about the ocean.
Andy Mann wearing his limited-edition version of the Zodiac Super Sea Wolf 68 Saturation.
Still, it’s pretty clear the guy’s got nerves of steel and no lack of resolve. So it’s especially entertaining to hear him talk about navigating a very different set of waters while creating a watch along with Zodiac in Biel, Switzerland, and contending with a very different (if still imposing) creature: the stubborn Swiss watchmaker.
“Right when we got there, you could tell they have rules and guidelines to making watches that their grandfathers had,” Mann says. “And there seemed to be all these boundaries where I'm like, ‘Can we do this?’ and they're like, ‘No.’” To be fair, some degree of reluctance was understandable. Mann was, after all, bringing his ideas to Zodiac’s newly reinvigorated flagship watch, the Super Sea Wolf 68 Saturation, Mann's version of which releases on October 24.
“I just kept grinding away at them,” Mann says, “and eventually we started breaking some rules that they weren't comfortable with at first-but then I feel I gave them a reason to do it.” The dial, initially a polished blue, was brushed to mimic the “God’s rays” that appear when the sun shines through the surface of the water. “In order to do that, we spent days machine scarring the face to try to get that effect so when you move it, the light dances across it,” Mann explains.
To give that effect more room to shine, they dropped the date window from the dial. At the top, the 12 o’clock marker was replaced with a shark fin drawn by Mann (“another thing that took them awhile to get, because the symmetry-it's all about symmetry”). And on the caseback, there’s an engraving of a famous photograph of Mann’s featuring the oceanic whitetip shark, the one custom element that Mann’s most devoted to. “I think it's the coolest piece of the watch,” he says. That same image will arrive in photo form inside the Super Sea Wolf 68 Saturation’s watertight hardshell case (made of 50 percent recycled plastic) along with a dive log, two additional straps to complement the three-link bracelet, and a few other goodies.
The Zodiac x Andy Mann Super Sea Wolf 68 Saturation up close.
“By the end, [the watchmakers] were psyched, because they were getting to break the rules,” Mann says. And now that the internal team at Zodiac has been convinced, he’s excited to see how the rest of the world reacts. Mann doesn’t consider himself a “watch guy,” but the enthusiasm is clearly there, when he talks about the process of designing one or the prospect of passing one on to his newborn son someday.
Plus, there’s another purpose to the partnership between Mann and Zodiac. Remember, when he’s not rattling the mindsets of Swiss watchmakers, Mann is more than likely in the ocean or working to preserve it for future generations. Part of that effort is undertaken with SeaLegacy, the non-profit founded by Cristina Mittermeier and Paul Nicklen in 2014 to help bring attention to the state of our oceans and drive conservation work. Most recently, that involves working with East Timor-the second-youngest country in the world, with an astonishingly biodiverse coral reef. “They're like, ‘Can we create a blue economy of ecotourism?’” Mann explains. “It's a fresh slate, a fresh country.”
An oceanic whitetip shark is etched on the caseback of the watch.
Zodiac is co-funding SeaLegacy’s expedition to East Timor this year, a first for the brand. And with some luck, they’ll kick off a program that’s good for the country and the planet. Eventually, the conversation with Mann turns-perhaps inevitably-toward climate change, manmade ecological disasters, and the like. “They say it takes 120 to 140 million years to rebuild life. So the planet will be really beautiful in like 140 million and 1,000 years-or however long it takes us to self-sabotage,” Mann says. In other words, the earth, eventually, will be fine. “In the big scheme of things, it's really not about saving the planet, because it's about saving ourselves from ourselves.”
The hardshell case that the watch comes in is made of 50 percent recycled plastic. An Andy Mann print is included in the packaging.
This story originally appeared on Esquire.com. Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.