Frenchman Jacques Mayol was known as the “human dolphin” and started his association with OMEGA in 1981, when he tested the new Seamaster 120 watch on his record-breaking free dive to a depth of 101 metres, beating by one metre his famous record of 1976 when he broke the magic 100-metre barrier. These dives were part of a long-running rivalry with Italian diver Enzo Maiorca (the first man to breath-hold dive below 50 metres) lasting over ten years, which saw freedive depths double within a decade and provided the inspiration for Luc Besson’s film”The Big Blue”, which led to notoriety for both Mayol and Maiorca.
Other famous freedivers have also chosen OMEGA timepieces for their record-breaking dives in different disciplines. Frenchman Roland Specker set a new world record in lake freediving (where the conditions are much colder and darker than at sea) on 4 September 1993 in the “no limits” category, when he doubled the previous record depth to 80 metres. Three years later, on 1 September 1996, he broke the world record in the “variable weight” category with a 60-metre dive. Both records were established in Lake Neuchâtel, in Switzerland, and on both occasions Specker wore the OMEGA Seamaster Professional Chrono-Diver. OMEGA ambassador Mehgan Heaney-Grier, a student of Mayol’s philosophy, brought the sport of freediving to the USA, where she set the first-ever constant weight record for both men and women with a 155 ft (47 metres) dive on 21 October 1996 at only 18 years of age. Through her association with OMEGA, Mehgan also made the first-ever freedive in Taiwan in 2000, when she introduced the new Seamaster 300m divers’ watch collection. More recently, Austrian freediver Christian Redl broke two world records on the same day, 14 February 2003, in the depths of the frozen Weissensee (Austria’s highest lake). On his first dive beneath the 15cm thick ice sheet, he reached a depth of 90 metres on one single breath; on his second – with the aid of a subaqua scooter – he reached a depth of 150 metres. For both dives, Redl wore an OMEGA Seamaster Professional America’s Cup Chronograph.
Sadly, Jacques Mayol, who was instrumental in raising the sport of freediving to the level of popularity it enjoys today, passed away on 22 December 2001. OMEGA is now honoured to pay tribute to this great man and long-standing partner with the launch of a special timepiece that Mayol himself helped to design. The Seamaster Apnea combines the robust qualities of the Seamaster with a unique apnea timing function. It has a robust stainless steel case with a unidirectional turning bezel marked with minute graduations for timing dives or other events lasting up to 60 minutes. A luminous dot at the 12 o’clock position on the bezel, together with applied luminous hour markers and luminous hands, ensures that the functions of the watch can be read off instantly and clearly in all light conditions. Furthermore, the seven circular apertures on the dial represent the special apnea timing function, for those who venture underwater without any breathing apparatus. When the start-stop pusher at 2 o’clock is pressed, the seven apertures on the dial successively fill with red each minute from left to right. Once the first seven-minute cycle is complete (and all the apertures are red), the colour successively reverts to the background colour of the dial (black or silver), allowing in total a 14-minute cycle to be timed. This 14-minute figure is important, since one 7-minute cycle would not be sufficient: the static apnea world record (holding a single breath for as long as possible without actually diving) for men is an astonishing 8 minutes and 6 seconds, set by Martin Stepanek of the Czech Republic in Miami on 3 July 2001. Furthermore, the first 14 minute markers on the bezel are marked in red, which means that by turning the bezel so that the luminous dot is in line with the minute hand, freedivers also have an instant view of the total elapsed dive time.
Jacques Mayol himself chose the dial colours of black or silver, as well as the colour of the apnea counter disk. He also chose the unique hour and minute hands, whose skeleton outline is interrupted to ensure that the apnea counter is not obstructed in any way. The Apnea is rounded off by the standard Seamaster quality features of scratch-resistant and anti-reflective sapphire crystal as well as a crown and case back that screw in to guarantee water resistance to 300 metres. The case back also features the characteristic Seamaster wave imprint together with Jacques Mayol’s name and characteristic dolphin and man drawing. Powered by the self-winding OMEGA calibre 3601, which has a power reserve of 40 hours and a decorative finish of Geneva waves and circular graining, the Seamaster Apnea is available with a steel bracelet with safety clasp or a rubber strap with buckle. This elegant addition to the Seamaster collection is the perfect complement to the Seamaster America’s Cup Racing Chronograph, another specialist instrument watch that results directly from OMEGA’s longstanding association with the sea.
JACQUES MAYOL, who has died in Elba aged 74, was one of the most remarkable divers of his generation; in 1983, aged 56, he set the world record by diving 347 ft (105 metres) with a single breath, a feat of endurance that was not beaten for 13 years.
Mayol was able to hold his breath for five minutes when motionless, and four minutes when active. Believing free diving to be a matter of retaining oxygen in the bloodstream, he used meditation techniques and yoga to slow his heart rate and oxygen consumption.
To the astonishment of the medical establishment, his pulse would drop from 70 to 20 beats per minute while diving – something which would cause most people to pass out.
In 1984, the director Luc Besson approached Mayol about making a film centred on his rivalry with fellow free diver Enzo Maiorca. The film, The Big Blue (1988) starred Jean-Marc Barr as Mayol. Mayol insisted, however, that the character in the film was an entirely different person from him.
Most significant, the hero of The Big Blue saw free diving as a sport: for Mayol it was inextricably linked to his understanding of the human condition and to his love of the ocean and of dolphins.
“The sea is my lover,” the Frenchman often told interviewers. “I make love to her when I dive.”
Born in Shanghai in 1927 to French parents, Jacques Mayol spent the first 13 years of his life in Asia. He first became interested in diving on family holidays in Japan, and was undeterred when his father died in a diving accident.
As a young man, Mayol won several European contests among free divers, who would cling to weighted, falling sleds, and were judged purely on how deep they were able to fall. The contests were suspended after a number of participants died.
With his Italian rival Enzo Maiorca, Mayol continued to extend the boundaries of free diving, descending 60 metres (197 ft) off the coast of Miami in 1966, then 100 metres (330 ft) 10 years later – the first free diver to plunge so deep.
It was in Miami that, in 1955, Mayol met the dolphin Clown (the mother of Flipper, of the 1960s television series) at the Miami Seaquarium. He later said, “I learned everything from her,” and earned the soubriquet “dolphin man”.
In 1973 Mayol moved to the island of Elba, where he was the subject of medical research on man’s adaptation to deep sea environments. He gave up diving in 1983 after descending 105 m (345 ft).
His own publications include L’Homo Delphinus – The Dolphin Within Man (1983) and a novel, Les dix rois de la mer (1989). His recently published Heritage des Peuples de la mer describes his dives among the undersea ruins of the Yonaguni island.
Jacques Mayol married, in 1989, Jeanne Laffitte. Their son is also a free diver.
Omega Seamaster Apnea
.- Apnea timing
.- Screw-in crown
.- Unidirectional rotating bezel
.- Domed anti-reflective, scratch-resistant sapphire crystal
.- Water resistance
.- 30 bar (300 metres / 1000 feet)
.- Size Case Diameter: 41.5 mm
.- Caliber: Omega 3601
.- Self-winding chronograph with Free diving timing display for a 14 minutes dive. Hour, minute hand, central chronograph hand. With rhodium-plated finish with Geneva waves circular graining and gold plated engraving.
.- Power reserve: 44 hours