Humans have long been fascinated by the depths of the oceans and seek to go deeper, farther, by pushing the boundaries of the human body, technology, and advancing modern science. But like all things, we as humans are always faced with limitations.
Professional marine divers commonly face this limitation when they are under the water for extended periods of time. These divers get tremendous pressure when entering the deep sea, then it takes time to reach the surface.
In 1957 Dr. George F. Bond, a United States Navy physician, started Project Genesis, a medical experiment to study the effects of exposing animals to various gases at different underwater depths in order to observe the effects on their bodies.
In 1962 experiments with humans were started on a mixture of 21.6 percent oxygen, 4 percent nitrogen and 74.4 percent helium. This trial presents a new piece of information; divers can live and live for 30 days at a depth of 600 feet.
Experiments have shown that the body reaches a saturation point and there is no more time to decompress once that depth is reached, regardless of the time spent underwater. Throughout the project, different gas mixtures at different depths were used and it was observed that most of the respiratory gas was helium.
This experiment also changed the horological landscape forever, resulting in one of the most recognizable features of diving watches today: the helium escape valve. This feature was discovered after an experiment was carried out on the watch under the water.
While underwater, it was noted that from time to time, the crystal of one of the divers’ watches would explode with a loud bang. This is attributed to the buildup of helium in the case, which enters by penetrating the rubber gasket.
As the diver ascends to the land, the gas pressure outside the watch decreases, while the pressure inside remains high. Once the difference is too large, the build-up of pressure causes the crystal to detach from the watch.
Rolex decided to tackle the problem head-on and introduced the so-called helium escape valve which is a one-way pressure relief valve that allows helium to exit the case once the pressure difference has reached a certain amount.
This feature is present in the Rolex Sea-Dweller until now. On the Sealab III mission, a Rolex Sea-Dweller equipped with a helium escape valve was provided to the dive team, solving the problem of helium getting into the case and causing the watch to explode.
The history of this feature is definitely an interesting one, with mankind proving once again, they will stop at nothing to conquer the unknown. And, as always, the watch industry is at the forefront to push those boundaries.
Most of us do not need a watch that can reach a depth of 3,900 meters and a helium escape valve feature. However, by having these features on your watch, you will certainly be very proud to have such a powerful mechanical technology that was created with a lot of effort and research.
Are you interested in owning a watch with a helium escape valve feature? If so, visit the nearest The Time Place boutique to get it!