The riddle of the sea is how air-breathing animals can survive diving far beneath the waves and stay down for extended periods of time. For people without gills or the aid of diving gear, such an act seems to go against the laws of physiology. Indeed, breathing is a powerful involuntary mechanism. But there is the idea that one can breathe better by entering a meditative state, where nerve pulses are slowed down and the sensory experience heightens with elapsed time. In Jaeger-LeCoultre’s new short film “In a Breath,” Benedict Cumberbatch probes the deep waters of Rakino Island, New Zealand in search of the connection between this human instinct for survival and time, wearing the brand’s new Polaris Mariner Memovox.
Back in the ’50s, scuba diving was a challenging, high-risk military activity, which stoked a need for professional diving timepieces. It was around that time that Jaeger-LeCoultre introduced its Memovox movement, with novel functions designed for urban lifestyles and underwater sports. In particular, the watch had an alarm function within its triple-layer caseback that would provide an aural cue for divers to return to the surface. The watch has since matured gracefully into a timepiece that, though it has been slightly enhanced, still retains its signature “school bell” chime.
In the climate of the widespread pandemic, Cumberbatch finds that his most precious commodity might just be time. In an exclusive international press conference, the “Doctor Strange” actor talked about his experience making the film, the art of watchmaking and a newly discovered sense of time.
Courtesy of Jaeger-LeCoultre
For the short film “In a Breath,” Benedict Cumberbatch experienced free-diving in the open ocean for the first time.
What was the motivation behind “In a Breath”?
The impetus for “In a Breath” was the idea of what time means in a context where things are slowing down. This was right at the beginning of Covid-19, when we didn’t even know when this film would be released and the appropriateness of any of that. We felt strongly that it should be around something that is personal to me [that has] to do with time. And diving is a very interesting use of time because it’s a fixed period of time, but within the experience, something odd shifts and you move into a way of experiencing time that makes it stretch — it feels longer. It’s bizarre. It was the first time I ever did free diving, but I absolutely loved it. I'm a big fan of the Wim Hof breathing technique, which is all about increasing your oxygen capacity for holding your breath, which, of course, is the key element of free diving to make that dive last as long as possible. I guess, in the moment of doing it we’re realising we’re right on the precipice of this time where this country is about to go into lockdown. And how important it is, taking a moment breathing, calming yourself, being in a meditative state, absorbing a sense of present tense rather than worrying about an uncertain future or being distracted by thoughts of the past. And all of that feeds into this [short film].
How did your relationship with Jaeger-LeCoultre begin?
I wore the watch in the first Doctor Strange movie. And it was a very particular, very important prop that was about what the nature of time was. And then yes, we moved into them approaching me and I was interested. But I wanted to understand [about] the watch, how it’s made and the components that go into making it. I didn’t just want it to be a relationship with the luxury brand, cutting a ribbon and saying nice things about it. I wanted to understand the people and the craft behind this incredible tradition of making world class timepieces. So I went to the atelier [in person] and was blown away by these extraordinary craftsmen and women who had been working — some, for a matter of months, others for their whole career — doing everything from the most detailed enamelling to the intricate hand assemblage of the mechanisms. And the tourbillon; just seeing that like a beating heart magnified on a screen in all its complexity made large to the human eye. My fascination with how they do what they do is endless. I was really hooked from that moment, and that’s how I thought I could have a meaningful relationship with this brand.
Courtesy of Jaeger-LeCoultre
The watch that is strapped to the actor’s wrist throughout the film is the Jaeger-LeCoultre Polaris Mariner Memovox in steel.
In an age of technology where timepieces are no longer the only way to tell time, what do you think is the value behind wearing a watch?
I don’t like looking at my phone all the time, because then you get distracted into everything that is the modern malaise. With instant technology, you see message alerts or a notification or a news item or a friend posting something. There’s a whole lot of anxiety that it produces, when you just want to look at the time. I also personally don’t believe, despite it being called mobile phones, that you should be carrying a mobile phone around with you all the time. They’re fantastic tools, yes. They are computers in our pockets, but I prefer a computer on a desk. And if I look at my phone for the reasons other than telling the time, then I make sure I have the space to engage with emails and messages and everything else that phones can do for us now. [A watch] is a lot easier. And it’s a part of you, it becomes part of you — the way you accessorise your day, your look and your image. I guess I’m kind of an analogue guy.
Can you draw any parallels between your love of acting and watchmaking?
I suppose so. It takes time. It takes a long, long time to make a few seconds worth of film. It takes a long time to rehearse a play, to do the background research on any kind of engagement, to do the acting. There’s definitely artistry in both. There’s artistry in acting and there’s a huge amount of artistry making a watch. I think there’s also a large amount of technical ability where you have to hit your mark, you have to time a piece of action to a camera movement. It is obviously not down to the near scientific perfectionism of a watch mechanism. I think the difference is that there’s definitely room to be a little messier and freer [in acting], I suppose.
Courtesy of Jaeger-LeCoultre
In the current dark times, “when people are dying from the lack of breath,” Cumberbatch says, “how precious it is to breathe.”
What does time mean to you?
It means to hold something of time near you. [Our] relationship with time changes depending on where you’re at in your life or what’s happening to you. We’ve all experienced those adrenalised moments where seconds stretch into what seems like 10 minutes, or the dream space where you fall asleep for five minutes and have an entire day’s worth of narrative in your slumber, or times that feel very far away but when you look at the calendar and realise it’s around the corner. And so, just having that device to mark what you’re feeling at any moment harks back to that same quest to sort of make the most of our time. And I don't mean over scheduling, which I’ve definitely been guilty of, but just making the most value out of your time.
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