Requiring nothing more than a deep body of water and a certain amount of fearlessness, free diving is a competition to see who can go the deepest on a single breath of air. Few people have gone as deep as Guillaume Néry, who has set four world records and regularly attains an astonishing depth of 125 metres on dives near his home in Nice, southern France. The new Panerai Luminor Marina 44mm Guillaume Néry Edition (PAM01122) is the latest in a long line of professional diving tools from a brand known for them. Thanks to a collaboration with Néry, however, it is one of very few designed specifically with free diving in mind. We spoke to Néry about the sport, the new watch and his latest film, One Breath Around the World.
What is free diving?
Free diving is the art of holding your breath and discovering the underwater world. This is a very special experience, because you leave all of your stress and your tension at the surface, and you reconnect with the water, which is an essential element for humans. Our bodies are 70% water, and we spend the first nine months of our lives completely underwater, so we have a special link with water that we tend to forget about. Free diving is a very simple way to reconnect with this magic feeling.
How do you train to be a free diver?
The basics are to forget about your mental limits and just go in the water. That’s the real beginning. Anyone can improve their performance just by repetition, you don’t need special skills. Everyone can hold their breath for four minutes after a few weeks of training, and anyone can dive for 20-25 metres after two weeks of practice. For me, as an athlete, I’m training every day. I go in the mountains, I like to run, I like biking, I swim. Then it’s a combination of Crossfit training and going in the sea to work on my technique and my breath holding capacity. It’s also important to be very flexible, so I do yoga and breathing exercises as well.
What’s your favourite place to dive?
For deep free diving and competition, the Mediterranean sea. For exploring, to open my eyes and to see the wonders of the underwater world, the Pacific. I love the Pacific, and I spend four months of the year in French Polynesia. It’s kind of my second home. The Polynesians built their culture around the ocean, and the beauty of the corals, the sharks, the whales, is really unique.
What’s the most beautiful thing you’ve seen underwater?
The experience I had while shooting One Breath Around the World, my last short film, when I was swimming with a sperm whale, was something extraordinary. Those animals are amazing.
What insights can free diving offer us about the importance of breath?
I think we are living in a moment when civilization is going a bit crazy, and free diving is the art of reconnecting with ourselves, our bodies and our breath. Free diving is a perfect way, like meditation, like yoga, to get this connection, and to learn how to rediscover something that seems to be very normal and very basic. To be a free diver you need to stop breathing. And to be comfortable not breathing, first you need to learn how to breathe. It seems so simple, but when you first experience it you realize how powerful breath is.
How long can you hold your breath for?
Between seven and eight minutes when I’m not moving. I’m a specialist in deep diving, so I’m working on improving my breath, but it’s not my main focus. My focus is to get more and more comfortable with the deep.
There are so many dive watches in the world, what was it about Panerai that made them the right partner for you?
Panerai has always been a big supporter of Mike Horn’s adventures, and to me Mike Horn is really the ultimate explorer. So when Panerai got in touch with me, I was very honoured, because we share the same vision, the same philosophy and the same passion for exploring. To be supported by this brand is a real honour.
How much input did you have into the design of the new PAM1122?
I don’t assist with the design, I’m not a watchmaker. I’m more into sharing ideas and sharing feedback about the experiences I have in the water. We wanted to build a new underwater watch based on the historic Luminor. It’s an experiment, and I was very excited to work on it.
What do you hope to accomplish through filmmaking?
I’m not just a filmmaker, but filmmaking is my way to share my passion with as many people as possible. I’m known for the films I’ve been doing, but I’ve also written two books and am in the process of writing a third book now. Free diving is my life, and all the projects I’m trying to build are to share this passion in different ways. I’m also working on creating a free diving academy that will help people to reconnect with water, to bring as many people – even real beginners – to the underwater world. I’m using the power of experience, the power of words and the power of images to bring people’s attention to the magic of the underwater world and how fragile it is.
The Panerai Luminor Marina 44mm Guillaume Néry Edition is the brand’s second collaboration with Néry. In addition to its sandblasted DMLS titanium case and recycled PET strap, it features an accentuated convex glass and a dial with dégradé effect, emulating the shades produced as sunlight filters through deep water. Available in an edition of just 70 pieces at Panerai boutiques worldwide, it comes with a 70-year guarantee.