When people hold this watch in their hands, they should know instinctively that they are holding a sophisticated piece of engineering, not just a regular watch
Creation of an Expedition Watch
When young Mike Kobold asked me to help out with his fledgling watch company in 1999, I happily obliged. Up until the time I made that commitment, I was a Rolex ambassador, but now I was looking forward to helping Mike get the name Kobold established in the world of watches.
The very first thing Mike asked me to do was to help him design a watch for explorers. To this end, he also enlisted his mentor, Gerd Lang, the master watchmaker and founder of Chronoswiss. Mike had very specific ideas when it came to the overall purpose and functionality of the watch. “When people hold this watch in their hands, they should know instinctively that they are holding a sophisticated piece of engineering, not just a regular watch,” Mike said to me.
We had driven to Munich together and Mike arranged a meeting with Gerd Lang. Now we were sitting in the beer garden of 16th Century mill that had been converted into a hotel and restaurant, a few steps from the Chronoswiss factory in Munich. After weeks of speaking in general terms about the new watch, this was where the new project took shape. One of the focus points early on in the design of the new explorer’s watch was the movement and this was one of many areas where Gerd Lang’s vast horological expertise was paramount to the success of the project. I provided a list of key functions that would be useful during polar travel, such as an indicator for Greenwich Mean Time, which we use for radio communications, and a day and night indicator.
Next, it was up to Gerd Lang to identify which of those functions could actually be realized in a wristwatch. The next step was to create a case for this new wristwatch. After determining that the watch should never come off the explorer’s wrist unintentionally, we agreed on an acceptable size. At the time, the watchcase we designed was considered large, but I understand that by today’s standards it is considered to be somewhat smallish. Mike envisioned a case of massive proportions, arguing that this was going to be the trend for the foreseeable future. But I reminded my young friend that weight reduction was of high importance on manhauling expeditions.
A few years went by before the first prototypes of this new watch came off the assembly line, but the result was impressive. Together, Gerd Lang, Mike Kobold and I had created a unique expedition watch that was handsome in a rugged sort of way. I don’t recall how Mike came up with the name Polar Surveyor for the new watch, but I liked it very much. I also quite liked the name he gave the new case, Soarway. The Polar Surveyor has since accompanied me on several expeditions, most recently in early 2013 on my ill-fated attempt to ski across the Antarctic continent in winter. -Ranulph Fiennes