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In an exclusive interview with The Next Hour, the South African-born Swiss professional explorer and adventurer reflects on his voyages around the world, the impact of global warming and harnessing the power of the next generation to protect the future of the planet.

On the tale end of summer in the canton of Valais, the renowned explorer, Mike Horn, grouped together with Panerai enthusiasts to share the beauty of traversing the Swiss mountains, guided by the invaluable instrument of a watch. Imparting stories of nostalgia and bravery, Horn shared his ethos with fledgling travellers, experiencing the depths of the unknown for the first time. “Make fear your new home,” offered Horn, as the group ventured up unto the mountains, on the cusp of sunrise before intrepidly canyoning into ice-water. 

Seeped with nerves, and guided by the adrenaline of my fear, I – as novice as novice gets when taking on the outdoors – found myself conquering inhibitions unimaginable. Sweeping down crags and tumbling into pools that steal your breath at the touch, Horn’s expedition was an insight into the extreme; becoming at one with the recesses of nature, admiring the beauty of the planet around us, while pushing my own limits. Removing personal barriers that at 4.30am in the morning felt unbreakable as we ambled our way up the heights of Verbier on e-bikes, it was Horn’s authenticity that assisted (as much as the turbo mode on the bicycles) that made made the extreme feel ever so slightly more tangible. And it’s that same feeling of comfort, Horn shared that he finds in a Panerai watch. Supporters and celebrators of mastering the untold secrets of nature, Horn looks to his watch in the way we did for his support; a reliable resource in the face of the sublime. 

Sharing an insight into the valiant expeditions under his belt, our Editor-in-Chief Scarlett Baker caught up with Mike Horn in Verbier to discuss the importance of our environmental footprint, both as individuals and the wider responsibility that faces brands today.

The Next Hour: Throughout your time as an explorer, how far have you witnessed environmental shifts in the planet?

Mike Horn: In 2006, I went to the North Pole for the first time from Russia and measured the ice on the North Pole because we needed to make a landing strip for Russian aeroplanes to come in and give us some research equipment and materials. We measured the ice, it was 2 metres 50 thick. Fourteen years later, I went to the pole again and the ice was 8cm thick. A lot has happened in 14 years and I witnessed it. So to come back and share that knowledge with a watch brand like Panerai, that supported me throughout my life as an explorer and to know that they will make an effort to make their watch more sustainable and to give a second life to what we already have, what we usually call garbage and we chuck away.

Credit: Etienne Claret

TNH:You’ve embarked on some dangerous adventures in order to experience and appreciate nature’s beauty. How do you factor fear into these expeditions? Do you still get scared?

MH: In one life, we have 30,000 days on average to the age of 82 years old. And half of those days you fall asleep. So you’ve only got effectively 15,000 days to live your life. And those 15,000 days, you’ve got to live the fullest of your capabilities. Fear must be present in our lives. We try to avoid the feeling of being afraid because that means we are going into the unknown. When it becomes uncertain, we fear. Because we’re losing control of the situation. But for me as an explorer, fear has become my home, fear is where I operate. If there’s no fear, I’m not working hard enough or not pushing my limits far enough. I believe that you shouldn’t have doubts and live with fear because when you’re afraid, and you start doubting your capabilities, that is when you self-destruct. You can be afraid, not what you’re afraid of and work on overcoming fear. Make fear your home.

Credit: Etienne Claret

TNH: You’ve maintained a loyal partnership with Panerai for 22 years. What is it about Panerai that has earned your loyalty as both a wearer and explorer? 

MH: Panerai to me is not only a watch I wear. It’s become my family, it’s home to me and it’s familiar faces. It gives you a sense of security to have a watch on my wrist that I trust. When I go up to the North Pole or the South Pole it’s -18 degrees, it’s crystal liquid freezes, you can’t read the GPS screen, the compass can’t give you direction because you’re North of the magnetic fields so your compass turns in circles and the only way I know where I’m going is through the time. If your watch loses time, you start losing direction. For me, a watch is not only an object that gives me the time, it’s an object that gives me direction in life. It’s something that I need to trust. 

TNH: The future of the planet rests on how we react now to environmental change across each industry. How do you think the watch world can adapt and ensure we don’t ultimately run out of time?

MH: I think the biggest source of untapped energy is the younger generation. For me, the younger generation will live on this planet tomorrow, and if we don’t give them the power to be able to act on what is happening today; if we don’t want to give them a voice to speak out and allow them to take action, then we’re going to kill the planet for them. For me, the solution to the world’s environmental problems shouldn’t be political, it shouldn’t be economical. It should be given to the youth, so that they can take care of the planet when we’re no longer here.

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Scarlett is a writer, editor, and creative consultant specializing in art, fashion, culture and digital strategy. Drawing on her work from previous titles including Dazed, LOVE Magazine, The Perfect Magazine, AnOther and 1 Granary, as the Editor-in-Chief of The Next Hour, Scarlett is leading the editorial vision toward new territories providing an alternative lens of social commentary to recontextualize the world of watchmaking for the next generation.