Sunday, July 12, 1998

The Complete History Of Rolex Conquering Mount Everest [Part 7 of 8]

The Complete History
Rolex Conquers Mount Everest
[Part 7 0f 8]

Tenzing Norgay's Watches

This next photo is from Life magazine was taken during the descent from the top of Mount Everest in a low camp. Tenzing is wearing his Rolex watch that he wore to the Summit of Everest. Tenzing Norgay received it as a gift from Swiss Expidition climber Raymond Lambert after he and Raymond Lambert almost reached the summit of Everest the year before in 1952.

I think I may have discovered the type of Rolex watch Tenzing was wearing in the photo above. It is called a Rolex Royalite and it is from the 1940s. I found the watch pictured below on and they say it has an "Original bamboo style bonklip bracelet."

Just for the record, I am not saying I think Tenzing's model is a Rolex Royalite, per se, I think the watch could be some kind of Rolex Oyster from that era. If you study the vintage Rolex Oyster's from that era, you notice Rolex made a zillion different models with all kinds of interesting and disparate nomenclature.

Update on June 27, 2009: I have located Tenzing Norgay's Rolex he wore to the summit of Everest in 1953 and I am working on getting photos of it.
The photo below of Tenzing was taken high on the mountain and I am relatively certain he is wearing the same watch as pictured above. I have also seen two other photos of him that are not in this article where he is wearing the same stainless steel watch with a stainless steel bracelet.

This next photo of Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay was taken in a press conference in London, after they completed their successful climb.

Notice in the photo that Tenzing is wearing a different watch on a leather strap. According to James Dowling and Jeff Hess' book, The Best of Time, Rolex has, in its possession, Tenzing's Rolex that he wore up to the top of Everest.

In this next photo, taken on the same day as the photo above we see Tenzing wearing two different watches–one on each wrist. I don't know why he would be wearing two watches at the same time when he is not climbing? It could be that one watch was keeping local time in England and one was keeping time in Nepal?

In the photo below, again you see Tenzing holding up the Union Jack while Sir John Hunt looks on. This photo confirms Tenzing was wearing two watches.

Edmund Hillary's Watches

If you examine the evidence, it appears that Edmund Hillary wore a Rolex and a Smiths' watch. This next image substantiates that claim. It was taken just after he came down from the peak. He is posing with a group of Sherpa's and he is wearing two watches–one on each wrist–at the same time. Both watches appear to be on black leather straps.

Why would Hillary be wearing two watches at the same time? Probably for the same reason the NASA astronauts typically do. Because they are timing different things at the same time.

This next photo of Hillary (pictured on the left) shows him in the foothills with just one watch on a black leather strap.

Same with this next photo. One watch on his left wrist.

Watches Worn On Everest Conclusion

I must say I have really enjoyed researching and writing this amazing story, but I must also tell you that I am a bit frustrated. I shared my findings with you and I am not able to find anything conclusive that proves that Hillary, Tenzing or Hunt wore Rolex watches on the successful Mount Everest Expedition.

I wish I could show you a photo of Hillary, Tenzing or Hillary unequivocally wearing a Rolex but I can't find one. I don't pay much attention to the myths that have been handed down, because in my experience, most of them have proven to be just that–myths. As far as I am concerned, I don't believe until I can see with my own eyes.

I believe Rolex of Geneva would be in the best position to separate the fact from the fiction on this issue.

We clearly see Rolex was all over the Everest bandwagon long before Tenzing and Hillary conquered Everest. I say this because we see Rolex "Everest" Models going back to the 1930s and 1940s.

In the Rolex document from the Horological Journal dated September 1953 (pictured above in this watch section) Rolex enumerates the 15 historic Himalayan expeditions in which Rolex Oyster watches were worn.

In the Rolex brochure from 1966 (pictured above in this watch section) Rolex published direct quotes from Sir John Hunt, Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay that suggest all three wore Rolex watches up to the top of Everest.

Once again, I wish I could offer you more concrete proof and hopefully in the future I will dig it up, or Rolex or somebody else will step forward with the few missing pieces of the Rolex Everest watch puzzle and solve the mystery once and for all. Until then it will remain a mystery.

In the recent photo of Sir Edmund Hillary before he passed away you can see he was wearing his two-tone Rolex Oyster Quartz...That means he wore Rolex for at least 55 Years.

Sir Edmund Hillary also served as a judge on Rolex' panel of judges for their Enterprise awards.

Update: On Friday July 10, 2009 I wrote the following on Jake's Rolex Watch Blog:

Sir Edmund Hillary's Everest Expedition Rolex Discovered!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
The Missing Piece Of The Puzzle Has Been Found

This is one of the most exciting moments of my life with Jake's Rolex Watch Blog!!!!!!!!!!

I wrote a super detailed article about Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay's conquest of Mount Everest which you can read by clicking here. The challenge is that I was able to put together all the pieces of the puzzle except one? and that was whether Sir Edmund Hillary was wearing a Rolex on his wrist when he conquered Everest and if he did where was the actual watch today?

After many months and many international emails and phone calls I can report with confidence that Sir Edmunds Hillary's Rolex has been found and properly documented. The watch is in possession of the Beyer Clock and Watch Museum in Zürich, Switzerland. I have been working with folks at the Beyer Clock And Watch Museum on this story and they just confirmed with me that Rolex in Geneva confirmed the watch indeed belonged to Sir Edmund Hillary and was given to the Hunt Expedition.

This first photo is of the the actual watch Sir Edmund Hillary wore when he conquered Everest. The watch is an Officially Certified Chronometer Rolex Oyster Perpetual with a white dial and it is pictured below on top of a Rolex magazine ad which I believe is from between 1953 and late 1958. The irony, of course is Edmund Hillary's Rolex watch was NOT a (as widely believed and reported) a Rolex Explorer model, but a Rolex Oyster Perpetual COSC.

This next Rolex magazine advertisement is from 1953 and it appears to show the exact Rolex Oyster Perpetual that Sir Edmund Hillary wore. It does not show a Rolex Explorer, but the actual model as seen above but on an early Rolex Oyster bracelet. To the best of my recollection this model is very similar to the one Chuck Yeager wore when he broke the speed of sound barrier in 1947.

Also, notice that next to the photo of the watch in the ad below it says:

"The ROLEX OYSTER PERPETUAL that accompanied the victorious British Everest Expedition. Waterproof, self-winding, and a miracle of accuracy, this watch is the 'highest achievement' of the watchmaking industry."

It is interesting to note the use of language in the ad below as well–where Rolex uses the term "Highest Achievement." This is interesting to me because in my mind that is what Rolex has always been about. I think there is something about wearing a Rolex on your wrist that makes people strive higher to achieve. Perhaps, I and Rolex are romanticizing things, but it makes perfect sense to me.

Please Click Image To Make Larger

The ad has a letter from Sir Edmund Hillary to Rolex written upon his return from the 1952 British Himalayan Expedition and it reads:

"I received the watch (Rolex) on March 29th an Jaynagar on the Nepalese border, and throughout the whole of the British Cho Oyu Expedition, until we finally reached India again some 14 weeks later, I wore the watch (Rolex) continuously, night and day, and on no occasion did it stop or require winding. In the course of the expedition it experienced considerable extremes of temperature, from the great heat of India to the cold temperature at over 22,000 feet, and seemed unaffected by the knocks it received on rock climbs or the continual jarring on long spells of stop cutting in ice."

"To me an accurate watch is a novelty. I am one of those unfortunate people whose watches, for some some strange reason, always seem to go slow. No adjustment seems to counteract. However this Rolex has been different a different matter altogether. Its accuracy is all one could desire and it has run continuously without winding ever since I put it on some nine months ago...I count your watch amongst my most treasured possessions."

These next two photos are of Sir Edmund Hillary's actual Rolex Watch he was wearing when he conquered Mount Everest. This first photo which gets us up close was taken by Andrew and it shows all the detail on the dial. When I was doing research for the original story, I watched a tremendous amount of film footage and I kept looking for a Rolex Explorer on an Oyster band with a black dial, but I saw nothing that even resembled one. Instead, I kept seeing members of the Everest expedition including Hillary wearing watches on leather straps with white dial and this confused me terribly.

Welcome Home Baby!!!

The obvious reason I did not see any Rolex Explorer models is because the members of the Hunt expedition were not wearing them. In the photo below of Sir Edmund Hillary's watch we see that it has an extra long leather strap which enabled it to be worn over clothing or gloves.

1957 Rolex Mount Everest Ad

Update: In November of 2009, I discovered this Rolex Ad from 1978 that further confirms that Sir Edmund Hillary indeed wore a white dial Rolex Oyster when he conquered Mount Everest.

It Was A Very Good Year

1953 was a good year for Rolex. In 1953 Jacques Piccard set a depth record when he took a Rolex Deep Sea Special down off the coast of Italy in the Bathyscaphe, Trieste. It is profound in my mind that in 1953 both Hillary and Piccard broke world records with Rolex and they both passed away in 2008.