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 a watch he may have worn to the Summit of Everest. Tenzing Norgay received a Rolex as a gift from Swiss Expedition climber Raymond Lambert after he and Raymond Lambert almost reached the summit of Everest the year before in 1952 but I have not way of confirming the watch pictured below is the same watch.

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.

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

When I first wrote this story looking for evidence of Sir Edmund Hillary wearing a Rolex on Everest I watched the classic documentary that showed Hillary coming down the hill from the summit, then it cuts to the scene below. When I originally saw this I mistook the climber from the British Expedition on the right for Hillary, which was incorrect.

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.

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.