Over the years, many watches have conquered Mt. Everest. However the most iconic, as is the case with many historic events, is the first one to do it.
The tale of the first watch to reach the summit of Everest is a story of two accounts, both of which hold merit, and both of which are true to certain degrees.
As one of the sponsors for the 1953 Everest expedition, Rolex provided mountaineers Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, with a prototype of the Rolex Explorer. The watch was provided not as a gift, but to wear and return after descent for further testing. Upon his return to New Zealand, Sir Edmund returned the watch to Rolex.
The marketing of the Explorer after the Summit helped cement its place as the 'Everest Watch'
However, the Explorer was not the only watch part of the expedition. Smiths of England also wanted to support the expedition and provided the group with a package of essential instrumentation including altimeters and oxygen gauges which also included special edition of the Smiths A409. The Smiths watch is often forgotten, and many believe that it was the watch worn by Edmund Hillary during the ascent.
The above picture is of Sir Edmunds' A409 that hangs in the London Science Museum with the following description: 'PRESENTED TO THE CLOCKMAKERS MUSEUM AROUND OCTOBER 1953 BY SIR EDMUND HILLARY, AFTER WEARING IT ON HIS ASCENT UP THE MOUNTAIN'
Smiths, looking at Rolex's success, also tried to market the watch as the 'Everest Watch', but were a little too late to compete agains the momentum gathered by the Rolex Explorer.
It is clear that both watches were part of the group to summit Everest, but which one was truly the first?
To commemorate the 70th anniversary of the expedition, we wanted to pay homage to one of the most iconic watches and stories in all of horology.