Hillary didn't wear a Rolex on Everest and they were not sponsers of the successful 1953
expedition led by John Hunt. They did however sponsor and equip both the 1952
Swiss expedition led by Raymond Lambert which got to within 200M of the summit before turning back, They also sponsored the unsuccessful 1952
Cho Oyu (the worlds sixth highest mountain) expedition on which Hillary climbed .
As it happens, Tenzing Norgay was the chief Sherpa to the '52 expedition and accompanied Lambert to just below the summit. As a result he was issued and allowed to keep a Rolex. This is the one now in the Rolex museum.
For the Hunt expedition, which was sponsored by Smiths, both Norgay and Hillary were issued with fifteen jewel Smiths Deluxe watches. Norgay rather famously wore both, while Hillary wore the Smiths alone. This watch is now in the museum of the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers in London. While I have seen it several times, photographs are not allowed. Another brave soul took one and posted it here: viewtopic.php?f=1&t=60537&start=0&st=0&sk=t&sd=a
Naturally, Smiths Watches took full advantage of this and had a massive advertising campaign in which both Hunt and Hillary were quoted directly.
Note how the advert explicitly
states that they equipped the 1953 ascent: "which were the official selection of the gallant Everest team"
. This is not a statement you will ever see in a Rolex advert for the simple reason they were not. For example:
Here the implication
is that they wore Explorers.
As a result Smiths had a range of watches called 'Everest' and Rolex, having already - and precipitously - had an 'Everest' model, named the watch style worn by Tenzing the 'Explorer' instead.
Rolex, to this day, try to imply that Hillary wore a Rolex on Everest. He didn't; Rolex, backed the 'wrong' expedition.
As it happens I own near identical versions of both watches. I will freely concede that the 34mm oyster would be better for snow and ice climbing than the Smiths. While the Smiths is perfectly robust and equally accurate, the automatic winding and screw down crown make a far more suitable watch for the conditions. It just wasn't the one used.
What irritates me is the way that the Rolex advertising of the time and since goes to such effort to mix true elements with strong implication to give the impression that Hillary wore a Rolex on Everest in 1953. He certainly wore one pretty well constantly from almost immediately afterwards. For the simple reason he was given one and retained by Rolex almost immediately after he returned to England. He was also equipped with one on a previous climb on Cho Oyu. He wrote grateful copy about both watches. However the copy that Rolex would have treasured beyond gold - grateful copy about a Rolex watch he wore on Everest simply doesn't exist. Instead Smiths have the grateful copy and, used it constantly just as Rolex would have.
-Quoted from member M4tt 's post on 3/2/2010 in