Sir Edmond Hillary.Rolex or Smiths watch?
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Thread: Sir Edmond Hillary.Rolex or Smiths watch?

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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Jan 2014

    Question Sir Edmond Hillary.Rolex or Smiths watch?

    Their has been some debate among watch enthusiast about this subject matter and I wondering if someone from the NAWCC could clear this up or what their opinion is on this.I have alway read that the watch Mr Hillary wore while climbing MT Everestt was the Rolex gmt explore while other folks have said it was simple Smiths watch in a 3hand configuration.Just wondering what the NAWCC thoughts are on this?

  2. #2
    Vintage & NAWCC Forum moderator Ben_hutcherson's Avatar
    Join Date
    Aug 2011
    Kentucky, USA

    Re: Sir Edmond Hillary.Rolex or Smiths watch?

    I just did a quick search in the W&C bulletin, and could not find any references to Sir Edmund Hillary as such.

    I'll try to explore this a little bit further when I have the time(hopefully in the next few days). I hope that someone else will see this thread and be able to comment on it. This sounds like something that Adam(Horologist007) might know or at least have some insight on.
    Member National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors
    Member, NAWCC Chapter 149. Vice President and Secretary NAWCC Chapter 140. Member, NAWCC Convention Committee.
    Serious collector of American pocket watches-Waltham(and the predecessor companies) is my specialty.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Oct 2012
    New York

    Re: Sir Edmond Hillary.Rolex or Smiths watch?

    Re: Michael Crichton's Rolex Pre-Explorer: A Missing Link Watch Owned By A Great Storytell

    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:


    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
    Thread: Michael Crichton's Rolex Pre-Explorer: A Missing Link Watch Owned By A Great Storyteller

    HOROLOGIST007 likes this.

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  5. #4
    Member HOROLOGIST007's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2013
    Costa Blanca Spain

    Re: Sir Edmond Hillary.Rolex or Smiths watch?

    Excellent response drdas007.
    100% as I understand it.
    I too have been and seen it at the Clockmakers Museum.
    This is not the only "MYTH" that Rolex like to put out.

    I have written a couple of articles "The Truth Behind The Myth"
    drdas007 likes this.

    "Failure is not an option" - Gene Kranz
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