Sir Edmund Hillary and His Faithful Mountaineering Counterpart, His Rolex

Sir Edmund Hillary and His Faithful Mountaineering Counterpart, His Rolex

On May 29,1953, Sir Edmund Hillary and his faithful mountaineering counterpart Tenzing Norgay became the first confirmed climbers to have reached the summit of Mt. Everest. What a feeling that must have been to look across the tops of the Himalayan mountains, knowing that he just accomplished an incredible feat. What a view that must have been to look down at his wrist and admire his Rolex Explorer still keeping excellent time while having endured such harsh climbing conditions.

Hans Wilsdorf, the founder of the Rolex Watch Company, created the revolutionary “Oyster” case which allowed a watch to be sealed so securely it could be worn in extreme heat, cold and under great depths. The Rolex Oyster case proved to be incredibly water resistant under water demonstrated in the world record decent of the bathyscaph Trieste in 1960 to a depth of over 35,000 Ft. in the Mariana Trench. But what Rolex is more noted for is the ability to market its product. Rolex made it a point to have its watches worn by the most famous, notably daring and bravest adventurers alive. From mountaineering to the depths of the ocean, Rolex was there and still continues to be in the forefront of those expeditions to this day.

Sir Edmond Hillary

Records indicate the watch that the explorers wore when summiting Mount Everest did have the Explorer’s classic black dial and 3-6-9 luminous hour markers, the watch featured luminous straight hands, not the now familiar Mercedes hands. Documentation indicates that the dial of the Explorer worn by Hillary and Norgay had the word  “Precision”, rather than the current text of “Explorer”. According to Sotheby’s records, that specific expedition watch adopted a Bubble Back. Based on these earlier noted characteristics, this watch should Ref. 6350. At that time, Rolex often engraved the watch’s production date on the inner side of the case back, Tenzing Norgay’s Ref. 6350 was IV 53, which meant it was manufactured in April 1953, just in time for the expedition.


The “Explorer” model was one of Rolex’s sports watches that was originally introduced in the late 1940s. It came with a plain black luminous dial. Some still dispute whether Sir Edmund Hillary actually wore the Rolex Explorer on the summit. It is undocumented, but let’s just say he did for history sake. The earliest model of the Explorer featured a monoblock steel case with integrated case lugs, with a threaded and gasket case back. Additionally, the Rolex Explorer that Tenzig wore had the patented locking crown system. The movement mechanism of the Explorer was the caliber 1560 movement, an automatic-winding, straight-line lever escapement model with 25 jeweled bearings and a beautiful nickel finish. The later models had the tritium replaced with a luminous compound that glows so brightly the watch no longer looks old. Neither radium nor tritium dials ever worked that well, and 40 years later, they might not glow at all.


When viewing a vintage model be sure that the serial number has not been worn off the case or been removed. If you suspect that these numbers have been altered, you should be very suspect of the watch. The more current model of the Rolex Explorer known as the 39mm Explorer I Ref 214270 and the Explorer II 16570 are tremendously popular and can accommodate the new rubber band options from Everest Horology making for a very comfortable feel, as well as a great new look. The rubber straps from Everest Horology are produced in Switzerland and are 100% vulcanized Swiss rubber which is not only supple on the wrist but able to sustain harsh conditions for a prolonged period of time. We suspect that if Tenzig was aiming to concur Everest again, he would be wearing the strap inspired by his amazing feat sixty years ago.

The post Sir Edmund Hillary and His Faithful Mountaineering Counterpart, His Rolex appeared first on Bezel & Barrel written by Michael DiMartini.

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