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Rolex - Everest 1952, the unknown story.

June 24 2007 at 11:30 PM
*Philip*  (Login dingomad)
from IP address

I'm proud to tell you another side of a story mostly kept secret by Rolex and for reasons you will understand while reading.

Anyone who knows Rolex has heard at one time or another that on May 29, 1953 John Hunt, Edmund Hillary and Sherpa, Tenzing Norgay, reached the Everest summit using the south pass while wearing Rolex Oysters.

What is less well known is that one year earlier (1952) Hans Wilsdorf helped another team (also wearing Rolex chronometers) that failed by 200 meters to reach the "top of the world".

Everything started in 1951 when the Fondation 'Suisse pour Recherches Alpines' obtained the authorisation to explore the south face of the Everest next spring 1952.
The expedition was headed by Raymond Lambert (born 1914 in Geneva) and other Swiss climbers, (Wyss-Dunant, Chevalley, Dittert, Asper, Flory, Roch, Aubert and Hoffstetter) plus a sherpa named... Tenzing Norgay (!).

Yes, one year before he succeded with an english expedition, Tenzing Norgay already attempted to reach the Everest summit twice (both times with Lambert) with a 100% Swiss team.
Yes, the History imagined by Hans Wilsdorf* was that the Everest would be conquered by a team of climbers wearning Rolex... but a swiss team not an english one!

* remember that Wilsdorf was not a watchmaker but a marketing genius.

Back in 1952 :

.../... on may 28, Lambert and Norgay are only 200 meters away from the summit, they have already been walking for five hours, they could not use their oxygen masks that were not working properly, probably due to the cold.

The two climbers were only 200 meters away from success. They knew that they could reach the summit but they also knew that if they did so they won't be able to come back because the weather was getting worse. They finally decided to go back to the base camp located at 7,900 meters where the other expedition members were waiting for them. They were so exhausted that they couldn't walk the last ten meters to the camp and were dragged to the tents by their companions.
After examining their situation it decided to put an end to the attempt as they could expect no lessening of the weather. They decided to go back in autumn.../...

Later the same year (september 1952) Lambert, Norgay and 8 other team members were back on the Everest for a new attempt. Sadly, during the assault they lost 2 men and decided that the mountain claimed enough lives putting an end to this second attempt.

Rolex is a secretive company but not an ungrateful one and they proved it in march 2002 when they discretely sponsored another Everest expedition "Genève-Everest 1952-2002" (and a movie of it).... headed by sons and grand sons of the 1952 expedition men (among climbers Arvis, Vallot, Troillet, Asper, Lambert, Schaffer....).
Incredibly enough one of the original 1952 expedition member (Jean Jacques Asper) also joined the team although he did not try to reach the summit for obvious reasons.

The movie title? "Sur les Traces de mon père" / "On my father's traces".

We all know that History only remembers the winners... not true for Rolex.

Lambert and Tenzing Norgay failed in 1952 but still, Rolex always helped and supported Lambert's son Yves as well as Tenzing Norgay's son and after him, Tashi Tenzing his grandson in their various life plans. Rolex will go even further by financing a Chorten in memory of Sherpa Tenzing Norgay at the feet of the Everest. Without Sherpas, no expedition would be possible and for the little story the 2002 team sponsored by Rolex hired Sherpa Apa who has made it 11 times to the Everest summit.

So here is the story of a team that failed twice in 1952; but did they really fail, as their experience had been essential to the success of Hilary's team a year later.

After they reached the summit in 1953 Hunt, Hillary and Norgay sent this telegram to Hans Wilsdorf : " A vous autres, une bonne partie de la Gloire" / " For all of you, a good part of the Glory" ... a telegram that could have been sent a year before and signed by... other brave men.

That is part why I love Rolex so much and also why Rolex means to me a little more than Daytona, patent pending or return on investment and I'm glad VRF is sharing this philosophy with an interest more focused on watches than on value and money.

The 1952 team that "failed" and that received also "a good part of the glory"...

Picture : Lambert and Tenzing 50 years after their father and grand father

Tenzing Norgay and Sherpas Chorten built with Rolex help.

Thank you to Richard Carver for editing this post.

This message has been edited by dingomad from IP address on Jun 25, 2007 6:27 AM

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Peter A
(Login pwamby)
VRF Member

As always: Amazing story, Philip

June 25 2007, 12:47 AM 

You amaze me several times a week with your inside, Philip!

We should collect all your posts in a special section when the knowledge base is up and running!

Best regards,


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(Login watch-guy.com)
VRF Contributing Member

Thank you so much for these wonderful insights. It makes this hobby that much more intere

June 25 2007, 1:52 AM 


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(no login)


June 25 2007, 1:56 AM 

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(Login jac67comex)
VRF Member

Re: 5504

June 25 2007, 4:53 AM 

Lovely post Philip

Your posts are always insightful.

BTW, I thought I read that Hilary was wearing a Smiths, and Tenzing a Rolex BB when they reached the summit.


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David S.
(no login)

I heard the same thing--one of them was wearing...

June 25 2007, 5:37 AM 

A Smiths, but I've never heard of the bubbleback.

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(Login jac67comex)
VRF Member

Further info

June 25 2007, 6:19 AM 

Here's some more info:

In fact, the Rolex worn by Tenzing to the summit wasn’t an Explorer at all, but rather a stainless steel Bubbleback on a simple leather strap given to him by his longtime friend and fellow climber Raymond Lambert and currently on display in Geneva at Rolex headquarters. Hillary, on the other hand (no pun intended), apparently wore a watch from the English company Smiths (A.409 15 jewels. 28mm.), which he endorsed in a series of brief advertisements, as follows: “I carried your watch to the summit. It worked perfectly.” It is important to note that Hillary also wrote endorsements for Rolex after the 1952 expedition, including the following: “Its accuracy is all one could desire and it has run continuously without winding ever since I put it on some nine months ago… I count your watch amongst my most treasured possessions.”


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John Ireland
(Login figcar)
VRF Member

there was also a 5505, also with Everest instead of Explorer

June 25 2007, 8:16 AM 

that was a full 36mm case/20mm lugs Canadian market variation of the Explorer with the 1530 movement. I had a near mint one and curse that I sold it. It had the creamy white waffle dial and was two tone, very very handsome. I still surf the web looking for it but I know the Explorer collector in Italy who bought it will never sell.

eBay: 18K Yellow Gold Rolex Ref 1013 Oyster Perpetual C.1959 (item 150114804835 end time Apr-29-07 13:58:00 PDT)

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(no login)

A great piece of history

June 25 2007, 6:18 AM 

Thanks for providing this wonderful story.

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(Login dingomad)

I just added the pic of the 1952 team. nt

June 25 2007, 6:31 AM 


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Jeff Low
(Login JeffLow)
VRF Emeritus

A somewhat topically related brochure. Thanks Philip;

June 25 2007, 7:40 AM 

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(Login dingomad)

Interesting document with the 1952 'Typo'

June 25 2007, 7:46 AM 

under Hillary's testimony, as he went Everest 1953
how could he write it in 1952:-)

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Richard Grimmel
(Login Grimmel)
VRF Member

This post proves 2 things:

June 25 2007, 8:27 AM 

1 how invaluable your posts are. Philip! THANKS from Zurich!
2 how invaluable endorsements/testimonials are in sales and marketing.

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(Login NV)

Thank you so much for this wonderful post, Philip! nt

June 25 2007, 9:51 AM 


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(Login tomvox1)
VRF Dial Archive Curator

Superb post, Philip, and 100x more interesting...

June 25 2007, 9:52 AM 

...than another "market $ report".

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(no login)

thank you

June 25 2007, 10:51 AM 

This post means a lot, as does your excellent support of many of the forum members-myself included.

Every time I look at the silver date wheel in my 666, I thank you


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keith c
(no login)

I may be wrong...

June 25 2007, 1:14 PM 

but I believe (based on a picture I neglected to save from "Climbing" magazine circa 1990) that Reinhold Messner and Peter Habeler were both wearing Explorer-II watches on their alpine ascent of Everest. That, at least to my eyes, was the type of watch present on both of their wrists in the photograph.

Very interesting story, as always, Philip!


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(no login)

Fantastic post !!!

June 25 2007, 2:18 PM 

Thanks so much for sharing, Philip - like always, very very interesting to read !!!

all the best

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(Login dingomad)

Thank you all (more)

June 26 2007, 12:37 AM 

That will encourage me to go on posting these kinds
of stories, frankly I asked our host RC if I did not get
to much 'carried' as I was so exited to discover that story.
Very often I'm afraid these kind of tales only interest
me as the hobby is getting more and more oriented to
financial value and focusing on a very (very) few models of the Rolex production.
So, thanks again for your nice comments.

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Richard Carver
(no login)

Philip, what you add to the hobby is invaluable...

June 26 2007, 8:51 AM 

...your unique insight, passion and access are important to understanding the history and future of the company on whose products we dote.

I'm not blowing smoke, what you do is important to us.

This message has been edited by VintageRolexForum from IP address on Jun 26, 2007 8:52 AM

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