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.