The rise of the web, and the ensuing evolution of the watch-watching neighborhood, from its early days on boards and chat rooms into fully-fledged horology-related running a blog and on-line retail empires, all fueled by social community apps like Instagram and Fb, has inevitably amplified the phenomenon whereby sure objects come to exert a unprecedented maintain over the collective creativeness. This results in sure watch manufacturers turning into prized for his or her worth as short-, medium-, or long-term investments relatively than timekeeping gadgets. You may go as far as to treat them as a foreign money in their very own proper.
In opposition to this feverish backdrop, rumors and legends abound. For there isn’t a higher method to increase the sale value of a classic watch than to have it related to a specific individual or historic occasion. Working example: the “Paul Newman Rolex Daytona,” which isn’t the identical factor because the late Paul Newman’s Rolex Daytona(s), however the hyperlink is established in collectors’ minds and costs soar accordingly.
Listed here are three watch myths circulating extensively and freely on-line and in print, and in some instances these city legends are openly perpetuated by individuals and platforms who ought to know higher.
Fantasy 1: Nicolas Sarkozy took off his Patek Philippe to shake fingers along with his supporters
Nicolas Sarkozy, president of France between 2007 and 2015, drew appreciable flak from a broad part of French society for his undisguised style for the nice issues in life (to not point out well-heeled personae), specifically after his post-election celebratory dinner at Fouquet’s in Paris in Could 2007.
As anybody who follows each French politics and advantageous watchmaking could also be conscious, the nec plus extremely remark about Rolex watches was made by journalist Jacques Séguéla on a stay chat present: responding to accusations that Sarkozy’s alternative of wrist put on proved that he was the “bling-bling” president, Séguéla was merely declaring that in the actual world it’s fairly regular for the president of a rustic to put on a Rolex.
“Why would you criticize a president for sporting a Rolex?” Séguéla postulated. “In any case, everybody has a Rolex – if you don’t have a Rolex by the time you’re 50, you’re a failure.”
This assertion, which was a superbly banal and light-hearted remark, ricocheted around the media as proof of how France’s media personalities, and by implication the president he was defending, are out of contact with “peculiar” French folks, for whom a Rolex is each an unattainable object and a vulgar show of luxurious.
French presidents are anticipated to put on a much less ostentatious home-grown timepiece akin to a LIP or to point out assist for French business, as did Emmanuel Macron by sporting a modestly priced quartz timepiece by Biarritz-based March LA.B. For the reason that COVID-19 disaster, nonetheless, in ostentatious shows of media-savvy hair-shirtedness, Macron has repeatedly appeared on digital camera along with his sleeves symbolically rolled up, sporting . . . no watch in any respect.
Sarkozy subsequently graduated to a Patek Phillipe, a gift from wife Carla Bruni, however the press got here down closely on him once more when, in a information clip of an election rally, he launched right into a bain de foule (actually a “crowd bathtub”) to press the flesh.
Whereas vigorously shaking each proper and left fingers with admirers leaning over the barrier, Sarkozy seems to deftly whisk his Patek Philippe off his left wrist and stuff it in his jacket pocket earlier than carrying on. Right here was proof that he clearly didn’t belief the individuals who vote for him.
Within the Anglophone horological press, the incident is often misreported, for instance (the extra often correct) Time & Tide’s, “Get your hands off my Patek . . . ” Remembering the watches and antics of Nicolas ‘Bling-Bling’ Sarkozy. This accusation is kind of unfair, nonetheless, as a frame-by-frame evaluation of this video filmed from a better viewpoint exhibits that the watch, which is on a leather-based strap on a deployant buckle, instantly turns into looser on his wrist simply earlier than he slips it off and pops it in his pocket.
The clasp seemingly didn’t come free because of the vigorous handshaking: one body clearly exhibits a younger man with truthful hair lunging ahead over the barrier, and relatively than greedy Sarkozy’s hand, he has his thumb on the watch crystal, a widely known Albanian pickpocketing technique involving pinning the watch case to the wrist with the thumb whereas undoing the clasp with the opposite fingers – a way to which George Bush was reported to – although officials later denied – to have fallen sufferer to whereas assembly crowds close to Tirana in Albania.
Nicolas Sarkozy was being robbed in broad daylight with out his bodyguards even noticing.
With this system, as quickly because the sufferer feels that the bracelet has been efficiently loosened, he instinctively withdraws his arm to save lots of his watch, however the watch stays within the pickpocket’s hand. Happily, on this occasion Sarkozy was capable of save his Patek Phillipe.
Verdict: A delusion. Monsieur Sarkozy is just not responsible as charged.
Fantasy 2: the “Mirbat 9” gold Khanjar Rolex Sea-Dwellers
The second delusion is one which I’ve to admit to having helped, not less than for a time. In recent times it has turn out to be an accepted reality that “the Sultan of Oman awarded Rolex Sea-Dwellers emblazoned with gold khanjars to 9 members of the British SAS who fought off lots of of Omani rebels on the battle of Mirbat” on the southern coast of Oman in 1972. And at least one Rolex Sea-Dweller has been sold by Phillips with this description.
Nevertheless there may be the truth is no proof of this. The thought began life with a single article on these watches on the web site of Rolex professional and supplier Daniel Bourn, Vintage-DB.com, during which he analyzed the serial numbers of recognized examples of the red and gold khanjar watches and conjectured, on a purely hypothetical foundation, that these emblem watches might have been awarded to the 90-odd SAS members clandestinely working in Oman within the early 1970s, and the gold ones to the 9 SAS males concerned within the battle of Mirbat. The SAS (Special Air Service) are British troops deployed in particular conditions.
In my Quill & Pad article Khanjar And Qaboos Rolexes: Are They The Vintage Watch Industry’s Blood Diamonds? I quoted the Classic-DB web site as follows, “Provided that the Battle of Mirbat was a pivotal second in defeating the insurgents, and the shortage of recognition given to the SAS troopers by their very own authorities, it’s not inconceivable to assume that Qaboos who had beforehand commissioned the Crimson Oman watches to commemorate the SAS troopers who occupied Oman in the course of the 1970-1976 marketing campaign would fee a small particular batch to honor the 9 SAS troops who put their lives in danger in the course of the Battle of Mirbat to defend Oman from the insurrection.”
Just like the misplaced textual content recognized by Bible students as “Q” (for Quelle, “supply” in German), the inspiration behind the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, thus it was that the Classic-DB web site turned the unintended “Q” of the Khanjar Rolex Sea-Dweller delusion.
Following Quill & Pad’s publication of my Khanjar article in December 2019, a flurry of articles on Khanjar Rolexes and different watches appeared within the on-line and offline press, particularly after the demise of Sultan Qaboos in January 2020, lots of which clearly drew on my article and on Daniel Bourn’s web site.
For instance, the place my article states “this quantity would possibly correspond to the 9 SAS members who took half within the battle of Mirbat on 19 July 1972,” in its May 2020 article on Khanjar Rolexes, GQ magazine acknowledged, “Recipients of those particular items included members of the British Armed Forces, which helped the Sultanate consolidate energy from the 1950s onwards. Of specific word are these introduced to SAS troopers for his or her assist in quelling the Dhofar rebellion within the 1970s.”
This highlights how a easy however enticing speculation in a short time morphs into reality within the mainstream media, which is in flip quoted by watch sellers and auctioneers of their product descriptions so as to drum up curiosity and increase costs. The circle turns into self-fulfilling.
Maybe the events involved ought to have learn to the top of Daniel Bourn’s article, the place they’d have learn: “In fact, with out official supply data from Rolex, Qaboos, or the surviving SAS troopers, we can’t be sure, however the idea ought to encourage additional dialogue, analysis, and understanding of the occasions in Oman in the course of the 1970s and the essential watches that commemorate the interval.”
In separate affirmation of this, I requested a contact at Phillips as to whether or not they had dealt with any Khanjar Rolexes consigned by former SAS members, to which the reply was that they’d bought a Khanjar Sea-Dweller however, “we solely had one, consigned by the son of the unique proprietor, however the latter was not a part of the SAS.”
Moreover, I used to be contacted by a London-based watch collector who had purchased one of many supposed “SAS” Khanjar Sea-Dwellers and, out of curiosity, tracked down one of many SAS operatives who had truly been at Mirbat. He instructed me that the SAS man “laughed incredulously and replied categorically that neither he nor his colleagues obtained any recompense of any type for his or her position in that battle, not to mention a Rolex . . . ”
Fantasy Three (additionally that includes the illustrious coronet): Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay have been sporting Rolex watches once they reached the height of Mount Everest in 1953
Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay sporting Rolex watches whereas summiting Everest is a twin delusion that must be doubly scotched. No ice.
The primary half is simple: it’s regularly claimed that Hillary and Tenzing have been sporting Rolex Explorers on their conquest of the height, or not less than some type of “pre-Explorer.”
It has been clearly documented that the 1953 crew led by Sir John Hunt was outfitted with 13 watches from Rolex: six given to crew members who had been on the earlier yr’s unsuccessful Cho Oyu expedition and 7 for the brand new members of the 1953 crew.
However as collector James Dowling explains in his article within the ultimate difficulty of the now-defunct QP journal, these watches have been customary Rolex Oyster Perpetuals, not Explorers, because the Explorer mannequin with its distinctive Three-6-9 dial was nonetheless in growth and wouldn’t emerge in that type, with or with out the Explorer identify on the dial, till later in 1953. The well-known Mercedes fingers wouldn’t be added for one more 18 months.
The second side of the parable is extra controversial and has remained so for a few years because of lack of clear photographic or written proof. Notably the absence of a categorical assertion both method by the individuals involved or by Rolex itself. The parable perpetuated to at the present time by quite a few print and on-line publications, a few of which must know higher, and backed up by a stream of just about subliminal commercials by Rolex, is that Sir Edmund Hillary was sporting his Rolex Oyster Perpetual when he reached the height of Mount Everest on Could 29, 1953 accompanied by Sherpa Tenzing Norgay.
Generally the parable is prolonged to incorporate Tenzing Norgay as properly, claiming that he was sporting the gold Rolex Day-Date given to him by mountaineer Raymond Lambert on the Swiss Everest expedition in 1952.
For instance, the next publications categorically declare that Sir Edmund Hillary was sporting a Rolex Oyster Perpetual on the peak of Everest.
Hodinkee.com: FOUND – The Rolex Sir Edmund Hillary Wore To The Peak of Mount Everest states: “In 1953, the not-yet-Sir Edmund Hillary turned the primary man to summit Mount Everest together with expedition companion Tenzing Norgay. And he did so with a Rolex on his wrist, an Oyster Perpetual that will show to be the ancestor of the Explorer.”
The Watch Book Rolex by Gisbert Brunner, revealed by now-bankrupt TeNeues, states authoritatively that, “When Edmund Hillary glanced with a mix of aid and pleasure at his wristwatch on Could 29, 1952, its dial confirmed 11.30 A.M. . . . Like all different members of the official expedition, he had picked up his watch two months beforehand in Jaynagar, an Indian metropolis alongside the border with Nepal, the place it had been despatched by Geneva-based Montres Rolex S.A.”
Phillips Hong Kong watch auction XI, November 29, 2020: “The story of the Rolex Explorer was actually made when it was the very first wristwatch worn on the summit of Everest by none apart from Sir Edmund Hillary and his Sherpa Tenzig [sic] Norgay.”
Online retailer analogshift.com will get it much more muddled: “The Explorer traces its heritage again to the primary profitable summit of Everest in 1953. Whereas we all know now that the watch on Sir Edmund Hillary’s wrist was a Rolex Oyster Precision. The Oyster Precision was the precursor to the Explorer, and it was the Precision that launched the Three-6-9 Arabic dial that we affiliate with the Explorer right this moment. It was after the profitable summit that Rolex rechristened the mannequin because the Explorer in honor of Hillary and Norgay’s historic accomplishment.”
So it’s hardly stunning that, just like the mist that shrouds the height of Kanchenjunga for a lot of the yr, the reality of the matter is shrouded in delusion, which is in flip enveloped in nonsense. And the important thing to this thriller is encapsulated in that final sentence: “It was after the profitable summit that Rolex rechristened the mannequin because the Explorer in honor of Hillary and Norgay’s historic accomplishment.”
If Sir Edmund Hillary was sporting a Rolex (of any type) on the summit, why didn’t Rolex re-issue a Rolex Everest in celebration of the very fact, simply as French watch producer LIP did with its LIP Himalaya after Maurice Herzog’s conquest of Annapurna in 1954?
And why did a now-defunct English watch producer by the identify of Smiths difficulty a Smiths Everest in 1953?
Moreover, when I interviewed professional diver Nigel Band about his father George’s Everest and Kangchenjunga Rolexes, he described attending a Royal Geographical Society speak given by Sir Edmund Hillary within the 1970s, the place he overheard one of many common society members leaning over to a different member and muttering “in fact it wasn’t a Rolex he was sporting on the prime, it was a Smiths . . .”
Definitive reply to the Hillary/Tenzing/Rolex/Smiths controversy
A number of commentators and bloggers have tried to discover a clear-cut reply to this query, however after combing via all of the out there images, commercials, and correspondence, they’ve often did not provide you with a concrete reply addressing all the problems and have typically restated whichever delusion they like to consider.
Nevertheless, a definitive reply has lastly emerged from outdoors the self-perpetuating smoke and mirrors of the watch-collecting world: an article revealed by outdoorjournal.com describes the background to the supplying of the expedition crew with watches and different tools, producing categorical proof that not solely resolves the matter as soon as and for all, however ties up a number of free ends and explains Rolex’s relatively curious promoting technique with regard to the Explorer mannequin ever since.
The article might be discovered here, however the information might be summarized as follows:
- Rolex was an early adopter, if not the inventor, of product placement. It had subsequently already been supplying varied mountaineering expeditions with a view to the publicity that will be gained by having its watches on the wrists of whoever was going to overcome Everest in the future.
- Smiths was a British instrument firm that had been canny sufficient to produce the Everest crew with a variety of apparatus akin to altimeters and oxygen regulators along with its watches. In return, it extracted a promise from the mountaineers that they’d put on their Smiths watches to the summit.
- Rolex jumped the gun on June 2, after Occasions journalist James (subsequently Jan) Morris’ coded message saying the conquest reached London, by publishing a full front-page commercial within the Occasions that featured an image of an Oyster Perpetual captioned, “The Rolex Oyster Perpetual that reached the highest of Everest on Could 29th.” Nevertheless, that is the final commercial or communication of any sort during which Rolex categorically claims that one in every of its watches had been on the prime with both Hillary or Tenzing. Morris’ message didn’t point out what watches they’d been sporting. Curiously, Smiths Watches positioned a modest congratulatory advert on June 2 as properly, adopted on June Three by a a lot bolder, self-congratulatory celebration of the truth that its watch had conquered Everest.
- Regardless that Rolex subsequently had Hillary, Hunt, and Tenzing on the payroll as model ambassadors, the following promoting is non-committal and complicated. Testimonies by Hillary and Hunt quoted in Rolex commercials (“I wore the watch constantly, day and evening”) check with the earlier yr’s Cho Oyu expedition or merely reward Rolex watches usually phrases.
In a typical instance of this, the primary commercial for the Rolex Explorer includes a drawing of two mountaineers ascending a ridge (with some method to go to the highest) and an affidavit from Sir John Hunt, signed on June 15, 1953, to the impact that, “Our Rolex Oyster Perpetuals have been fully waterproof, unhurt by immersion in snow, and withstood the acute change in temperature from the nice and cozy humidity of the foothills to the nice chilly of the upper camps.” No point out of the chilly on the peak, you’ll word. The advert additionally includes a image of a black-dial Explorer, which might be on the root of the “Explorer conquered Everest” delusion. Once more, circumstantial proof however nothing that will rise up in a courtroom of regulation.
Ultimately, it’s a considerably heated alternate of correspondence within the Journal of the British Horological Institute (as folks used to do within the days earlier than flame wars on web boards) that categorically settles the matter.
In a single letter, the managing director of Smiths English Clocks Ltd, D.W. Barrett, wrote: “Our watches, and sure different Smiths tools together with oxygen gauges, have been equipped and we obtained a written assurance that the watches can be worn to the final word level reached on the mountain. Sir Edmund Hillary has acknowledged in writing that he took a Smiths watch to the summit and no different . . .”
To which Mr. R.A. Winter, director of Rolex Watch Co., Ltd, of Mayfair, London, replied: “We equipped Rolex Oyster Perpetuals for all members of the British Mount Everest 1953 Expedition, but when by a fortuitous likelihood Sir Edmund Hillary’s watch didn’t attain him or if he was not sporting it in his ascent of the previous few hundred toes, then we remorse that our first commercials in reference to Everest steered the opposite, though we had each cause to suppose that he obtained his watch.
“It might seem from Mr. Barrett’s letter that Sir Edmund Hillary was, the truth is, solely sporting one watch on the summit and that a Smiths watch. We congratulate Smiths on the truth that their Smiths Deluxe peculiar wind wristwatch reached the summit with Sir Edmund Hillary.”
Let’s simply learn that once more: “Sir Edmund Hillary was, the truth is, solely sporting one watch on the summit and that a Smiths watch.”
The whole lot that Rolex subsequently produces when it comes to promoting and communications is hamstrung by the truth that though 13 Oyster Perpetuals did go up Everest on that expedition, together with two on the wrists of Charles Evans and Tom Bourdillon, who made the primary try, turning again simply 70 meters from the height because of oxygen issues, none of them made it to the highest. Now that we all know this for certain, Rolex’s advertising and marketing of the Explorer mannequin and all the next commercials make sense.
Smiths, nonetheless, stakes its declare in no unsure phrases, despite the fact that its commercials look amateurish compared to Rolex’s. Some have commented that Hillary’s assertion that he “carried” a Smiths watch to the summit indicated that he wasn’t sporting it and should subsequently have been “sporting” his Rolex on his wrist.
I initially thought the identical factor, however have since then learn a number of descriptions, written within the mid-twentieth century, of males “carrying” a wristwatch. Given that a gentleman carried relatively than wore a pocket watch, and wristwatch manufacturing didn’t overtake pocket watch manufacturing till the 1940s, it’s fairly believable that a man of Hillary’s era, in a surviving vestige of frequent English utilization, would converse of “carrying” a watch relatively than “sporting” it.
In any occasion, the Smiths watch that Sir Edmund Hillary wore to the height of Everest is now on show within the London Science Museum.
As for the watch that Norgay was sporting, the obtained knowledge is that he was sporting the engraved gold Rolex Datejust given to him by mountaineer Raymond Lambert after the earlier yr’s Swiss Everest expedition.
Nevertheless, not one of the quite a few images of him on the 1953 expedition present him sporting a gold watch. All of them clearly present a metal watch on a Bonklip “bamboo” bracelet, the kind that got here on the ever-present military difficulty West Finish Watch Co Sowar mannequin issued to Indian and British troopers in India for a lot of the primary half of the 20th century – and as will surely have been worn by Gurkha regiments in Nepal.
As chances are you’ll bear in mind should you learn my article The Grail Of Attic Finds: Reunited With The First Watch I Ever Owned, A West End Watch Co Sowar Prima, I’m a fan of the Sowar and I’d be delighted to assume that Sherpa Tenzing Norgay was sporting one on the peak of Everest. Maybe it was one of many Smiths Deluxes lent to the expedition, placed on a Bonklip bracelet as Tenzing would have been conscious of the power, straightforward adjustability, and excessive consolation in sizzling climate of those relatively unassuming-looking bracelets.
If it was a Rolex, the model would have established this reality when it debriefed future model ambassadors Hunt, Hillary, and Tenzing after the descent and would have exploited it to the fullest. In any occasion, solely 13 Oyster Perpetuals have been equipped by Rolex to the Everest crew for the 1953 expedition, and at that time Norgay didn’t rely among the many authentic 13 crew members.
So there we’ve it. Rolex finally acknowledged in writing that Sir Edmund Hillary was sporting his Smiths Deluxe, and solely his Smiths, on the peak. And though Tenzing Norgay owned a gold Rolex given to him by Raymond Lambert in 1952, there may be loads of proof within the coloration images of the Royal Geographical Society archives that he was not sporting it at any level on the Everest mission.
Until any person has proof on the contrary . . .