HIGH AND LOW
World of Watches|Summer 2021
The Rolex Explorer has come a long way from its early expeditions to achieve track records. Today, it’s focused on preserving what it has explored, while going further with watchmaking than ever before
DARREN HO

Exploration is one of humanity’s greatest achievements. It is a combination of many characteristics: curiosity about our boundaries, the courage to step into the unknown, passion and perseverance in the face of impossible odds and finally, the creativity to find new solutions to help us go further.

Timekeeping is an essential part of an explorer’s needs. Up in the air or far down below sea level, time is of the essence and precision timekeeping is often crucial for human survival. Frequently, the name most associated with these expeditions has been the Rolex Explorer.

The word ‘expedition’ stems from the Latin verb ‘expedire’, which means ‘to make useful’. To some extent that is true. Without the British Joint Himalayan Committee led by Sir John Hunt, Tenzing Norgay and Sir Edmund Hillary would never have found their way to Everest’s peak. That led scientists to follow in their footsteps, to study glaciers such as the Gangotri, Yamunotri and Khumbu, which supply nearly a quarter of the global population with drinking water.

Likewise, expeditions into the deep sea have not only allowed us to satiate our curiosity about lifeforms that can live in the crushing pressure of the deep. It has also helped the scientific community gain insight into everything from marine ecosystems to life in extreme environments, and even medical care. These successes started with the Rolex Explorer, and continue to this day

TO CROWN IT ALL

Just under 90 years ago, in 1933, Rolex decided to partner the Mount Everest Committee (later renamed the British Joint Himalayan Committee). During the 1920s and 1930s, the watchmaker had embarked on and achieved numerous successes, from excellent waterproofing to automatic winding. But Rolex’s founder, Hans Wilsdorf, wanted more vigorous, real-life testing for his watches.

The agreement was simple: Rolex would develop and equip timekeepers for mountaineers ascending Everest, and in return they would provide feedback and information on the performance of the watches. This collaboration lasted over 20 years and 17 expeditions. On the 14th expedition, Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay summited Everest on 29 May 1953 in their second attempt during that ascent. Over the next two years, Rolex Explorers would summit three eight-thousanders, as they are known, to conquer four of the five highest peaks in the world.

These may be the best-known stories of Rolex’s affiliation with exploration, but far from the only ones. When the Swiss Foundation for Alpine Research decided to approve pioneering female mountaineer Annelies Lohner’s request to explore the Gangotri mountain range, Rolex provided each climber an automatic, waterproof Oyster Perpetual to support their efforts. Expedition guide André Roch would later remark that “the Rolex watches that we are each wearing keep surprisingly accurate time”.

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