The 1950’s saw notable achievements for Rolex. They went from the heights of the earth, atop of Mount Everest with Sir Edmund Hillary; and to the depths of the ocean in the Mariana Trench with Jacques Piccard. The Beyer Museum has both – the original from Sir Edmund Hillary (complete with part of the packaging when he sent the watch back for repair), and a replica of the Rolex that accompanied Piccard.
If the ‘urban myths’ are true, Rolex equipped the Everest expedition with prototypes of the soon to be released Explorer. Endorsements after the expedition included the following by Col. John Hunt: “They performed splendidly, and we have indeed come to look upon Rolex Oysters as an important part of high climbing equipment." Hence, it has remained something of an assumption that Hillary and Tenzing wore the Rolex Oyster Explorers (probably in prototype form) to the summit. However, Rolex own website notes that the “…Explorer made an auspicious debut in 1953, after Sir Edmund Hillary’s successful ascent of Everest.” While Rolex was one of the watches of choice on the expedition, the Rolex worn by Tenzing at the summit was 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, by some accounts wore a watch from the English company: Smiths. And while Hillary endorsed the Smith’s watch after the 1953 expedition, he also wrote endorsements for Rolex. However, it appears that Hillary did wear a Rolex on the expedition, but it was not an Explorer Oyster (prototype or not). It was an Oyster Perpetual and the watch, along with some paper from the wrapping used to send it back for repair, is now on display at the Beyer Museum. Rolex, ever a firm to capitalize on the publicity of an achievement that they helped through funding and support, probably released the Explorer in recognition of the Everest expedition’s achievement and the firm’s new association with extreme endeavours.
If Rolex was to be the watch of choice in extreme conditions, then if it had reached the top of the world, the next place was in the depths of the ocean. In the 1950’s, Rolex began development of the Deep Sea Special that was also the spur to the work behind the Rolex Submariner and the water-tight (to a specified depth) Oyster case. In some sense, this is where the research that led to the current Deep Sea Sea Dweller started.
In 1960, Jacques Piccard and Donald Walsh descended in the Trieste bathyscaph to the deepest known point on Earth: the Mariana Trench in the Pacific Ocean. The two men made the deepest dive in history at 10,915 meters (35,810 ft), with the "Deep Sea Special" fixed to the outside of the bathyscaph. The watch held up to a pressure of 1,150 atm. Think of it this way, the current Deep Sea Sea Dweller would have imploded about a third of the way down. To celebrate the world record depth of the Deep Sea Special (DSS) and ever vigilant with the publicity that would ensue, Rolex decided to manufacture several replica models of the DSS to be displayed at Major Rolex retailers and to be donated to major museums around the world. The original DSS is held by Rolex in Geneva. The replica models are still a rarity and it is one of the replicas that Beyer Museum holds.
The watch was designed along the same lines as the bathyscaph itself, and it was very much a learning process for Rolex. In the same way that the windows on the bathyscaph were constructed, Rolex modeled the crystal for the watch. From the side view photo, just look at the size of the crystal on the watch – makes the crystal on the current DeepSea look a little shallow!! Otherwise, with this model, there was no three-ring valve. Just a casing and crystal made to withstand an unbelievable amount of pressure.
So here they are, the Rolex watches that have been to the very depths of the earth, and the highest peak. A unique pair and achievements that Rolex famously contributed to and used to their gain to further advance the (deserved) Rolex reputation.
Andrew H This message has been edited by DrStrong on 2009-03-05 02:31:13 This message has been edited by 219 on 2009-03-06 06:48:29 This message has been edited by DrStrong on 2009-03-11 02:39:12