The answer is, we don’t really know, for sure!

After months of planning and seven weeks of climbing, Sir Edmund Hilary reached the summit of Mount Everest on 29th May 1953, four days before the coronation of Queen Elizabeth ll. The “who” and “when” are black and white facts, but it seems that there is still a lack of certainty when it comes to the prized claim of the first watch brand to the top.

The two brands in the frame are Rolex, which needs no introduction, and the less well-known, Smiths of London. Today, Smiths is an engineering giant in the UK, but their watch division is long gone after it lost favour and closed in the late 70s. It wasn’t always that way. In the fifties Smiths’ watches, clocks, and instruments were ubiquitous and the company was quick to see the potential benefit of joining the Everest challenge. In addition to watches, their support of the expedition included essential instrumentation such as altimeters and oxygen gauges.

Both companies wanted to see their watches first to the summit and it’s well documented that the 1953 assault on the world’s highest peak was equipped with around two dozen timepieces from Rolex and Smiths, with some team members ending up with more than one. We know for sure that Hilary had a watch from each manufacturer, but we don’t know which he was wearing on that momentous day. His Rolex remains on display in a Zurich museum and his Smiths Deluxe can be viewed at the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers in London.

For almost 70 years, so-called experts have come up with numerous different theories about which watch was there, but none of them give us indisputable confirmation.

Perhaps it’s fitting that such a milestone in human achievement still has an element of mystery to it.

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