Cover Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay were the first to climb to the summit of Mount Everest in 1953

Over the past century, pioneering explorers have made headways in venturing to the most extreme places on Earth in the name of science and discovery, and Rolex was right there by their side

As the tallest point on Earth at 29,035 feet above sea level, scaling Mount Everest would be on the bucket list of every hardcore climber. During a small window of favourable conditions, usually in spring, it draws more than 500 climbers attempting to scale the summit. But think back to how it was more than 50 years ago, when passes to the treacherous mountain were relatively undiscovered, and the stakes for attempting to be the first to make the summit were at an all-time high.

The first record of such an attempt was in 1921 and since then Everest has repelled at least 10 major expeditions and two solo attempts. Finally on May 29, 1953, Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay made history as the first men to reach Everest’s summit. The pair was part of the British exhibition led by John Hunt, who had planned to have two summit attempts, each by a pair of climbers. Hillary, a 33-year-old beekeeper from New Zealand and the Sherpa Norgay, 38, who had previously made six attempts on the mountain dating back to 1935, were the second pair of climbers after Tom Bourdillon and Charles Evans failed to make the first summit bid. The initial team nearly made it to the top shy of 1,082 feet but disappointingly, they had to turn back as they were running out of oxygen. Nevertheless the expedition was a success as man has finally conquered that formidable mountain.

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Eventually, many more have proceeded to make successful attempts on Everest, including Swiss-Canadian Jean Troillet, who holds the record for the fastest ascent of Everest’s North Face, and became the first man to make his descent on a snowboard in 1997.

Japanese mountaineer Junko Tabaei was the first woman to reach the summit in 1975 where she got knocked unconscious by an avalanche. Despite her injuries, she carried on and reached the summit on her hands and knees. She later became a powerful eco-activist, committed to protecting the mountain from environmental degradation due to heavy climber traffic. Defying cultural conventions and armed with steely resolution, the petite 4’9” climber became the first to complete the Seven Summits by 1992.

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Above The first Rolex Explorer watch was launched in 1953, after the successful ascent to Everest

A brand known for its deep involvement with exploration since the 1930s, Rolex watches have taken part in some of humanity’s greatest adventures. Whether set on ice, mountains, caves or the ocean’s deepest depths, these groundbreaking expeditions served as valuable testing grounds which proved the watches’ mettle and reliability under the toughest conditions.

In honour of the successful ascent to Everest, Rolex launched the Explorer watch in 1953—the result of the information gained from the expedition as well as feedback provided by the climbers. The performance of the Explorer model was enhanced with a reinforced case and a more legible dial to cater to extreme conditions.

Later in 1971, the Explorer II was launched, featuring a date display, an additional 24-hour hand and a fixed bezel with a 24-hour graduation, enabling the wearer to distinguish the hours of day and night. This was essential for exploration in dark environments like caves or polar regions that experience six months of daylight and darkness each. Over time, many explorers, including mountaineers, divers, conservationists and scientists, became associated with Rolex as they broke records and tested their abilities and endurance while being equipped with Oyster Perpetual watches that served as reliable companions and tools in their journeys.

Also read: The Rolex Explorer I Is The Ideal Luxury Watch For Travel

Into The Abyss

The logistical and elemental challenges of exploring the ocean trenches have made these inhospitable places one of the last frontiers on the planet. Freezing temperatures, crushing pressure and complete, utter darkness have made it unbearable for humans to explore there. And yet there have been concerted efforts to unveil the secrets of the deep in the name of science and discovery. So far, only four have made managed to break through and lived to share their discoveries with the world.

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Above The Oyster Perpetual Rolex Deepsea has a waterproof depth of up to 12,800 feet

In January 1960, Swiss oceanographer Jacques Piccard and navy lieutenant Don Walsh were the first to ever descend into the deepest known part of the ocean, the Challenger Deep which is at the bottom of the Mariana Trench. With Rolex going deeper into exploration, fixed to the exterior of the bathyscaphe Trieste (a deep-sea submersible designed by Piccard) was an experimental Rolex Oyster watch, the Deep Sea Special, which descended to a record depth of 35,800 feet. When the vessel resurfaced, the watch remained in good working condition despite the immense pressures it had been subjected to.

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Half a century later in 2012, in a joint partnership by National Geographic and Rolex, filmmaker James Cameron broke records by becoming the first to make a solo dive to the Challenger Deep. Still involved in ocean research, Don Walsh was a key advisor on Cameron’s team, and he was there to welcome back the filmmaker after the return of the Deepsea Challenger submersible vessel. Echoing the previous descent in 1960, the bright green sub carried an experimental diver’s watch, the Rolex Deepsea Challenge, on its robotic manipulator arm, which managed to resist more than 12 tonnes of pressure on its crystal at the bottom of the sea while keeping perfect time.

The trench remained untouched once more until the third visit by Victor Vescovo in 2019. Over a period of nine months, the private equity investor and ex-US Navy officer set out on the Five Deeps Expedition with his crew to explore uncharted territories in the Pacific, Indian, Southern, Arctic and Atlantic oceans—a never-before-attempted endeavour to visit the deepest known point in each of Earth’s five oceans. He broke the Guinness world record for being the first to do so. At the same time, he also set another record for being the first and only person to scale the highest peak (Mount Everest) and the lowest point of the Earth (Mariana Trench). As he told CNN, his expedition is not only about scientific discovery but also about testing the limits of human endeavour.

Although not affiliated with Vescovo (for now), Rolex and its brand founder Hans Wilsdorf would agree with the American explorer in pushing back boundaries to uncover the limitless potential of the human spirit. It is for this reason that the brand continues the legacy of its founder, and remains committed to support explorers in their quests as a means to preserve the natural world.

See also: 6 Life-Changing Lessons From The Rolex Perpetual Planet Campaign

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