In 1953, New Zealander Sir Edmund Hillary and Nepalese mountaineer Tenzing Norgay led the first successful expedition to reach the summit of Mount Everest, using little more than ropes, crampons, ice picks, and a couple of Rolex watches.

The presence of Rolex on the summit of Mount Everest was not any kind of novelty, but rather the most natural outcome for a brand that had been involved in mountaineering for the prior two decades and had been committed for nearly its entire history to building precision instruments to support men and women in the most extreme environments on Earth. In fact, by 1953, it would have been far more shocking if the first people to stand atop the ceiling of the world did not have Rolex watches.

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Sir Edmund Hillary and Nepalese mountaineer Tenzing Norgay in a Rolex ad.

Founded by a German immigrant in London in 1905, Rolex soon moved their operations to Switzerland, where there was a richer and more technically advanced community of watchmakers. In 1914, a Rolex watch received a certification of precision that priorly had only been bestowed upon marine chronometers –– the highly technical clocks that ships use for celestial navigation and thus require a nearly perfect level of precision and accuracy. Chronometers had typically been typically large and non-movable, and yet Rolex was now essentially building versions that were not only wearable but could perform with accuracy in the most extreme possible settings.

A Rolex Explorer ad featuring mountaineers conquering Mount Everest.

In 1926, the Rolex Oyster was the first watch to be water resistant. Yet rather than just test its performance by wearing it around in heavy rain, the watch was put to the ultimate test when Mercedes Gleitze wore the Oyster on her wrist for the entirety of her 1927 swim across the English Channel. By the 1940s, Rolex had earned such a reputation for performance that they became the most popular watch among pilots in the British Royal Air Force.

Rolex remains popular with all kinds of sailors; from amateurs to Olympic athletes.

When mountaineers began setting their sights on the world’s high peaks, Rolex sponsored and funded expeditions going back to 1933, as well as began developing a watch specifically for high-altitude mountaineering performance. Before Hillary and Norgay’s successful expedition in 1953, they were given prototypes of a watch that would later become the Rolex Explorer. That same year, Rolex also released the Submariner, which was both waterproof and could withstand water pressure up to a depth of 330 feet. In the years since, these watches and their descendants have been worn by generations of mountaineers, yachtsmen, and everyone and everything from James Bond to a submarine that had a specially designed Rolex strapped to its exterior as it traveled to the Mariana Trench, the deepest point on earth.

There is truly no other timepiece––and probably no other item of any kind––that has performed in the variety of environments that Rolex watches have been worn, from the highest points on Earth to the lowest points, and everything in between.