Eight Kilometers High

"Round the squares, huddled in storms"

A recent and most interesting post about the real Smiths Everest by Porthole and my own ongoing fascination with the Certina DS compelled me to do a little research into the wristwatches that accompanied the intrepid souls who first conquered the "Eight-thousanders". Here's an expansion on my initial post;

The 1950s and early 60s saw all 14 of the highest peaks in the world, those towering higher than 8,000 meters, climbed for the first time. It was a boom time for mountaineering and the popularity of these feats compelled the brands associated with them to leverage the fame for themselves. Not least of all in the domain of wristwatches. To this day several of the watches made famous and/or inspired by these heady times are still produced.


The first of the 8,000'ers to be climbed successfully was Annapurna on the 3rd of June, 1950 by Frenchmen Maurice Herzog and Louis Lachenel. This post on Watchuseek details how Herzog wore a prototype of what was to become the Lip Himalaya made especially for the expedition by Fred Lip.

Here's a video from Lip discussing the Himalaya's history.

The next peak in this club to be conquered was the highest of them all; Everest on 29, May, 1953 by Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay. A lot of ink has been spilled on this one and it seems that it's now generally accepted that a custom Smiths De Luxe A409 was the watch that accompanied the expedition to the actual peak. The original Smiths went defunct long ago, but the brand has been reborn and sells watches inspired by the original (and it's competitor), the closest in aesthetics to the A409 being the Everest Expedition.


On July 3rd of that same year Herman Buhl became the first man to stand atop Nanga Parbat. This expedition, and Herr Buhl, was equipped with German-made Henzi & Pfaff Hercules watches. Henzi & Pfaff went out of business during the quartz crisis but the brand has been recreated as the Swiss micro/independant-brand Hercules.


A year later on 31 July 1954 Italians Achille Companoni and Lino Lacedelli ascended K2 for the first time. On their wrists was the venerable Vulcain Criket and a Rolex Oyster Perpetual. Vulcain seems to have been in and out of business under different owners since, at least, the 1990s. The current iteration of the company has recently come out with a modern version of the Cricket. Rolex, of course, is still in business making OPs.


Later, on October 19 of 1954 Austrians Joseph Joechler and Herbert Tichy along with the Nepalese Pasang Dawa Lama climbed atop Cho Oyu. This is the first of the climbs I can find no evidence for what watches these gentlemen wore. This may be due to the clandestine nature of the expedition which was carried out without the knowledge of the Chinese government in whose territory the peak lay.

On 15 May 1955 Jean Couzy and Lionel Terray from a French expedition climbed Makalu. Rolex claims their timepieces "witnessed" this first ascent (like they "witnessed" Everest), but direct evidence is thin. Terray was on the Annapurna expedition in 1950 and was good friends with Fred Lip (there's even a Himalaya model named after him).

this video

Ten days later George Band and Joe Brown from a British team summitted Kangchenjunga. Band, at least, is quoted as saying he was wearing a Rolex.


The next 8,000'er summitted was Manaslu by Toshio Imanishi from Japan and the Nepalese Sherpa Gyalzen Norbu on 9 May 1956. Casio has made a commemorative watch celebrating the feat, but since they didn't make watches until the 1970s it's clear they can't have been there. One would hope that he wore a Japanese watch, but the existence of a famous Japanese climber named Seiko Tanaka and the prevalence of the word 'citizen' makes this search more difficult than it should be. There's a film about the expedition but the only version I could find is a flash site and, so, deprecated.

Given their mountainous homeland it's a little surprising that the Swiss don't show up here (apart from watchmaking) until the climbing of Lhotse on 18 May 1956 by Fritz Luchsinger and Ernst Reiss. This one is well documented and once again was commemorated by a famous watch model that originated with the expedition itself: The Enicar Sherpa. Specifically the Enicar Ultrasonic Sherpas (the trailing S was dropped for the production model). Enicar has a troubled history since the 1980s having become the foundation of Chronoswiss (the hardware) and a Chinese fashion brand (the name), but a microbrand has resurrected the Sherpa name and is making watches influenced by the old designs.


Later in 1956 Austrians Fritz Moravec, Josef Larch and Hans Willenpart sumitted Gasherbrum II (aka K4) on July 7. Once again, unfortunately, I can find no information on their gear. Wrist-related or not. Infuriatingly there's a picture of Larch with his watch well displayed and the only copy I can find is tiny!


The next year would see Fritz Wintersteller, Marcus Schmuck, Kurt Diemberger, and Hermann Buhl from another Austrian expedition conquer Broad Peak on June 9 1957. Again information is scarce and one has to wonder if Buhl still wore his Hercules from Nanga Parbat 4 years earlier. We'll also see Diemberger again with a definitive source for his watch (but one not introduced yet in 1957).

In 1958 the Hidden Peak of Gasherbrum I was summitted by Andrew Kauffman and Pete Schoening of a Pakistani/American team led by Nicholas Clinch. Another expedition with some decent amount of info and pictures from which I can glean no useful information.

On 13 May 1960 an international team led by Max Eiselin enabled Kurt Diemberger (told you we'd see him again), Peter Diener, Ernst Forrer, Albin Schelbert, Nyima Dorje Sherpa and Nawang Dorje Sherpa to be the first climbers to top Dhaulagiri. Thanks in no small part to the Vintage Certinas site this is one of the best documented cases we have. The expedition was equipped with the then-new Certina DS watches which have, in one form or another, been in constant production since 1959.

Here's Max Eiselin discussing the expedition and the watch.

The last of the 8,000 meter peaks to be climbed was Shishapangma on 2 May 1964 by a Chinese team led by Xǔ Jìng along with Zhāng Jùnyán, Wang Fuzhou, Wū Zōngyuè, Chén Sān, Soinam Dorjê, Chéng Tiānliàng, Migmar Zhaxi, Dorjê, and Yún Dēng. I could find very, very little information about this expedition at all, much less anything about their gear. I'd like to think they tested the then-new Seagull ST19 movement, but there's really no telling... unless someone knows more.


Thanks for this great summary. It must have taken hours sorting through all of the expeditions. Watches were an afterthought on most.

Near where my son went to college is the famous Mount Driskill. I may commission a watch for its ascent. (Before you look it up, it is the highest point in Louisiana, nearly 535 ft. or 163 m. above sea level. If you go, be sure to pack a water bottle and a light snack.)


Fantastic write up!!!


Fabulous attention to detail and thanks for posting.

an enjoyable read! 👍🏼❤


Awesome - thank you for posting this, it’s very interesting, and unfortunately has now broadened my wishlist unhelpfully. I would almost certainly love to find an original Lip and Hercules, so that’s going to be an interesting quest.

The 50s was certainly exciting for watches, and climbing, so it’s fascinating to get these stories up front and centre. The Smiths one is, unfortunately, the only one I have really focused on, but I do have an affinity for the brand, and an aversion to the modern incarnation. I certainly find it amusing that the current Timefactors Smiths Everest is an homage to the Rolex Explorer. Their Expedition is the closest to the original Everest, but even then, it doesn’t do the A40x’s justice.

This certainly deserves a slot in next weeks Bites @Deeperblue - can we get some eyes on this please?