Smiths Edmund Hillary pattern
This is an extremely rare Smiths watch which matches those used on the famous Edmund Hillary - Tenzing Norgay ascent of Everest in 1953. Edmund Hillary's original watch is part of the Worshipful Company of Clockmaker's collection and is on display in the Science Museum in London.
The watch that Hillary was given by Smiths model has a distinctive dial which is occasionally found on JW Benson watches, for whom Smiths produced a number of models. The Hillary watches have the Benson dial, but branded Smiths (why Smiths chose to do this is a mystery, but then a lot of their decisions viewed from the 21st century seem mysterious!)
To further muddy the water Smiths contemporary adverts show a slightly different model as the Everest ascent watch (Smiths product code A409).
The watch has a Dennison made Aquatite case, body is chrome plated with some losses as is common, the stainless steel back is in good order. The original dial is in wonderful condition and the overall impression is very handsome. The photos make the plating losses appear rather worse than how they look in reality (I would encourage viewing of this watch in person - just send us an email to arrange a viewing at our Oxo Tower shop).
The movement has been fully serviced and the timekeeping is excellent. The case has been brushed clean, but as with all out vintage watches we have left it unpolished. The crystal has been replaced and the watch has a new pigskin strap. The watch comes with our standard 12 month guarantee.
A rare chance to acquire one of the iconic Smiths pieces, these really don't come on the market very often. There's a lot of excellent material about the watches the expedition used online, this forum post is a good place to start
Case diameter: 33mm
Case material: chrome plated body and stainless steel back
Strap width: 18mm
time keeping: grade A
Smiths were the last English producers of quality watches. Their watches aren't very well known today because it's over 30 years since they stopped producing, but the quality of their watches bears comparison with anything the Swiss were producing. Smiths produced a variety of styles of watch for both ladies and gentlemen in chrome, steel, silver and gold cases. The gold cased watches were particularly popular as long-service presentation gifts and the casebacks are often engraved with a long-service inscription. We don't remove these inscriptions as we feel they are an important part of the story of each watch. They developed an automatic movement watch and also were contracted by the British army to produce a wristwatch for general service use (the automatic and the military Smiths are amongst the most sought after and can command high prices).
These days we associate the Swiss with high end mechanical watches, but in the 19th century it was English watches that occupied this prestigious position. The Swiss began to compete with the English watchmakers by producing low cost watches. The English were slow to adept to this new competitor, they took great pride in the relatively small volume of high-quality hand made watches that were produced in England. The Swiss gradually swamped the watch market - beginning with low cost watches, later they produced watches of a comparable quality to the English hand-made watch, but at a lower price. The Swiss developed machine production of watches, this meant that the quality could be kept consistent and replacement parts were interchangeable. Ultimately the English industry couldn't compete and by the early 1930s pretty much all watches were imported.
In the run up to the second world war, the government became concerned that there was no indigenous watch industry left. They turned to S. Smith & Sons who were a long established a watch and clock producer and underwrote the development of a new factory in Cheltenham. Precise timing mechanisms were important for the war in things like bomb timers, as well as more traditional time pieces.
After the second world war, Smiths switched over to civilian production with the first of their watches coming onto the market in around 1947. They continued production up until the late 1970s, when they rather suddenly split up the watch and clock division of the company. By this time Smiths Industries was more focussed on civil and military avionics and I guess felt that the watches were part of their past. It seems odd that nobody else sought to take over the business as they were clearly profitable, possibly the impact of quartz watches was a factor in their decision to end the business.
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