Notable Explorers and Their Indispensable Rolex Timepieces

notable explorers and their rolex timepieces

It doesn’t matter if you’re an explorer in the traditional sense, traversing polar landscapes and the deep seas for new species and uncontacted peoples, or if you prefer to explore things with modern technology, you probably know how indispensable a good Swiss-made timepiece can be.

It’s no surprise that some of the most significant explorers of the 20th century relied on a Rolex watch when charting new territory, whether they were scaling the highest mountains in the world or plunging to the depths of the sea. Everest Bands is on hand to help you discover all the famous Rolex timepieces worn by the world’s greatest explorers.

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SIR EDMUND HILLARY AND TENZING NORGAY: THE ROLEX OYSTER

In 1953, New Zealand explorer and mountaineer Sir Edmund Hillary and Nepali Sherpa mountaineer Tenzing Norgay became the first two people to summit Mount Everest. And among the gear required for the world’s first successful 30,000-foot trek was a Rolex Oyster watch.

aerial view of shrinking himalayan glaciersThe Rolex timepiece worn by Hillary was produced in 1950 and given to the explorer when Rolex sponsored the original Everest expedition in 1953. Rolex wanted to test the performance of the watch at new altitudes, so the company gave Hillary the Oyster free of charge on the condition that he return it to the maker after the expedition for extensive testing.

Rolex retained the watch for several decades, eventually gifting it to a private collector for a Swiss watch museum. Sir Edmund Hillary’s original Rolex Oyster now resides in the Watch and Clock Museum in Zurich, where it sits next to some of the most famous Rolex watches throughout history.

Hillary’s Oyster is a classic watch and, over 60 years later, still features the original wording that reads “Officially Certified Chronometer” on the face. This notable watch is just one timepiece that inspired our tough and explorer-ready vulcanized rubber watch bands. We named them Everest, after all!

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JACQUES COUSTEAU: THE ROLEX SUBMARINER

From the highest mountains in the world to the depths of the ocean, adventurous souls trust Rolex timepieces. Just look towards the legendary French oceanographer, filmmaker and explorer Jacques Cousteau, who—according to urban Rolex legend — wore a Rolex Submariner to the bottom of the ocean. Although it was long suspected that Cousteau sported the Submariner on his oceanographic pursuits, it wasn’t until the late 1990s that the mystery was confirmed.

face of rolex watch in black and whiteCousteau no doubt loved his Rolex, and frequently wore it on movie sets and red carpets. But did it actually accompany him to the deepest depths of the sea?

According to photographic evidence, Cousteau did in fact wear the time-honored Submariner during many of his oceanographic endeavors. It is also the timepiece that Cousteau sported in his famous film, Silent World, which captured the poetic spirit behind his adventures and underwater observations.

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CHUCK YEAGER: THE ROLEX OYSTER PERPETUAL

figher pilots in planeGeneral Chuck Yeager is a former Air Force officer and record-setting test pilot most notable for being the first person to fly faster than the speed of sound. Piloted by Yeager in 1947, the Bell X-1 reached 1,127 kilometers (700 miles) an hour, a feat that shattered all world records for velocity and altitude. He accomplished many other heroic feats, flying in 64 combat missions in World War II and receiving the highest honors for his Air Force service.

General Yeager is also known for his impeccable taste in Swiss-made watches, and he has sported many Rolexes throughout his career. In fact, a photograph of Yeager on the day that he broke the sound barrier shows Yeager wearing a 34-millimeter Rolex Oyster Perpetual. However, the Oyster was only one of many coveted Rolexes in his collection. He also favored the Rolex GMT-Master II — Rolex’s pilot-designed timepiece — and became closely associated with this famous model. Many watchmakers have produced timepieces in similar styles to the original GMT, but none compare to the esteemed original.

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ED VIESTURS: THE ROLEX EXPLORER II

the rolex explorer 2 infographicWorld-class high-altitude mountaineer Ed Viesturs has plenty of records under his belt. In fact, he’s the only American to have climbed all fourteen of the world’s 8,000-meter peaks. Plus, he did it without any supplemental oxygen, only the sixth person to accomplish this impressive goal. Having scaled Mount Everest six times, he is the living embodiment of the modern Rolex explorer, so it’s no surprise that he is featured in many of Rolex’s contemporary advertising campaigns.

Throughout history, all of the greatest explorers have a signature accessory. In Viesturs’ case, it’s a Rolex Explorer II with a white dial. This trademark timepiece hit the market in 1971, and it is a modern update on Rolex’s famous original Explorer watch. It has specially designed features that make it especially well-suited for explorers like Viesturs, including its highly readable white dial and a 24-hour display that allows the wearer to determine the hour, regardless of day or night.

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JEAN TROILLET: THE ROLEX OYSTER PERPETUAL EXPLORER

Is it any surprise that the world’s most famous Swiss mountain climber wears the granddaddy of all Swiss-made watches? Hailing from a Canadian and Swiss nationality, Jean Troillet has a very impressive portfolio of record-breaking feats.

Among his notable achievements is a shared record, with Swiss climber Erhard Loretan, for the quickest ascent of Mount Everest by the North Face (43 hours to the summit and back) and he has scaled 10 mountains higher than 8,000 meters without supplemental oxygen. If that’s not impressive enough, Troillet became the first man to descend Everest on a snowboard.

macro of rolex ii explorer watchJust like all of the world’s finest modern-day explorers, Troillet didn’t do it without the help of his trusty Rolex. In fact, he is featured in Rolex ads for the Oyster Perpetual Explorer standing on the summit of Mount Everest.

The partnership between Troillet and Rolex began in 2002, when the brand collaborated with the climber during a commemorative Everest climb. Troillet praises Rolex as a “legendary brand” that recognizes and supports the adventurous spirit of men and women who continue to redefine what is possible.
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RUNE GJELDNES: ROLEX EXPLORER II

Norwegian adventurer Rune Gjeldnes is perhaps best known for traveling with arctic explorer Torry Larsen to become the first team to cross the Arctic Ocean without resupplying. That 109-day trip, spanning over 2,000 kilometers, redefined what could be accomplished in the extremely cold climates.

rolex explorer ii watch with luxury bandHe also became the very first adventurer to paddle the Rio Mervari river in Venezuela, and has several North Pole expeditions under his belt. Like Troillet, Gjeldnes enjoys a long-standing partnership with Rolex, often wearing his Explorer II on some of his most demanding adventures.

Rolex honored Gjeldnes after he started a three-month solo ski trek called “The Longest March” in 2005. Gjeldnes completed the journey in February of 2006, and he currently holds the record for the longest ski journey ever completed.

In 2006, Rolex featured Gjeldnes in an ad for the Rolex Explorer II, which showed the explorer skiing solo across Antarctica. With all the polar exploration gear sported by Gjeldnes on his treks, his trust Rolex remains one of his most indispensable pieces of gear.

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SIR RANULPH FIENNES: THE ROLEX GMT-MASTER

Referred to as “the greatest living adventurer” by the Guinness Book of World Records, Sir Ranulph Fiennes is an English explorer who was the first to reach both the North and South Pole, along with Charles Burton. He and Burton share the distinction of becoming the first people to cross the Antarctic and Arctic oceans.

scenic shot of antarcticaThis arctic explorer also doesn’t let age deter him. In fact, at age 56, he attempted to walk solo to the North Pole, but the expedition failed when his sleds fell through ice, resulting in severe frostbite. Still, his record-setting endurance endeavors make him one of the most impressive living explorers on Earth today.

Fiennes, like many other contemporary explorers, entered into an advertising partnership with Rolex and he has appeared in several of the company’s ad campaigns. In one, Fiennes said that he navigated all of his expeditions wearing the Rolex GMT-Master, and he praised the timepiece for enduring everything from frigid, polar temperatures to extreme, tropical heat.

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WILL STEGER: GMT-MASTER II OYSTER PERPETUAL

rolex oyster watch on VIP mugMinnesota native Will Steger is known for his impressive dogsledding adventures, most notably his status as the first confirmed person to lead a dogsled journey to the North Pole without a resupply in 1986. In 1995, he became the first and only person to traverse the Arctic Ocean from Russia to Ellesmere Island, Canada on a dogsled. To prove that Steger’s pretty much unstoppable, he embarked on a solo sledding and canoeing adventure—traveling from Ely to Burchell Lake, Ontario over 150 miles—in March of 2017 at the age of 73.

According to a 1989 Rolex ad for the GMT-Master II, during his famous 1986 journey to the North Pole, Steger and his adventure partner, Paul Schurke, led their first expedition to the North Pole wearing Rolex chronometers. This incredibly rare timepiece is now coveted by collectors worldwide.

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JACK SWIGERT: ROLEX GMT-MASTER

For a long time, Rolex enthusiasts have pondered which Rolex models have traveled to the moon. Astronaut Jack Swigert is believed to have worn the Rolex GMT-Master on the legendary Apollo 13 mission. In the book The Best of Times: Rolex, An Unauthorized History, the authors posit that Swigert wore the GMT-Master on the famous space exploration gone wrong.

apollo 13 space capsule orbiting earthApollo 14 astronaut Edward Mitchell also sported a Rolex GMT-Master on his journey to the moon. Theories for why the GMT-Master is so beloved by space travelers abound, but we think it probably has something to do with the timepiece’s impeccable ability to tell time at any altitude, coupled with its flawless automatic movement.

For nearly a century, Rolex has crafted timepieces that support adventurous spirits and people dedicated to the style and craftsmanship of this Swiss-Made brand. Strap one on and carve out your own distinctive path today.

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