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Thread: Smiths were the only watches worn on the summit of Everest in '53. The proof.

  1. #101
    Grand Master number2's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dean Learner View Post
    Based on the original thread I searched for and gifted a vintage smiths to my father for his 70th. As a kiwi and a climber he had a lot of interest in the topic of Everest. It was interesting that he stated he always just assumed it was a Rolex that Hillary had worn. He has since read the original thread and the next time I saw him he simply stated “you bought the right watch”

    Really nice watch, well done.
    "Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. The third time it's enemy action."

  2. #102
    That is lovely!

    And bar the special low temperature lubricants (yes, Smiths even made the oils themselves) the movement is identical to the one Hillary wore to the top.

    Hope your dad wears it in good health.

  3. #103
    Journeyman Dean Learner's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rev-O View Post
    the movement is identical to the one Hillary wore to the top.
    That’s a superb piece of information to know. Thank you. He’ll be very pleased to hear that.

    Was trying to get a similar era and look to the Hillary model but the gold case was more inline with my fathers taste so had to jump when I saw this.

  4. #104
    It is a beautiful watch and a very thoughtful gesture. The blue hands add an extra something 
    Last edited by RAJEN; 22nd November 2019 at 10:54.

  5. #105
    Journeyman Dean Learner's Avatar
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    Smiths were the only watches worn on the summit of Everest in '53. The proof.

    Quote Originally Posted by number2 View Post
    Really nice watch, well done.
    Thank you. Have to say I’m a little jealous, it’s a lovely thing. Looks a lot nicer in the flesh than the photo too.

    I’m curious of the story of the watch as it has an engraved back thanking the original owner for his service and I purchased it from someone in New York and it now resides in Australia so it has seen a lot of the world in its time.

    Anyway, we’re getting off topic now. Back to the mountains...

    @M4tt when can we see this research on Mallory and Irvine?

    Just finished a great book on George Finch who is very much of that era and could have potentially stood on top of the world first had circumstances been different for him. Great little article on him here for those who are unfamiliar with the name (I may have posted this in the other thread too) https://mobile.abc.net.au/news/2019-...12?pfmredir=sm

  6. #106
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    The best thread on TZ for a long time. Thanks to all contributors.

  7. #107
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    Quote Originally Posted by M4tt View Post
    ................

    And it was only the next day, the third, that, having read the Times exclusive, they felt able to run a more triumphant advert:




    In 1953 when the Times advert was run, the A404 only existed in prototype form so they used a picture of the A409. Essentially, the 1954 A404 is the 1953 A409 with the prototype's hands and full lumed numerals.



    1954 A404



    The 1954 A409 has different hands to the 1953 but they are not the same as the A404's as it lacks the pointers. Both the 1953 and 1954 A409 do not have lumed numerals but lumed dots.

    John
    Last edited by abraxas; 22nd November 2019 at 13:44.

  8. #108
    The hands on the A409 in the catalogue are anomalous. The ‘53 had leaf hand and the ‘54 had syringe hands, the latter as per the A404.

  9. #109
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    Quote Originally Posted by wotsthecrack View Post
    The best thread on TZ for a long time. Thanks to all contributors.
    Hear, hear!

  10. #110
    A really good read. Top marks for research and how you presented your findings.
    Pretty conclusive.

  11. #111
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    Quote Originally Posted by abraxas View Post


    In 1953 when the Times advert was run, the A404 only existed in prototype form so they used a picture of the A409. Essentially, the 1954 A404 is the 1953 A409 with the prototype's hands and full lumed numerals.



    1954 A404



    The 1954 A409 has different hands to the 1953 but they are not the same as the A404's as it lacks the pointers. Both the 1953 and 1954 A409 do not have lumed numerals but lumed dots.

    John

    I was thinking about this and my concern is that the advertising above is not the only place that the watch worn by Hillary and Norgay is mentioned. The A409 designation is also mentioned in the sales receipt:



    This, and the Rolex receipt were generated after the climb as a result of a request for paperwork from the RGS. However, the repeated referral to an A409 suggests that this was what they meant it to be called. The fact is that I have never seen, or seen mention, of a screwback watch with precisely the dial found on Hillary's watch in collection at The Science Museum.

  12. #112
    I suspect the short-lived A409 went through three revisions: the (1952) pre-production design as issued to Hillary et al. then the 1953 iteration with the Art Deco numbers and leaf hands then then 1954 with different numbers and syringe hands. The first of these was never offered as a retail / series production model but the design was used for the 16j Benson badged watches from c.1953 onwards. (The differences are purely cosmetic: hands and dial layouts. The case and movement are the same— Dennison Aquatite and 1215 respectively.)

  13. #113
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rev-O View Post
    I suspect the short-lived A409 went through three revisions: the (1952) pre-production design as issued to Hillary et al. then the 1953 iteration with the Art Deco numbers and leaf hands then then 1954 with different numbers and syringe hands. The first of these was never offered as a retail / series production model but the design was used for the 16j Benson badged watches from c.1953 onwards. (The differences are purely cosmetic: hands and dial layouts. The case and movement are the same— Dennison Aquatite and 1215 respectively.)
    That sounds like an entirely sensible explanation. What I don't get, and I've never got, is why Smiths didn't self consciously copy the design of the watch on Everest? Rolex moving away from the 'Everest' 6098, the hands especially, makes sense because my experience is that it's bloody hard to tell the difference between the hour and the minute hand in real world use in the dial and hand configuration used on Everest (and The North Greenland Expedition). There's no denying that the Explorer absolutely nails that issue!

  14. #114
    Quote Originally Posted by M4tt View Post
    That sounds like an entirely sensible explanation. What I don't get, and I've never got, is why Smiths didn't self consciously copy the design of the watch on Everest? Rolex moving away from the 'Everest' 6098, the hands especially, makes sense because my experience is that it's bloody hard to tell the difference between the hour and the minute hand in real world use in the dial and hand configuration used on Everest (and The North Greenland Expedition). There's no denying that the Explorer absolutely nails that issue!
    Agreed. My guess is that the pre-production A409 looked too similar to the A404 (the only difference is that the latter has a stepped dial). Pre-De Luxe examples do exist -- presumably dating from late 1950 / 1951 as the DL text was added early in 1952 -- but Hillary's is unique in having that extra script on the dial. I think that layout / pattern was chosen as it offered both the waterproof Dennison Aquatite case and large, radium Arabic numerals for luminous legibility.

    The crazy thing is that the A409 seems to only have been in production for 2 or 3 years (1953, '4 & '5). And despite changing dial/hands after the first year it kept the same code / ref whereas the A404 remained in production from 1952 until at least 1964 (although it lost the Dennison Aquatite case for a smaller, cheaper and unsigned one plus it gained shockproofing from about 1956 onwards. Compare this with the "Antarctic" models, which remained the same yet changed code when the same minor changes changes were made: A453 in 1953 & '54 has the DA case; the A454 (1955-57) has the smaller unsigned case and the A460 (1958-60) is the same but with added shockproofing on the balance staff.

    So: the short-lived A409 changes appearance (dial and hands) but not case and movement; the ubiquitous A404 (arguably the definitive Smiths wristwatch) changes case and movement but not appearance; the A453 changes case and movement but not appearance yet gets a revised name/ref at each change.

    (The addition of shcokproofing I consider to be a Good Thing but I don't like it when they they started stating it on the dial; the loss of the lovely DA case with 18mm for the unsigned case with 16mm lugs is clearly a cost-saving exercise and a Bad Thing. Personally I've put a 18j "Garrard" movement in my A404 -- with overcoil and shockproofing -- a sort of "Morris Minor with a V8 engine" set up.)

    Edit: it's just occurred to me that the De Luxe name might have been invented for the Hunt watches as they had at least one extra feature: special low temp lubricants. It's possible they were also better poised and timed more rigorously. The addition of the script on dial would have set them apart at a glance from standard series production / retail watches. Smiths then decided to use using De Luxe for their best watches? "We have no idea when Hillary got his watch: De Luxe is post-spring 1952 while the expedition was fully kitted by December 1952." (Barry Jones)
    Last edited by Rev-O; 25th November 2019 at 12:00.

  15. #115
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rev-O View Post
    Agreed. My guess is that the pre-production A409 looked too similar to the A404 (the only difference is that the latter has a stepped dial). Pre-De Luxe examples do exist -- presumably dating from late 1950 / 1951 as the DL text was added early in 1952 -- but Hillary's is unique in having that extra script on the dial. I think that layout / pattern was chosen as it offered both the waterproof Dennison Aquatite case and large, radium Arabic numerals for luminous legibility.

    The crazy thing is that the A409 seems to only have been in production for 2 or 3 years (1953, '4 & '5). And despite changing dial/hands after the first year it kept the same code / ref whereas the A404 remained in production from 1952 until at least 1964 (although it lost the Dennison Aquatite case for a smaller, cheaper and unsigned one plus it gained shockproofing from about 1956 onwards. Compare this with the "Antarctic" models, which remained the same yet changed code when the same minor changes changes were made: A453 in 1953 & '54 has the DA case; the A454 (1955-57) has the smaller unsigned case and the A460 (1958-60) is the same but with added shockproofing on the balance staff.

    So: the short-lived A409 changes appearance (dial and hands) but not case and movement; the ubiquitous A404 (arguably the definitive Smiths wristwatch) changes case and movement but not appearance; the A453 changes case and movement but not appearance yet gets a revised name/ref at each change.

    (The addition of shcokproofing I consider to be a Good Thing but I don't like it when they they started stating it on the dial; the loss of the lovely DA case with 18mm for the unsigned case with 16mm lugs is clearly a cost-saving exercise and a Bad Thing. Personally I've put a 18j "Garrard" movement in my A404 -- with overcoil and shockproofing -- a sort of "Morris Minor with a V8 engine" set up.)

    Edit: it's just occurred to me that the De Luxe name might have been invented for the Hunt watches as they had at least one extra feature: special low temp lubricants. It's possible they were also better poised and timed more rigorously. The addition of the script on dial would have set them apart at a glance from standard series production / retail watches. Smiths then decided to use using De Luxe for their best watches? "We have no idea when Hillary got his watch: De Luxe is post-spring 1952 while the expedition was fully kitted by December 1952." (Barry Jones)
    All of this sounds eminently sensible, but I'm less sure about last bit. If you dig through the old photos of the expedition, you simply don’t see any Smiths or Rolex on any wrists prior to the stay at the British consulate in Kathmandu. Afterwards they are everywhere, with more senior members of the team sporting one on each wrist, or even on a belt in one case! Prior to Kathmandu, Hillary wore the much smaller, and apparently Taubert cased watch he wore on earlier climbs. As such, it would appear to me that he got the same Smiths as everyone else at the same time everyone else did.

    Whether the Smiths were supplied far earlier then distributed in the field is an open question, but at least one of the supplied Rolex, If I remember rightly, had early 1953 production dates on the inside of the case back and so were supplied later than December 1952.
    Last edited by M4tt; 25th November 2019 at 20:38.

  16. #116
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    Smiths were the only watches worn on the summit of Everest in '53. The proof.

    These are the first fruits from a search of the archive at Duke University of J Walter Thompson, the ad agency for Rolex. These are from contemporary internal agency newsletters.

    A rep from JWT Bombay met the climbing party at their base in Kathmandu after their descent to secure endorsements, and then the Rolex dealer in Calcutta hosted a reception for them and presented them with Rolex watches.



    In Toronto, the Rolex dealer displayed ‘the actual Rolex Explorer watch worn to the top of the world’.



    The archivist has been extremely helpful so please be respectful in commenting on the material. There is a lot more, but this was the easiest to provide first as it was part of a batch already digitised.

    If this is interesting I’ll keep going and find a better way to post links etc.
    Last edited by alfat33; 26th November 2019 at 19:32.

  17. #117
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    Quote Originally Posted by alfat33 View Post
    These are the first fruits from a search of the archive at Duke University of J Walter Thompson, the ad agency for Rolex. These are from contemporary internal agency newsletters.

    A rep from JWT Bombay met the climbing party at their base in Kathmandu after their descent to secure endorsements, and then the Rolex dealer in Calcutta hosted a reception for them and presented them with Rolex watches.



    In Toronto, the Rolex dealer displayed ‘the actual Rolex Explorer watch worn to the top of the world’.



    The archivist has been extremely helpful so please be respectful in commenting on the material. There is a lot more, but this was the easiest to provide first as it was part of a batch already digitised.

    If this is interesting I’ll keep going and find a better way to post links etc.
    I, for one, think that this is absolutely priceless and I’m very grateful for your efforts. Keep going please!

  18. #118
    Fascinating stuff, definitely keep it coming !

  19. #119
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    This is absolutely brilliant. Quite apart from the simple value of primary source material just for the pleasure of it, there are new avenues to be explored straight away - not least the explicit claim, in December 1953 that "The actual Rolex Explorer worn on top of the world" was on display. The mention of a ten minute short film that was designed to run with 'The Conquest of Everest' is enticing - that's a film I'd love to see! I'm delighted that my research on Peerbhoy was confirmed as that was dragged together from a dozen or so sources and was probably the shakiest part. It wasn't central, but it was just such a cool story and really gave a sense of the determination to use the event to maximum effect.

    More please - especially any idea where to find the short.

    And thanks, it's amazing what's out there, unnoticed underneath the reach of the web. I, for one, really appreciate your efforts.

    And I have to say that it delights me more than I can explain that the Tudor in the advert on the staff Bulletin is literally identical to the one I was wearing as I read the post.
    Last edited by M4tt; 27th November 2019 at 01:20.

  20. #120
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    Matt, I’m glad the material is helpful and I’ve sent you a PM.

    There is a huge archive. The most easily searchable part is the newsletter archive. The newsletters were produced for JWT staff in the JWT New York office but cover events across the JWT network. In the ‘40s and ‘50s JWT was the biggest and best of the large international agencies and remains a big but diminishing player to this day as part of WPP.

    This is a link to the six newsletters between the ‘40s and ‘80s that mention Rolex and Everest.


    https://dukelibraries.contentdm.oclc...olex%20everest

    It’s the tip of the iceberg in many ways as the original advertising material, correspondence etc. has not in general been digitised.

    There is plenty to interest anyone interested in Rolex or watch advertising and I’ll put a link in a separate thread so as not to distract from Matt’s Everest research.

  21. #121
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    Great, great ad stuff Simon!
    Quite amazed (but not surprised) that Rolex were still touting that they were on the top, months after the BHI letters.

  22. #122
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    Thanks Bob, glad you enjoyed it. I know you have an amazing collection of ads.

  23. #123
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    Quote Originally Posted by alfat33 View Post
    Thanks Bob, glad you enjoyed it. I know you have an amazing collection of ads.
    Cheers, do you have this circa 1940 Canadian one?
    I remember Matt mentioning the first flight over Everest somewhere!




  24. #124
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    I think that one pre-dates JWT being appointed so I doubt it is in the archive. That said, the boxes are all in North Carolina -
    quite a treasure trove no doubt.

  25. #125
    As you might know the Beyer Museum in claims to have the Rolex OP that Hillary wore to the summit in '53.

    I contacted them

    Fascinatingly, the might Philipp Stahl said this (here: https://www.tapatalk.com/groups/vint...ec108ac812ca28)

    A good friend of mine talked with Beyer recently in Zurich
    about this matter and their proof is based on 3 facts.....

    1) A shown letter from Geneva saying it's a early 50-ies production.
    2) The shipping hangtag that reads Hillary's address in writing.
    3)The fact that Peter Hillary asked the Beyer museum to wear
    this watch during his climb on Mt.Everest in 1990, thus making
    it possible that both father and son wore the watch on top of
    Mt.Everest, is proof enough for Beyer the watch was on the summit.

    Beyer website says: "Nevertheless, it was to take over 50 years to prove
    the authenticity of this watch using state-of-the-art technology." So I
    asked the curator what they mean with "state-of-the-art technology", the
    answer was that they went to a restauration department of a swiss museum,
    and they made it possible to read the original writing on the hangtag again.


    Now I'm not a great intellect but *that* is the provenance? 1.) it's an early '50s watch 2.) it has a hangtag 3.) Peter Hillary asked the museum if he could borrow it for his climb on Mt.Everest in 1990.

    And that's the proof?

    As Matt says (here: https://forum.tz-uk.com/showthread.p...n-Mt-Everest):

    "I find the fact that its provenance is a torn scrap from an undated New Zealand parcel with Hillary's return address on it slightly less than convincing. This lack of credibility is enhanced by the slight lack of Rolex using that particular watch endlessly for advertising purposes and instead apparently consigning it to the basement of an, admittedly very nice, jewellery shop in the wrong Canton."

    Well, quite.

    I emailed the Beyer museum earlier this year (https://forum.tz-uk.com/showthread.p...-Everest/page5)


    Dear Beyer Museum

    I am hoping you can help me in my research on the Rolex wristwatch(es) owned by Sir Edmund Hillary.

    Please can you you tell me more about this piece, in particular 1.) the movement serial number 2.) the date code inside the caseback and 3.) any markings or engravings that might link it with Hillary and/or Everest? Also, any details about its provenance. Is there any reason to believe it actually belonged to Hillary and, if so, it was actually worn during that historic climb?

    My reasons for asking is that both Smiths and Rolex issued watches to the 1953 Hunt expedition. The Clockmakers' Museum in London (now housed in the Science Museum) has a Smiths De Luxe wristwatch given by Sir Edmund himself during that climb. Furthermore he claimed to have worn a Smiths "to the summit" -- not something he ever said for or about Rolex. So far all the facts I've found point to it being a Smiths that was the first watch to the top.

    With that in mind I am keen to know more about this watch and find out the truth as to which watch(es) Hillary wore on the 1953 Expedition in general and to the summit in particular.

    Please find attached a letter from Mr Winter of Rolex that appeared in the BHI's Horological Journal (October 1953; p. 651) and a scan of the paperwork that came with a Smiths De Luxe purchased in February 1954.

    Many thanks

    Oliver


    Answer came there none.

    as I said in that thread: I'd love to know more about the watch in the Beyer museum. At the moment all I see is a nice old OP bubbleback with a scrap of paper. Maybe I'm supposed to infer something from that but I'm tired of implications and associations and carefully-worded statements. I'd like to know some facts: provenance, serial number, date stamp and any engravings on the back. Until then it's just a watch.

    I think we have to take that watch with a pinch of salt -- and a scrap of paper.

  26. #126
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    Smiths were the only watches worn on the summit of Everest in '53. The proof.

    Congratulations on a fascinating and well researched post.

    Interestingly the current edition of National Geographic has this advert on its inside cover.



    Never let facts get in the way of a good marketing story... whilst they don’t claim that Rolex watches were worn they’re still pushing the association and implying it?

  27. #127
    Quote Originally Posted by timor54 View Post
    whilst they don’t claim that Rolex watches were worn they’re still pushing the association and implying it
    It's what they've done since 1953. And the first waterproof wristwatch etc etc

    What with waiting lists and ADs retaining cards and randomised serial numbers etc I'm afraid Rolex have lost any affection or respect from me.

    Their watches are good -- good, not great -- but their marketing is phenomenal and, at times, mendacious.

    Still, the fanboys will queue up (literally) to get their hands on these boring, stale, mass-produced Veblen bling bracelets.

    I honestly can't see how they are an option for true watch lovers though.

  28. #128
    Administrator swanbourne's Avatar
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    Amazing work, the only problem is, I've just spent 2 hours reading through it ;-)

    Eddie
    Whole chunks of my life come under the heading "it seemed like a good idea at the time".

  29. #129
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    Interesting history and great research

    Quote Originally Posted by swanbourne View Post
    Amazing work, the only problem is, I've just spent 2 hours reading through it ;-)

    Eddie
    As long as you are resting while reading Eddie.

    Cheers,
    Brian

  30. #130
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    Quote Originally Posted by swanbourne View Post
    Amazing work, the only problem is, I've just spent 2 hours reading through it ;-)

    Eddie
    I'm glad you enjoyed it. There will probably never be a more timely moment to establish what happened, as you produce what has to be the most complete homage to the original watch so far.

    Now all we need is a case that has more Dennison and less Rolex DNA in the second generation subsecond version of the Explorer...

    - - - Updated - - -

    Quote Originally Posted by kneadking View Post
    As long as you are resting while reading Eddie.

    Cheers,
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    I've found that most things I write help people drift off to sleep.

  31. #131
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    Quote Originally Posted by timor54 View Post
    Congratulations on a fascinating and well researched post.

    Interestingly the current edition of National Geographic has this advert on its inside cover.



    Never let facts get in the way of a good marketing story... whilst they don’t claim that Rolex watches were worn they’re still pushing the association and implying it?
    Ironically, it was with the US National Geographic Ascent in 1963 that Rolex finally got to the summit!

  32. #132
    Quote Originally Posted by M4tt View Post
    Ironically, it was with the US National Geographic Ascent in 1963 that Rolex finally got to the summit!
    What's ten years between friends?

    A difference of a mere decade? Pah, let's give them both a medal!

    Joint first place goes to Rolex AND Smiths (in alphabetical order).

    I'm so glad Eddie has bought the rights to Smiths. I can buy and wear a new Smiths. Was it all made in-house? No, but were Rolex in 1953? (No. They were retailers who badged up other people's work, not watchmakers. Smiths made the movement and even the case was English: Dennison, from the jewellery quarter in Birmingham.)

    What would be really cool would be an all-English watch: case, movement (inc. springs, jewels, oils). strap: everything. (You can buy one, of course -- see Frodsham's offerings, for example, but they cost more than I earn in a year . . . . )

    I do wonder, though, whether with 3D printing if a simple 15j subsecond could be manufactured entirely in the UK. It wouldn't be cheap but could it be done for less than, say, £2k?

    I digress. Top work Matt and another bump to the summit, sorry I mean top. A bump to the top. ;-)

  33. #133
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    [QUOTE=Rev-O;5261612]What's ten years between friends?

    Well, it's enough time to put the first dive watch, the Enicar Seapearl 600, which also, quite coincidentally, was the watch that outperformed both the Fifty Fathoms and the Submariner in US Navy trials for a dive watch on the summit, and follow that up with a Chinese offering from Tianjin (Seagull) which is just a teeny bit ironic.

    https://wornandwound.com/affordable-...-seapearl-600/

    As usual, they got the wrong watch, the Everest version had weird hamster ear style lugs. If you fancy buying one be careful - Enicar had its own radium facility and so they are really quite impressively radioactive.

  34. #134
    Seems like even the fans (and I am one myself, although not an uncritical blind follower) have accepted this

    https://www.tapatalk.com/groups/vint...23723-s10.html

  35. #135
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    Noticeable (and most telling) is Phillip Stahl's lack of reply.

  36. #136
    Quote Originally Posted by bobbee View Post
    Noticeable (and most telling) is Phillip Stahl's lack of reply.
    Yep.

  37. #137
    Watching Dickinson’s Real Deal earlier. A guy had his Dads Rolex oyster precision from 1964, awarded on his retirement. The watch “ expert” said the Rolex Oyster had become famous after it went to the top of Everest in the 50s! Rolex marketing department did a great job!

  38. #138
    Quote Originally Posted by para-dox View Post
    Watching Dickinson’s Real Deal earlier. A guy had his Dads Rolex oyster precision from 1964, awarded on his retirement. The watch “ expert” said the Rolex Oyster had become famous after it went to the top of Everest in the 50s! Rolex marketing department did a great job!
    Grrr.

    I like the "watch expert" on the home shopping channel who says that the blue tint visible on the crystal when it is angled into the light shows it's "sapphire" presumably because sapphire is, er, blue.


    (In case you don't know it's the AR coating. But I'm guessing 99% of you on here did know that.)
    Last edited by Rev-O; 10th December 2019 at 18:00.

  39. #139
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    I didn't

  40. #140
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bondurant View Post
    I didn't
    A one percent-er.
    "Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. The third time it's enemy action."

  41. #141
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    Indeed!

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