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It says a lot about mountaineers’ frank humour that the highest sections of the world’s highest peaks are known as ‘the death zone’. You don’t spend a lot of time at the top of Everest. There, you can expect to breathe air with only a third of the oxygen levels you enjoy at sea level. It’s also quite slippery.
Mountaineers, and conquerors of Everest in particular, are still an intriguing breed. Pictures of post-lockdown queues to Everest’s peak in May were in danger of trivialising the achievement, but since Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay ‘summitted’ – as the argot has it – the world’s highest mountain in 1953, only 4,000 people have followed them, fewer than 60 a year on average. A further 300-and-some have died trying, the most recent of them also in May. Despite that uncomfortable statistic, Everest is only the world’s sixth most dangerous mountain, with a fatality rate of 1.4 in 100. You’re more likely to die trying to ascend Switzerland’s Matterhorn.
Eye-catching stuff like this is why brands, and indeed watch brands, continue to rope in mountaineers. Panerai works with Oscar-winning filmmaker and climber Jimmy Chan, Bremont with Jake Meyer, Linde Werdelin with Rupert Jones-Warner… And Luminox has gone the full K2 by creating a series of watches with Bear Grylls, who at one point was the youngest Briton to have reached the top of Everest, aged 23 (the youngest ever was a 13-year-old American in 2010 – shocked face).
It’s not just the sturdier watchmakers. Vacheron Constantin, as refined a Swiss watchmaker as there is and creator of such delicacies as the Historiques American 1921, recently pitched its tent in Cory Richards’ basecamp. The American explorer and photographer wore a Vacheron prototype when he scaled Everest in 2019, and today we get the production versions of that watch – a pair of Overseas models, listed as the Overseas Limited Editions ‘Everest’.
One is a chronograph and the other a dual time, not unreasonably adjudged to be the two complications one is most likely to need when traversing the globe in search of very big hills. On that note, I’ve often wondered why we don’t see these functions paired together very often – or here.
With their titanium and steel cases, and grained and bead-blasted finishes, the pieces, it must be said, are unusually gruff compared to the kind of hardware Vacheron is best known for. Not that they’re any the worse for it – not at all. In fact, they do an applaudable job of articulating both the venerable Geneva watch house’s codes (the Overseas sports watch is based on the Vacheron Constantin 222 of 1977) and the sort of expectations someone might have of a watch suitable for scrabbling up a mountain.