At Salon QP 2017 we exhibited a watch that made it to the summit of Mount Everest on the wrist of Gurkha Sgt Milan Rai. A week later it sold at Bonhams with all funds going to charity.
by James Buttery
In 2015 a team of 16 experienced climbers, including serving members of the Royal Gurkha Regiment, set off to conquer the world’s highest peak, Everest, to celebrate 200 years as part of the British Army. The team carried with them two Loomes & Co watches that, having summited, were to be auctioned off to raise money for two charities, the Mountain Trust and the Gurkha Welfare Trust.
On April 25th 2015, with most of the team at Camp One, Nepal was struck by an earthquake which killed 9,000 people and devastated much of the country. On the mountain itself, a massive avalanche wiped out most of Base Camp and killed 18 climbers, making it the single deadliest day in Everest’s recorded history and Nepal’s worst natural disaster since 1934. Understandably, the summit attempt was abandoned and the team set about getting off the mountain and joining in the rebuilding effort.
Two years later the team, pictured above, returned to complete what they had started and, between May 15-16, a total of 13 members of the team summited, including nine serving Gurkhas. Sgt Milan Rai wore one of the watches and despite running out of water and suffering from snow blindness, he reached the summit and returned the watch in perfect working order. His eyesight recovered a couple of days later.
Less than a month after the successful ascent, Robert Loomes approached QP with a view to using Salon QP, QP’s annual luxury watch show at London’s Saatchi Gallery, to promote the sale of the watch and present the proceeds to the Mountain Trust. QP in turn approached Bonhams’ global head of watches and regular QP contributor, Jonathan Darracott, who agreed to host a timed online auction and waive Bonhams’ usual fee.
The Loomes Everest watch itself is based around a NOS Smiths 19 jewel manual wind 18,000vph movement from the 1950s. The movement was stripped down, fitted with a new mainspring and lubricated with special oils suited to the extreme temperatures experienced by climbers on Everest.
A special dial was created for the polished stainless steel watch, emblazoned with the words ‘The Mountain Trust Everest’ with the Gurkhas’ crossed khurkuri knife logo at the six o’clock position.
Bonhams launched the auction at the end of October, a week before Salon QP and its story dominated the watch department’s home page on the auction house’s website. The auction was officially launched on the opening night of Salon QP, when Charles Malcolm-Brown, Chairman of The Mountain Trust, Robert Loomes and Nepalese diplomat Bhupendra Ghimire spoke about the impact of the earthquake, the charity’s work and the watch.
The auction closed five days later and on the morning of the final day bidding stood at £4,200, still short of the retail price of a comparable Loomes watch. But, with hours to go, bidding began to heat up, jumping first in £500 increments and then by £1,000 bids. After a series of five-minute extensions (standard practice with timed Bonhams auctions when bids are made in the dying seconds) the sale closed with a winning bid of £10,000.
That sum will now be donated to UK-based charity The Mountain Trust which will use the money to fund new home-building in Nepal.