Usually, rugged watches are built to withstand extreme environments, like the bottom of the ocean or the top the world, not with a few bits of nature found there. But the Kobold Himalaya Edition, the latest timepiece from the celebrated Pennsylvania-based builder of adventure-ready watches, isn’t like most rugged watches.
Unveiled in late March, the $16,500 Himalaya Edition features an alligator-skin band, three slender hands, and—contentiously— a greenish-black dial made from rocks removed near the summit of Mount Everest. Local papers, including Nepal’s largest, the Kantipur Daily, have been quick to point out that regulations forbid the removal of natural objects from Mount Everest, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and part of Sagarmatha National Park. The Forestry Department has reportedly sent Kobold a cease-and-desist letter.
News of Kobold’s splashy debut party earlier this spring only fanned the flames. Held inside a walled compound in downtown Kathmandu, the fete was attended by Nepalese generals, members of the deposed royal family, ambassadors from three countries, and famed British explorer Sir Ranulph Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes. Of course, the resulting media coverage did little to dissuade potential buyers. The first batch of 10 Himalaya Editions sold out that night, and, as of this week, most of the second batch, an additional 15 watches, were also spoken for.
Company founder Michael Kobold, a mountaineer and lover of Nepal, stresses that his intentions are nothing if not noble. In 2010, while climbing Everest himself, his oxygen regulator malfunctioned, leaving him woozy and confused high on the mountain. His friends, longtime climbing Sherpas Ang Namgyal and Lhakpa Tundu, stepped in to help. They tried to fix his regulator, and when they couldn’t, they doffed their own breathing equipment to give to him. “They saved my life,” Kobold says.
In gratitude, he offered to train the duo in the family business, the comparatively safe profession of watchmaking. He put them up at his farm in Pennsylvania Amish country, showed them some of America (“We really liked Malibu,” says Namgyal), and discovered that they were calm and detailed craftsmen. A year later, he secured them a workspace and a boutique shop front in Kathmandu. According to Kobold, the Himalaya Edition was meant to attract positive attention to a whole line of “Made in Nepal” wristwatches, eight styles that will be rolling out in coming months.
“Taking rocks is not a big deal,” Kobold says. “Literally everyone does it and has done it since Everest was first climbed.”
Will the kerfuffle pass, or will the Forestry Department make an example of Kobold? Time will tell. Meanwhile, those intent on buying a bit of the big hill should also consider Krone’s Sir Edmund Hillary Mount Everest commemorative fountain pen, with a bit of Everest summit rock embedded in the cap. The writing utensil, the only other “collectible” summit paraphernalia we’ve run across, regularly appears on eBay for around $1,400—about the same as what new ones sold for new in Beverly Hills in the late ‘90s.