Greenland is an unrelenting place. Cold, wet, windy, rocky, and unconquered in places even today. We, the horological hardcore, know and love the fact of Smith’s co-ascension on Everest with an early Explorer. These were watches built to purpose, that of weathering all conditions. This ref. A404 is in fact the same reference as that very watch that is thought to have been with Sir Edmund Hillary on Everest’s first ascension. This A404, however, was set for a differing exploratory role: that of more accurately charting North Eastern Greendland. And I don’t mean this reference. I mean this exact watch.
The British North East Greenland Expedition commenced in 1960. Sir John Hunt of former Everest mountaineering fame took a crew of 38 to a relatively unknown land. The retailer of this example was in fact able to make contact with one of the crew on this mission, Alistair Brooks (who also wore a similar Smiths). The opening line of his letter perfectly encapsulates my love of this reference, stating, ‘The world may be fairly easily divided between those who are always on the lookout for the testing adventures life has to offer and the rest.’ If you want to delve into the depths of this trip, check here and here. I simply cannot believe that this watch survives today, and running.
The A404 is an Explorer’s timepiece from the early 50s, decidedly for Alistair’s ‘those on the lookout of adventure’. It features a robust and basic calibre 1215, with then-advanced shock-proofing and dust resistance. Members of the expedition noted that these watches kept running despite partial submersion, falls, knocks, well-below zero, and many other abuses. All this while wearing a ‘MADE IN ENGLAND’ signature at 6. The Swiss may have a neigh-on monopoly today, but it was not always so. The movement on this example sports a 12 under the movement serial, likely an indication of the 12th watch out of the issued 38. In addition, its back engraving tells a story like none other. Watches today are objects of fascination and charm. This Smiths, for what it’s worth, reminds us that that they can also be comfortingly reliable tools in the darkest of moments.
This is where I normally comment on condition. This watch’s story is its condition. Every mark on this case should be celebrated. Despite that, will I make commentary. The dial is remarkably lovely. Radium still applied, hands with only mild burn. The dial is clear of major degradation. Case has the sort of wear you’d expect and I would not have it any other way. The movement is clear of any visible red flags but is running out of adjustment, service advised. It comes from a well-regarded British retailer. A chance at real history.
Find this Greenland Expedition A404 here from Waecce Watches for 4995 GBP.