Everest Sherpas swap danger for luxury watchmaking
KATHMANDU IN a modern, airy workshop located in a fashionable Kathmandu shopping hub frequented by Nepal’s rich and famous, two skilled craftsmen assemble some of the world’s most exclusive luxury watches.
For Namgel and Thundu Sherpa, the sedate, intricate world of precision watchmaking is about as far removed as possible from their previous lives as Himalayan guides working in deeply hostile, often life-threatening conditions.
Their unlikely career change followed a stint as guides for British adventurer Sir Ranulph Fiennes and Michael Kobold, founder of the US-based Kobold watch company who scaled Everest with his wife Anita in 2010.
“Namgel saved my life twice,” Kobold told AFP. Keen to translate his gratitude into practical help, Kobold decided to act on an idea first suggested by Fiennes of providing Namgel and Thundu with a safer career.
In 2008, Fiennes had observed the two sherpas watching Kobold, who had brought his tools and parts, assemble a watch at Everest Base Camp.
“Their inquisitive nature and excitement over a mechanical watch were very much on display,” Fiennes said. “This is when the thought occurred to me that maybe Mike could teach them how to make watches.” Kobold took Namgel and Thundu to the United States, housed them for a year with his family in Pittsburgh and trained them at a cost of more than $300,000 to make a ‘Made in Nepal’ version of his high-end timepieces.
A limited edition of just 25 of the new Nepal range will contain elements collected from the Everest summit and retail at $16,500.
The Sherpas had to learn enough information for a twoyear course in just 10 months.
“Learning to make watches in the US was very difficult at first because with a mechanical watch like this everything has to be perfect,” said Namgel.
“But our job as sherpas was very hard. We had to carry a lot of things and we didn’t use oxygen until 8,000 metres. So compared to that, watchmaking for us is not so difficult.”