Corneill of the Westcountry: an unexpected expedition through snow & ice and a true watch survival story

My Rolex Kermit Submariner in handmade bowl by @jonthepotter. Shot by me on Samsung NX300.

My Rolex Kermit Submariner in handmade bowl by @jonthepotter. Shot by me on Samsung NX300.

I have old newspaper articles on my wall telling stories of explorers who’s Rolex’s slipped to the bottom of a river or were lost while climbing mountains but were found days later in one piece and still keeping perfect time. It’s stories like these that turned my interest in Rolex into a kind of fanaticism. I’m not into the sparkly specimens in Mallory’s’ window; it’s the watches of old that have been put to use and have proved themselves a trusty companion to someone that thrill me. Rolex do these stories so well.

Living in the Southwest of England we’re not prone to snow but for the last couple of years we’ve fallen victim to sudden and severe downpours and the last few days have been no exception. Out where I live (in the countryside surrounding Bath) it reached around 10 inches and sealed our whole village in. This story begins on Thursday night. My wife and I had been out for dinner in town and had completely ignored the forecast of ‘a bit of snow’ but on our return up one of the steep hills surrounding Bath our taxi - sliding all over the road - was forced to turn back and we made the decision to walk the last mile. Now, I like to think of myself as reasonably robust when it comes to the great outdoors but a pair of Chelsea boots and thick ice do not a good combination make. We laughed our way down through the winding lanes in the pitch darkness and I managed to fall only twice (it was the ice, not the wine) and 45 mins later we disrobed in front of a roaring fire and were pouring our celebratory drinks. I went to gaze longingly at my faithful Rolex Kermit…which was not attached to my wrist.

…a quick recap for any newcomers: the Rolex Kermit (Submariner, black dial, green bezel) is a ‘grail’ watch for many including me and my own model is in fact a mix of eras - 50s dial & clasp, 90s case, 00s movement - built lovingly by my own hands over the course of 2 years. It is part Rolex, part Tom Corneill Watches and is a treasured friend. It is also the watch whose first dive shots were lost when a camera was ripped away from me in Balinesian waves and which then travelled the world without me for 6 weeks in a suitcase lost by an airline and eventually returned to me in need of repairs. I’ve curated this piece, resuscitated it, had it taken from me and returned to me, we’ve crossed the world together. My point is: to say I was pissed off when I realised I’d lost it in the snow is an understatement. Back to the story…

My Rolex Kermit Submariner by the sea in Sanur, Bali. Shot by me on iPhone 7.

My Rolex Kermit Submariner by the sea in Sanur, Bali. Shot by me on iPhone 7.

So, tired and finally warm & dry, there was only one thing to do. I layered up, grabbed a torch and proper footwear and headed back out into the night. I walked that mile slowly, carefully, shifting the snow with my feet, feeling for a little metallic resistance. I searched both ‘fall sites’. Nothing. There had been about an extra 4 inches of snow since returning so I admitted defeat and headed home just as slowly, still treading carefully and looking for that cheeky glint of green in my torchlight. Nothing. The local 4x4 drivers would be the first to chance the roads and Kermit would no doubt be scrap metal if he ever turned up at all.

Now, let me take a moment to point out that while the numerous stories of long lost Rolexes being returned in one piece is utterly romantic and worth a place on our walls, it’s worth noting the obvious…that old ‘Oyster’ clasp bracelet was rubbish. Anything that becomes loose enough to unclasp of its own accord within your lifetime is no good to an explorer - or in this case a slightly inebriated 35 year old man traversing a relatively minor snow fall in the wrong shoes. I am pleased to say that the flaw in Kermit’s design lies not with yours truly but with vintage design (and that’s ok, we learn and we evolve, as Rolex most certainly have).

My Rolex Kermit Submariner on the manual for it’s Rolex 3130 movement. Shot by me on Samsung NX300.

My Rolex Kermit Submariner on the manual for it’s Rolex 3130 movement. Shot by me on Samsung NX300.

Well the rest of the story is less romantic: I posted something on the village Facebook page, a villager saw it and matched it with a ‘watch found in the snow’ post on the next village’s Facebook page and it all fell into place. I am due to pick it up later and all seems to be as it should be (fingers crossed!). I couldn’t be happier. I’m starting to accumulate my very own list of ‘Rolex adventure stories’ and that is a wonderful thing. As Yvon Chouinard said: “It’s not an adventure until something goes wrong.” (though I’d quite like it if this was the last time something went wrong!).

During the time it was lost I had tried telling myself ‘it wasn’t meant to be’ and ‘your ultimate watch still hasn’t been revealed to you’ but it was all nonsense. I’m more determined than ever to design my own brand of watches as robustly as possible while radiating class. Right after I’ve changed this bloody clasp…

TC

My Rolex Kermit Submariner in the snow. Shot by me on iPhone 7.

My Rolex Kermit Submariner in the snow. Shot by me on iPhone 7.