Edmund Hillary Watch Sale May Be Blocked by New Zealand as Family Argues

New Zealand may block a proposed auction of Rolex watches owned by Edmund Hillary, the first man to climb Mount Everest, amid reports that a family split over the sale may spill into the courts.

The Ministry of Culture and Heritage is seeking a legal opinion on whether the watches are covered by the Protected Objects Act, which is designed to prevent items of significant value to New Zealand being exported without permission. The watches will be offered at an auction in Geneva on Nov. 14.

“We are in the process of checking whether the watches come under the cover of the Act,” Lucy Orbell, a spokeswoman at the ministry in Wellington, said in an interview. “It’s trickier with personal effects.”

Hillary, who with Sherpa Tenzing Norgay conquered the summit of the world’s tallest mountain in 1953, died in 2008. His widow’s decision to sell the collection of watches, including an Oyster Perpetual he was presented with after his historic climb, has been opposed by his son and daughter, the New Zealand Press Association reported today.

The siblings have instructed lawyers to seek an injunction at the Auckland High Court, stopping the sale, the news service reported, without saying where it got the information. They claim that under the terms of Hillary’s will the watches are owned by the family not the widow, who was his second wife.

Auctioneer Antiquorum estimated the watch presented to Hillary in 1953, and which was subsequently worn by him on an overland cross of Antarctic, is worth as much as 20,000 Swiss francs ($20,470), according to an Oct. 20 statement posted on the Geneva-based company’s website.

The ministry is also considering how it could get the watches back from Switzerland if they’re designated objects under the Act.

“We’re actually working out where we stand with that,” said Orbell. “We can’t comment and say we’re able to do anything because we’re still investigating.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Tracy Withers in Wellington at twithers@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Iain Wilson iwilson2@bloomberg.net

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