Height of fashion: Ang Namgel Sherpa (left) and Lakpa Thundu Sherpa work on timepieces at the Kobold watch workshop in 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 said, recounting how the sherpa had corrected a critical problem with his oxygen supply in the "death zone" as they neared the Everest summit.
On the descent, Namgel again intervened to prevent a summit-bound climber unhooking Kobold's carabiner from a safety line as they passed on a narrow ledge above a sheer 10,000 foot drop.
An even more dire situation arose when they descended to Camp Two and Kobold's wife collapsed and stopped breathing.
"A doctor declared her dead," Kobold said.
"But with the help of the doctor and Namgel and Thundu, we managed to get her back to life a few minutes later. She is perfectly fine today thanks to their quick response."
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 US, 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.
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