Simon de Burton in conversation with Leo Houlding, Linde Werdelin’s explorer since 16 years

Anecdote 12 - In celebration of 20 years of Linde Werdelin

Leo Houlding
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With the marked exception of one or two big dial names it’s probably fair to say that loyalty between watch brands and ambassadors is largely lacking – on either side, a better offer usually marks the end of a beautiful friendship.

But before that happens there’s usually plenty of talk about ‘shared values’, ‘perfect fit’ and the essential role that the watch in question plays in the life of the celebrity paid to wear it.

Leo Houlding wristed with the SpidoLite 3DTP Carbon on the Spidolite Mountain

So it was refreshing to meet Linde Werdelin’s long-standing ambassador Leo Houlding for the first time a couple of years ago.

You won’t see his face beaming from a billboard as you walk through one of the world’s major airports, and you certainly won’t find him schmoozing at a champagne reception in a watch boutique.

But if you happen to find yourself at the foot of the twin peaks of Mount Asgard in Arctic Canada any time soon, you might spot him free-climbing the 2,015-metre north-west face – one of the most formidable rock faces on the planet.

Leo Houlding

Leo, 43, is one of the world’s leading rock climbers who became British junior indoor climbing champion at 16, went on to become the first Briton to ascend the legendary 914m El Capitan rock face in America’s Yosemite National Park in 1998 and returned 12 years later to become the first British climber to complete the climb via a new ‘free route’.

In between, he and fellow climber Conrad Anker retraced George Mallory’s last steps on Everest and became the first to free-climb the mountain’s notorious North Ridge unassisted.

Leo Houlding wristed with the SpidoLite 3DTP Carbon on the Mount Rosaima

In 2014, meanwhile, Leo also accepted a challenge to get to the top of a 1,200-foot alpine cliff face in less time than ‘Top Gear’ presenter Jeremy Clarkson could get there by road in a souped-up Audi. Leo won, reaching the summit in one hour, 57 minutes – before free-fall parachuting back down again in 20 seconds.

That extreme spirit of adventure is what drew Jorn to first ask Leo to represent Linde Werdelin way back in 2007. And he has done so, unwaveringly, ever since.

Leo Houlding

It all began with that ‘Altitude Everest’ expedition to follow Mallory’s path in 2007, for which Leo wore a Biformeter topped by a Land Instrument – that taught both him and Jorn that gold watches and climbing don’t really mix.

I didn’t think about it at the time, but the weight of the watch made it quite a hindrance – but one of the reasons Jorn asked me to get involved with Linde Werdelin was that he wanted someone to wear watches in the type of situations that they were always intended to be in.

So what makes my relationship with Linde Werdelin different from the usual ambassador role is that I’ve always had direct input into the development of the watches – hence the idea of creating a skeleton case which formed the basis of the original SpidoLite launched of 2009.

It’s just really cool to be able to get involved in that sort of precision engineering in a way that, I’m fairly sure, ambassadors for other, bigger watch brands simply don’t.”

Leo Houlding

By the time you read this, Leo and fellow climbers Waldo Etherington and Wilson Cutbirth will preparing to tackle Mount Asgard after being thwarted in a previous attempt back in 2009.

We failed due to the unexpected winter weather – there are just two months of summer in Arctic Canada, starting in June and ending in mid-August. So this time we headed-out a month earlier in the season.”

The five-week expedition will involve a rendezvous with 250 kilos of equipment that was pre-dropped at an Inuit outfitter. The trio split the load and then set-off to the foot of Mount Asgard, which lies 100 km from the nearest habitation in an area where the population comprises considerably more polar bears than people.

Leo Houlding on the Mount Rosaima

But, should a passing bear want to know the time of day, Leo will just need to glance at his 62-gram SpidoLite 3DTP Carbon, the lightest Linde Werdelin watch ever made.

Most of the time he won’t even realise he’s wearing it – but when he needs it, he knows it will be there.

Just as Jorn knows Leo is there, quietly and loyally showing the world what Linde Werdelin is all about, without arrogance or the flash of celebrity – exactly as he has done for the past 16 years.

Text by Simon de Burton

*** Leo Houlding’s 2022 memoir ‘Closer to the Edge: Climbing to the Ends of the Earth’ is available from Amazon and all good bookstores.

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