A High Court judge has granted an injunction preventing Edmund Hillary's watches from being sold at auction in Switzerland by his widow, June, Lady Hillary.
It comes as Lady Hillary has also been asked by the Ministry for Culture and Heritage to return one of her late husband's wristwatches to New Zealand after she entered it for sale at a Swiss auction house - because of its historical importance.
The ministry said this evening that Sir Ed's Oyster Perpetual wristwatch had legal protection under the Protected Objects Act, and wrote to Lady Hillary's lawyers this afternoon informing her of that and asking her to return it, a spokeswoman said.
The ministry was waiting for a response from her lawyers before decided its next course of action.
The injunction issued by the courts tody also instructs Lady Hillary to tell the Swiss auction house, where the watches were to be sold, to withdraw them from sale.
The auction was due to take place at 6am this Monday, New Zealand time.
The injunction was lodged by lawyers for Sir Edmund's son Peter and daughter Sarah, who claim they own the watches.
The watches include the Oyster Perpetual, engraved with "Sir E. Hillary", which Sir Edmund was presented with in 1953, after he climbed Mt Everest.
He wore it on his first Antarctic expedition from 1955-1958.
Yesterday, the ministry said if the watches were found to have legal protection under the Act, the New Zealand and Swiss governments may get involved.
The wristwatch was expected to fetch more than US$20,000 because of its historical significance.
"I believe it has been stopped for the time being and we are hopeful we can preserve these legacy items," Peter Hillary said. "They, along with a lot of other items, are of great significance to this family and I would suggest in some respects to New Zealand, in terms of being important items from the Ed Hillary collection," he said.
By law protected object cannot be exported without ministry permission.
The Hillarys said Lady June put the watches up for sale without talking to them, and the watches were owned by the family, not Lady June, under the terms of his father's will.
Peter Hillary said it was "very sad" he and his sister had had to take court action to stop his stepmother from going ahead with the sale, but it was the straw which had broken the camel's back.
"There have been a number of very significant items from the Ed Hillary collection that do belong to Sarah and I, that have been disposed of inappropriately."
Neither Lady Hillary nor her lawyer were available for comment.
Sir Ed died in 2008.
New Zealand courts have no jurisdiction in Switzerland but could make orders which applied to people in New Zealand, even if the event was happening overseas.
- with NZPA
- © Fairfax NZ News