Rolex Superlative Chronometer
The Rolex Explorer is often overshadowed by the Subs, the GMT’s, and certainly the Daytonas - those watches that always bring down good money at auctions and were worn by dictators, diplomats, and an assortment of just really, really cool guys. But I’ve found that the more one starts to understand the murky, occasionally merciless world of vintage collecting, the more one comes to appreciate this undersized runt of the Rolex sport watch litter.
The 36mm Explorer has so many fans within the collecting circle because, short of one instance where a potentially unique example with a white dial sold for $182, 000, special examples can still be found for (relatively) little money. Take the particular example above that belongs to a friend. It is, quite honestly, the coolest looking Rolex of any sort I’ve seen in a long time. Potentially years. And here’s why...
What you’re looking at is a 1950s Rolex Explorer, but it’s probably not the reference you’re thinking of. The Explorer that is most often seen dates back to the late 60s or 70s, and into the mid 80s, and bares the reference 1016. The 1016 is your average Explorer, and it’s a fantastic watch. But, they are seldom found with thick, unpolished cases or perfectly faded hands and dials. There are a lot of really bad 1016’s out there, and because Explorers are inherently less common than Subs or GMTs, dealers charge a lot for them. Hold out for a good one.
The 1016 is a superb entry-level vintage Rolex, but my advice would be look for something special. The watch seen here is a reference 6610, which is the immediate predecessor to the 1016 (this particular example dates to the first quarter of 1958). While 6610s are practically never seen - some say that for every 20 1016 Explorers, there is one 6610 - they can be had between $9, 000 and $13, 000 based on condition. Sure, it’s a lot of money for the average guy on the street, but if it’s your one and only nice watch, it’s better long term play to save up a little while longer and get something rare, and frankly not understood by watch buyers at large.
This particular timepiece is exceedingly special for a few other reasons, too. The first think you’ll notice is that the dial, over time, has turned to a light shade of brown. These are called "tropical" dials, and are extremely desired by collectors. The fading is, in fact, a defect in the paint on the dial but that doesn’t change the fact that collectors will pay an enormous premium for such examples. This particular tropical dial is a beautiful color of brown (others can resemble, well...feces). Additionally, the "Officially Certified Chronometer" markings on the dial are silver instead of gold. You practically never see this. Add in the fact that the case is nice and thick and you have a really, really special watch. In fact, when I was shown this old Explorer, I got more excited about it than if someone had shown me any number of COMEX Subs, or Paul Newman Daytonas. Yes, those are great watches, but they are essentially commodities, available to anyone with the money. A tropical, silver OCC, 6610 Explorer is something really special, and despite the fact that it costs considerably less than any of those mega Subs or Daytonas, it is ultimately a much, much cooler watch.
Collector’s Tip: You can quickly identify a 6610 from a 1016 Explorer by the script at 6 o’clock. A 6610 will say "Officially Certified Chronometer, " while a later 1016 will read "Superlative Chronometer Officially Certified."
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