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Rolex Explorer I Ref. 1016 - 'Tropical' Gilt Dial

Sale price$25,850.00 USD

May 29, 1953

After an arduous journey starting on March 10th of 1953, and an extremely difficult assault on the summit, Tenzing Norgay and Sir Edmund Hillary became the first people to successfully summit Mt. Everest. On their wrist? NOT a Rolex Explorer.


Well, to be fair the Rolex Explorer wasn’t created yet. So why the hullabaloo about Sir Edmund Hillary? Well - he was wearing a Rolex. A Rolex Oyster Perpetual. After hearing of the success of this expedition and ruggedness of the watch - the decision was made to replace the Oyster Perpetual with a new model named in Hillary’s honor - The Explorer. Or so the story goes.

Either way, the Rolex Explorer I was introduced in 1953 but like many Rolex models, the first series was not considered ‘the best’ reference. For many collectors - the ultimate Explorer I is the reference 1016. It’s clean, highly legible and still tough enough for use in modern day wear. While using the same case as a Datejust, the smooth bezel and applied luminous Arabic 3,6,9 lend a more rugged and utilitarian aesthetic to the watch. Early models, like this, were made with gilt dials. Gilt dials are when the lettering and fonts are punched out of the dial so that the brass ‘gilt’ color shows through creating a golden text appearance. These are not very easy to produce and were ultimately discontinued by Rolex in the later half of the 1960s as they couldn’t be produced in the same quantity as a matte dial - but nothing shines and glows like a Rolex gilt dial.

This example, dating to circa 1966, is one of those gilt pieces. It's case remains very strong, showing honest wear throughout with a few blemishes on the top left case profile and bottom right lug visible under closer inspection. The smooth polished bezel matches the case condition nicely. It's 'Type 6' glossy black dial exhibit a beautiful 'tropical' patina — largely on the right side but does extend leftward with a deeper brown color. The resulting 'gradient-tropical' effect is unique and stunning to behold. There is a visible blemish on the left of the dial between the center post and 9 o'clock position, but is otherwise well-preserved. The luminous material is even in color throughout, with some loss at the 3, 5, 6, and 9 indices with a matching handset.

It comes fitted to a period-correct 'rivet' Oyster bracelet in matching condition, with a signed blade clasp. 

All in all, a stunning, unique, and well-rounded example of what many consider to be a perfect watch!

Stainless Steel 1966 Automatic 36mm
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