Rolex Explorer Ref. 5500 - Gilt Explorer Dial
Did you know they made Air-King Cased Explorers?
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, there are many combinations and variations, and the Ref. 5500 Explorer is one of them! While most Explorers use the 36mm Datejust case, the 5500 Explorer used the 34mm Rolex Air-King case (hence the reference) the smooth bezel and applied luminous Arabic 3,6,9 are all the same as a 1016, lending a rugged and utilitarian aesthetic to the watch. The principle dial difference is that the ‘EXPLORER’ text moves to the ‘6’ Position to free up space at the top of the dial.
As if that wasn’t rare enough, the present example has very early gilt dial in it. The beautiful gloss-gilt dial, is in excellent collector condition as has perfect lume that aged evenly across indices and handset. The case has likely been polished in the past, but sympathetically and certainly not overpolished. Finished off on a period Rolex riveted oyster, this is a true rarity from the world of Rolex, worth of any serious collection.
*Some marks or spots on the dial are reflections or dust on the crystal and are due to high intensity strobe lighting used while photographing. They are not actually on the watch or visible in natural lighting.
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