Rolex Explorer
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Rolex Explorer

Released in 1963 and produced until 1989, the Rolex Explorer 1016 has been ranked as understated, underappreciated, underexposed, and arguably under-updated. Yet don’t let this description undersell the 1016. Famed for its adventures on the wrists of mountaineers and adventurers, this watch serves as the hallmark of a reliable and—most of all—durable tool.

While the 1016 experienced few minor upgrades, such as a change from a non-hacking to a hacking movement, it shows its true worth in reliable characteristics. Differentiating itself from its predecessor, the Explorer 6610, the 1016 featured a thicker domed acrylic crystal and a round cross sectional case back gasket. This allowed it to be water resistant up to 100m—double that of any other non-sports Rolex.

Eric Newby, an English travel writer, experienced this reliability first hand. In his book A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush, Newby chronicles his adventures through the Afghan Nuristan Mountains. He interacted with lepers, traveled through jungles on horses small enough to be swallowed whole by pythons, scaled glaciers with crampons and pick axes, and eventually summited Mir Samir.

Throughout this exploration, Newby donned a watch, and to no surprise, it was a Rolex Explorer.

Newby recounts a story of a local tribesman plunging his Rolex into a boiling vat of stew and then tossing it into the river. Upon recovery, the Explorer ticked on, unaffected by its hardships. In an interview with Michael Shapiro, when Shapiro questioned the whereabouts of the stew-flavored watch, Newby exposed the Explorer on his wrist and said, “This is the only thing of my past that I’ve got now.”

Of all the models of Explorer that Rolex produced, the Reference 1016 tends to be the most sought after. For one, it enjoyed the longest production run of all the Explorer models, making it the most iconic. Additionally, the trim 36mm steel case and matte Tritium dial hark to the original form-follows-function design; the simplicity is pleasing when paired with the complications of the later Explorer models.  

However, this demand has made finding honest 1016s very hard today, because many examples have been over-restored and have lost their integrity from over-polishing.

But in the case of this particular 1016, its integrity intact. Dating from 1961, its early, glossy gilt dial is in excellent condition. Though the original radium luminescent elements had been stripped sometime throughout its life and replaced with tritium, the tritium had aged beautifully, giving the watch a delightfully weathered appearance that wouldn’t look out of place in the willow jungles on the slopes of the Minjàn Valley of the Hindu Kush.

Stories like that of Eric Newby’s are recurring proof of the 1016’s simplicity, ruggedness, but overall, utility. For world travelers and mountaineers alike, the Explorer survives to tell the tales alongside its owner—a tried and true watch, worthy of a place next to the greatest Rolex sports watches.

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