6150 Rolex Precision Pre-Explorer

What is a Rolex Explorer? A 3-6-9 dial and sterile, steel bezel? Wearing a cardigan and doing no Exploring? Or does it have to say Explorer on it? This is the central question fueling a debate that’s been raging between the farthest gone of us for some time. This 6150 defined the case shape and famous 3-6-9, but these earliest examples did not yet carry the ‘Explorer’ name. That appears within this reference, but on a latter dial. And then chronometer testing began as a standard in the following 6350. This isn’t a chronometer and only says Explorer when it feels like it. So is it one? ‘Pre-Explorer’ is pretty clunky as a nomenclature, but that’s what it usually goes by. Let’s just agree to call it an interesting and attractive watch. If you don’t think it’s attractive, you’re probably also the sort who thinks Ana de Armas’s ears are too big. Fuck off.

This Explorer-less and Swiss only dial makes this amongst the very first Explorer-configuration dials. That’s also clear by its serial, which dates the case to roughly 1953. It was later in this same year, after Norgay and Sir Hillary scaled Everest, that Rolex decided to go with the Explorer branding in this reference. Only a fraction of examples at the end of production had Explorer on the dial. Never one to miss a good marketing opportunity, Rolex, even today. More interestingly, though, it’s a true time capsule at this point in time in a way that few 6150 examples still are.

To paraphrase its history, this 6150 was acquired by the current owner’s uncle during National Service in the late 1950s near Coventry. He never saw his uncle wear it, but knew it sat in a drawer in his uncle’s writing desk for many years. He inherited the watch, his uncle was completely unaware that it had considerable value. He’s worn it for about a year, during which time it set off the radiation alarm at Heathrow. For collectors who care about provenance, a watch showing up like this from its original owner or owner’s family is the dream. And the condition of the case and dial on this example scream ‘I lived in a desk, I’m perfect!’ Yes, the hands often aged slightly differently in radium years and there’s minimal burn despite that. Explorer or not, it’s 71 years old and still up for a challenge, more handsome than ever. A prime example of the character and soul we crave that only vintage hits.

The dial shows light patina but not damage and a strong lacquer layer still. The gilt track is undamaged and still today the radium numerals have not disintegrated. Its hands have no fall-through and look perfectly patinated. The watch was serviced carefully and is running beautifully, the only change made was a replacement crystal. It’s exactly how you’d want it done. It comes to market now from a well-regarded London retailer.