‘Chicchi di Mais’ 16570 Rolex Explorer II

If a watch-curious alien were to come down to Earth, you’d have a very hard time explaining why vintage watches are more appealing than their modern counterparts. Generally speaking, things get objectively better over time. That is, with one exception: tritium. The warm glow of a well aged 3H (tritium is in fact hydrogen-3, why many military dials are marked 3H) is simply more inviting than the cold blue-green of Luminova, super or otherwise. And there may be no single reference which better demonstrates the attraction of cream lume than the ‘Chicchi di Mais’ 16570 Explorer II.


In the early 90s, the Explorer II white dial construction actually changed a little. This white dial is the exact same lacquer style as the ‘porcelain’ 16520 Floating Daytona. Both Rolex of the early 90s, this was a brief era where white dials had multiple layers of lacquer and varnish that gave its printed text a layer of depth, almost as if there is a shadow underneath. They’re not actually porcelain, but the effect is notable. While highly collected in Daytona, no one really talks about the fact that this 16570 shares the same milky construction, a few Datejusts too. Probably because there’s another show-stopping feature of these dials.


The Italians, who got to every nickname first and manipulated every market well before Phillips, call it ‘Chicchi di Mais’, or kernels of corn. This, because, unlike the cream 16550, its dial will stay perfectly white in contrast against a tritium composition that was very liable to tan toward cream. There are a few Chicchi di Mais 16550s out there, from the very end of production where Rolex had corrected the cream ‘fault’. The transition from 16550 to 16570 was more gradual than people think, and there’s a lot of crossover in bezel styles, surrounds, and dial construction. It was just after this porcelain 16570 dial, in ’98, that Rolex switched over to stable, non-changing Luminova. Rather fitting then, that the final tritium polar Explorer II dial should be such a dramatic celebration of what is perhaps the most obvious obvious charm in vintage. A deep milky lacquer, tan plots, 40mm Oyster case. As god intended. This is contentious, but I even think the black gold surrounds rather suit this palette as opposed to earlier white gold. Can’t explain that one very easily though, to you or the alien who now loves hydrodgen-3.


Moreover, this one’s a full set. It comes with a sharp case, undamaged dial, great bezel with enameling still entirely present, and even matched deep tritium. I love this thing. The 78360 bracelet is date-matched. It comes from a well-regarded Dutch retailer.

Find this Chicchi di Mais 16550 here from Bulang & Sons for 17900 EUR.