NAAFI 1016 Rolex Explorer
Some watches are special not for complication, rarity, or brand, but rather the life they have lived. More often than not, watches that fall into that latter category are steel Rolex tool watches. For a multitude of reasons that encompasses advertising, reputation, and design, people who really do things seem to often align with Wilsdorf. This isn’t an ad, I promise. Rather, a look at one watch which has lived an enviably full life. We’ve all seen hundreds of 1016s, the quintessential paired-back vintage Rolex tool watch. But this one actually lives up to its name: an Explorer.
For the sum of £50, then two week’s wages, this 1016 was purchased in 1970 through the British military’s NAAFI by RAF Senior Aircraftsman Phillip Luff, stationed at Airbase Sharjah (today a part of the UAE). A trained parachutist and member of the Mountain Desert Rescue Team, Mr. Luff sought a durable and dependable watch to aid his career. Luff’s laudable and enviable career saw him summit both Mount Rainier in the US and Iztaccihuatl in Mexico, explore the Pamir caves of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, and complete missions at every altitude in between. These extremely cool photos are of Phillip on these adventures. One of those missions in between altitudes had been an expedition by the Joint Services to map a portion of the Empty Quarter of the Sahara, sponsored by Rolex. He had been given a 1675 GMT to wear for that expedition and in that time formed an appreciation for both the brand and watches, which was ultimately responsible for his purchasing this 1016 years later.
Today, Mr. Luff has decided to part with his Explorer. If it weren’t for the fact that it came directly from him, so well documented, it would be simply a Mk2 1016. But because Luff was something of a watch enthusiast even back then, we get to enjoy its entire story. Watches like this are why vintage has such a deep connection to many collectors like us, soul even; this Explorer lived a rich lifetime of adventure before getting to its upcoming new owner’s wrist, ready to serve another lifetime again. It makes me wonder how many watches out there may have similarly deep tales to tell, completely lost to the passage of time. Let’s enjoy this one while we can. It’s no more rare or special than a 1016 you’d see on your friend’s wrist. It’s just been loved to the ends of the Earth and back. That should be celebrated too.
In terms of condition, this example is actually quite strong too. The case has full, even lugs, likely seen one very light polish in at a service, or perhaps its lifetime on wrist is what’s seen those edges just ever so slightly round over. Still, solid case. The dial is excellent, with honey tritium and no visible damage, same in the handset that all appears to have original tritium. These are not service hands, the original long curved ones. It comes on its original stretch rivet bracelet from a well-regarded London retailer.