‘Space-Dweller’ 1016 Rolex Explorer
The Space-Dweller universally elicits one reaction in person, ‘Hey, lovely 1016 Expl . . .WTAF?!’ It is equal parts mythical creature and fuel for debate at the nerdiest, arguably highest levels of vintage Rolex collecting. A larger handful of examples are known, probably fewer than 25, but that’s not definite. There is a known history often parroted around the creation of these few ‘Space-Dweller’ dials, the trouble is that it’s totally unsubstantiated. If true, this is the Rolex of broken dreams. Even if false, it’s still an intriguing mystery. So just what are we talking about?
Rolex famously lost the NASA moon mission contract to Omega and the Speedmaster. The Cosmograph, named perhaps a bit optimistically, never touched the cosmos. In 1963, the same year as that rigorous competition began, however, a different space-related Rolex was born. Back in the early 60s, Astronauts were heroes as famed as any movie star . . .how we’ve fallen from grace. I digress. When astronauts from the Mercury program visited Japan to much fanfare, Rolex decided to release a tiny production of the 1016 to commemorate the event, or more likely capitalize on its hype. Some speculate that this was done both to test the Japanese market and in the hope of stoking yet further NASA affiliations down the road. It’s unsubstantiated, except that many of these which still have any papers associated have often come from Japan. The branding never continued past this one event and single production run after Omega won out over the Cosmograph. The Space-Dweller was produced in infinitesimal numbers for this one outing. This rarity and its bizarre background of shattered space-related dreams from the coronet make it one of the most highly collected Rolex ever today.
One or two of these may come to auction every few years or so. In 2008, Antiquorum sold one for 48K USD. Christies sold one two years ago for 135K. Amsterdam Vintage sold one last year at that same mark. Ben Clymer recently wrote about his own for the Hodinkee mag. There, he speculated that few dozen examples are known to the market. The word rare gets thrown around a lot, but for the Space-Dweller, it could not be more accurate. This is an uber-rare Explorer which belies a story of ambition and broken dreams, known by only the most enthusiastic set of watch collectors. And it could not be more understated, blending perfectly into the background at any event. Unless you know, in which case you’ve just met a unicorn. The only question that remains is why so few, and why across a random serial range and not sequential? The dials do seem to be legitimate. Are these watches or are they dials, that’s the question. Recased? Probably. Interesting nonetheless? I’d say so, but that’s a matter of preference.
This one adds to the Japanese lore with two service receipts from Rolex Japan in the 90s. It is also particularly lovely on condition. The case is full with great lugs, the dial has little of the spotting we often see and an even cream tritium. It comes as part of Phillips New York Sale, I’d expect a realistic hammer in the 135-150K USD range just going off condition and where these have been over the last few years. Godspeed. There won’t be another for a while.