Many will argue that the ref. 6350 is Rolex’s first Explorer. Yet, the DNA which saw what many would consider the core of the Explorer design, that being its 3-6-9 dial, began here in the ref. 6150. That simple change from the previous triangle indices at every hour in 1952 went on to become lore for Rolex people. But the 6150 is not discussed nearly as frequently as the 6350, 6610, or particularly the 1016; it’s a little more the territory of those who intimately know Rolex. That’s a shame, because a lot of what made the modern Explorer great started here.
Granted, this dial says nowhere on it ‘Explorer’. That writing appeared after May 1953 in celebration of Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay’s accomplishments. This writing appeared within the ref. 6150 but toward the latter part of 1953 production. But that’s not the only separation from latter 3-6-9 dialed Rolexes. It is the only . . .what I’ll call ‘Explorer-like’ watch in the model’s lineage to not be chronometer rated. This 6150 is the most restrained gilt 3-6-9 dial ever produced by Rolex, full stop. In much the same way that many collectors prefer the 5513 over the 5512 simply for its slightly cleaner dial, I adore the 6150 layout. Many will refer to these early production 6150s as ‘pre-Explorers’, though I find that a touch unfair. This is, in my book, where the Explorer started in earnest.
The details agree: 3-6-9, 36mm steel Oyster case, early A296 movement, and flat unadorned bezel. The only difference one could fairly levy at this early offering was its ‘bubble back’-style caseback used in early years to accommodate the then-new automatic calibre. The 6150s did a lot of the rigorous testing during the earliest periods of Explorer production and were designed purely for their suitability (mostly around water resistance and reliability through extreme temperature) in the harshest conditions. In attitude as well as detail, the Precision signature standing alone here at 6 really means quite a lot. But it’s that triangle at 12 and 3-6-9 that stirs the soul and cements this reference’s standing in historic contribution. For that, we should all be a little grateful.
This example is remarkably strong in all respects. Its dial is clear of damage, with gilt application and radium all still clearly intact and legible. Very lovely. Its handset still holds full radium, however it should be noted that the hour hand is the short variant and often a little less desirable. Its case is full, with lug profiles preserved. It comes from a well-regarded Italian retailer.
*Thank you to reader @mkrlx on Instagram for noting that this dial likely has a history of being relumed in radium to reach its current state.
Find this 6150 here from Deangelis Fine Watches on Chrono24 for 21000 EUR.