Finds Vintage

Tropical 1016 Rolex Explorer


Today I’m doing something very out of character: being topical. Last week, Hodinkee restarted their fantastic reference points series with our collective hero Eric Wind featuring the Explorer I. Collector zeitgeist has been hot for the Explorer with renewed fervor since, almost to a laughable extreme. Nonetheless, when a truly exceptional watch comes to market, I strive to bring it in front of our community whether topical or not. I doubt there is a reader among us who would not describe this 1016 as anything other than exceptional. Damaged or divine, you decide. But common? No chance.


The 1016 was introduced to the world in 1959. Like many period Rolex, it evolved in small changes throughout its production, which ran until 1989. There is nothing before or since that has so definitely influenced dial design, in my humble opinion. 3-6-9 cut its teeth in this reference. That harmonious arrangement may be one of the most legible numeral and baton mixes of all time. This is all not even to comment on the fact that Tenzing Norgay undoubtedly wore it to summit Everest, the first of two remarkable humans to do so in 1953. Sir Edmund Hiliary, well he may have. I don’t want to inflame any opinions here but the weight of the evidence seems to point toward a Smiths. I make no comment. What matters here is that this is the definitive, original flavor tool watch. Much like all metal music can trace its lineage to the Led Zeppelin crowd, all steel tool watches stem from this source.

For all their storied history, 1016s are not exceptionally rare. In age, most simply yellow a bit on the tritium. What is not often seen is the kind of delicious coffee tones the dial on this example sports. In the range of tropical patina, this example aligns more closely to caramel than mocha. This is a tone a certain subset of collectors are willing to sell life and limb for, and this will command a market premium. I can think of few things more absurd than tropical watches, particularly with my left brain. However, then I look at this thing and my soul sings. I cannot articulate why I find the well-worn watch so stirring, but clearly I’m not alone.


This example is all about the dial, in value and appeal. The caramel tone is uneven but lovely in hue with light spotting toward its center. Its handset and dial have matched tritium, however the handsets tritium is cracking in sections though whole. The case is less than perfect in surface wear and proportion but nothing egregious. It comes on a correct rivet with a very rare full set from a well-regarded Swiss retailer.

Find this tropical 1016 here from Herschmann Ascona listed as POA.

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