Vintage Rolex Buyer’s Guide Part 2 – Explorer Ref.1016

The Versatile Gent highlights a number of key models in their Vintage Rolex Buyer’s Guide – 6 Watches over 6 weeks all under $10,000.

Part 2 – Explorer Ref.1016

Hunt for one at: Forums, Auction Houses

This year at Baselworld, among the many reinterpretations of vintage classics, we saw the release of the Tudor Ranger. Whilst the Ranger is a modern interpretation of Tudor’s 1967 icon, ultimately it is a watch based on the Rolex Explorer’s 3,6,9 dial.

There’s no denying the popularity of these modern pieces inspired by vintage classics (think Tudor Ranger, Blancpain Fifty Fathoms, Tudor Black Bay) but the watches that influenced the designs are timeless anyway, and in my opinion make the desire to own the original even stronger. All the release of the Tudor Ranger did for me was make me start hunting for an original, likewise with the modern day Rolex Explorer (Ref. 14270), I don’t mind it but I’d never buy one over its uber cool vintage predecessor Ref.1016 or better yet the gilt dial Ref.6610.


Many believe the ‘Explorer’ was launched to commemorate Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay’s 1953 Everest Expedition despite Rolex supporting similar expeditions from as far back as 1933. The Explorer was based on the Bubbleback, a watch Rolex modified in 1952 and then again in 1953 with the iconic 3,6,9 dial. Following Hillary and Norgay’s successful climb (where only Norgay wore a Rolex) the brand added the ‘Explorer’ moniker to the Ref.6350, a watch that was superseded by the very collectible Ref.6610 and  later in 1963 by the most famous Explorer Reference of all, the 1016. 


The Ref.1016 was produced for 26 years and featured a Cal.1560 movement with an increased water resistance from 50m to 100m. Whilst it’s not as desirable as the Ref.6610 it’s also half the price (generally). Over its long production run there were a number of variations with Gilt dials,  the ‘Frog dial’ (Rolex Crown resembles a frogs foot), the Space-Dweller (A very limited run for a NASA astronauts visit to Japan) and intricacies in a number of 80’s models based on font serifs. Early 1016 models such as the one famously worn by James Bond creator Ian Fleming (read more about that here) featured Radium deals, many removed by Rolex due to their radioactive nature.

Naturally the case, dial and crown evolved a lot of the 26 years until it’s discontinuation in 1989 however it remains one of the most popular and versatile vintage Rolex models – the perfect combination of sport and dress watch features. You can find examples for sale anywhere from $5,000-$10,000 depending on condition and dial variation – the one 1965 model below sold at Christies for $5,951.


Images via Bob’s Watches, Christies and 9 Maiali


James is the Founder and Editor of The Versatile Gent.

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