ON HOLD – 1966/67 Rolex Explorer Ref. 5500 Gloss Black Gilt Dial
Presented in honest original condition, this rare 34mm Rolex Oyster Perpetual Explorer features its original gloss black gilt dial and Mercedes hands in excellent condition. The luminous on the hands and dial are matching and appear original. The luminous glows bright under UV consistent with tritium zinc sulphide mix that was used during this period. The cal. 1520 movement has been serviced by our watchmaker. The case back is dated III.66 (third quarter of 1966) corresponding with the 1.4 million serial number in between the lugs. The case does not show any signs of recent polishing and has some small scratches due to use. The watch is fitted with its original riveted Oyster bracelet, ref. 7205 with ‘60’ end links and the clasp dated ‘1/67′ (1st quarter of 1967). The riveted bracelet is in good condition with some wear and scratches to be expected. Overall this is a great example of an original Explorer from the 1960’s and one of the best dials we have seen in terms of condition.
Summit of Everest
Released in 1953, the Rolex Explorer is often overlooked as a historic model thanks to the launch of the Rolex Submariner in the same year. While the Submariner is indeed an important timepiece with a rich history, the Explorer has a unique story that separates it from the vast majority of watches out there. Tracing its origins to 1952, the Rolex Explorer was inspired by the Rolex Oyster Perpetual Bubblebacks that Rolex gifted to John Hunt’s British Expedition of Mount Everest. In 1953, the Expedition made its way to the top of Mount Everest, and the first recorded successful summit of the highest mountain in the world was made by New Zealander Sir Edmund Hilary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay, with Tenzing wearing one of those Rolex Oyster Perpetual Bubblebacks.
The watches gifted to the Expedition Team were the Pre-Explorer ref. 6098 and were known by their nickname, the Ovettone, Italian for ‘Big Egg’. These watches had large domed casebacks and crystals to facilitate their large movements. They became instrumental in building the Explorer as a stand-alone model as Rolex took design cues from the watch and lent them to the later references. Chronometer tested before they left for Everest, Rolex were fascinated to see how the trials and tribulations these original ref. 6098s were put through would impact their timekeeping ability.
References and Dial Variants
Following some transitory models like the ref. 6298 and ref. 6150 (both released in 1953), Rolex released the ref. 6350 shortly after (still in 1953), introducing the “Explorer” moniker to the collection’s dial. As such, all references from before the ref. 6350 are known as Pre-Explorers and feature various dials using wedge-shaped triangular indices and various Arabic numeral patterns. The ref. 6350 harmonised the collection with its black 3-6-9 dial, which would become the Explorer’s signature design cue.
Following the ref. 6350, Rolex released the ref. 5500 in the late 1950s, which shared the Air-King’s 34mm case – a noticeable step down from the 36mm cases Rolex had used previously. Rolex then followed the ref. 5500 with the 36mm ref. 5504 and the ref. 5700 Explorer Date. Unique in their size, the ref. 5500 and the other 34mm Explorer variants are sought-after as unusual models within the Explorer’s history. Featuring gilt-inscribed dials with tritium luminescent paint, these Explorers broke from Rolex’s conventional luminescent paint, which was typically radium-based, and remained in use until 1963. With these peculiarities in mind, collectors have come to cherish the ref. 5500 as perhaps the most unique Explorer variant.
In 1959, Rolex released the ref. 6610, which truly set the collection aside as an individual offering free from the rest of the Oyster Perpetual and Air-King collections. Its black dial featured gilt inscriptions and lost its domed caseback thanks to its newer and thinner movement; the cal. 1030. Some rare models would even feature 50m depth ratings in either red or white inscription.
Following the ref. 6610, Rolex released the Explorer ref. 1016 in 1963, which would run until 1989 and become the most well-established reference within the entire collection. With its improved 100m water resistance and new cal. 1560 movement, the ref. 1016 brought the entire collection up to scratch alongside the rest of Rolex’ fully-fledged sports offerings. The early ref. 1016 examples feature glossy black dials with gilt inscriptions, like the earlier models. By the late 1960s, these dials were swapped for matte black dials with white inscriptions – a decidedly more modern aesthetic.
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