The Story of an Explorer’s Rolex Explorer II, ref. 1655By Kevin Cureau
When looking at vintage watches to purchase, certain aspects decide the value and desirability of a watch. Some place greater importance to the rarity of a piece, others want a watch in great condition, and the rest might prefer a well documented provenance. In any case, I think a watch which tells an interesting story is always worth a look.
What we have here is a set of Rolex Explorer watches that our friends at Watchbox Hong Kong have acquired from the original owner.
The owner in question is an American gentleman who hails from New York and came to Hong Kong to teach English. His plan was originally to stay for a short time, but like many others he fell in love with the Pearl of the Orient and never left. During his time in the city, he picked up hiking and in 1971, with two friends, he envisaged the idea of an expedition to climb the Snow Mountains of New Guinea. Less than a year later, the three of them successfully accomplished their expedition.
The goal of the expedition was to explore the lesser known mountains of Western New Guinea per the report’s description: “There are few mountains which are less known or more interesting than those of Western New Guinea, now the Indonesian provinces of West Irian. Situated 4° south of Equator, the mountains rise above the jungle to 17,000 ft. above sea level.” Only two previous expeditions had reached the highest peak.
Organising an expedition is no small task. You first have to research the area and define a trail to follow so you don’t get lost or lose your life. You need gear, funds, food, permissions and visas, porters, medical equipment and sponsors. Among the companies who helped make this expedition possible, one name is of interest to us: Rolex.
Rolex is well accustomed to mountaineering expeditions, having famously strapped Rolex Oyster watches on the wrists of Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay when they became the first climbers confirmed to have reached the summit of Mount Everest in 1953, which led to the release of the Rolex Explorer in that same year to celebrate this historical achievement.
During 1971 while preparing for this expedition to the Snow Mountains of New Guinea (now Indonesia), our gentleman went to Rolex and asked if they could sponsor the trip. The brand gladly agreed to sponsor the expedition by gifting him a Rolex Explorer II ref. 1655, making this watch a first generation Rolex Explorer II. At the same time, I’m sure that Rolex was glad to have someone take this watch on a real expedition and see it tested to its true performance.
The Explorer II was the second model produced in the Explorer line but should not be regarded as a replacement for the Explorer. Instead, it is an additional piece in the family with an additional function. The Rolex Explorer II features a 24-hour bright orange hand that indicates if it’s day or night, thanks to a 24-hour scale on the fixed bezel. This configuration was designed specifically for cave explorers to distinguish at a glance the AM/PM hours when they have no view of the sky.
In 1986, years after the return from his successful expedition, our gentleman explorer, now a watch collector, enjoyed the company of his Rolex Explorer II so much that he added a Rolex Explorer ref. 1016 to his collection.
The Rolex Explorer ref. 1016 is one the longest produced references in the Explorer line with production that ran from 1963 all the way to 1989 and is for many the archetype of a tool watch. It is also a watch that is quite hot on the market right now with prices going up very rapidly.
Here is a rare opportunity to acquire two excellent tool watches with highly sought after reference numbers, one of them carrying a great story that is deserving of a place in any well rounded watch collection. Revolution is proud to offer them to our readers and you can find more information on our website.