The History of the Rolex Explorer I

Nov 08, 2021,20:41 PM

1950's Rolex ad for the Explorer (Credit: Jake's Rolex Watch Blog)


Most people believe that the Explorer I was launched by Rolex for commemorating the Everest expedition and that this watch was with British explorer team consisting of Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay etc on 29th, May of 1953, achieving a great task of human being climbing. This story is definitely magic and attractive, but it still has a certain distance to the real fact. Rolex indeed had supported Himalayan expedition since 1933, and later in Everest expeditions, Rolex had been always the official supporters, so Rolex supported each explorer team with its wristwatch. However, Rolex was not the only supporter: it is said that when Edmund Hillary climbed up on the top of Everest, what he wore was a watch from the British supporter Smith. But what Tenzing Norgay wore was indeed an Explorer.


The Explorer was based on the already existing tough and hard wearing bubbleback, which has been modified by Rolex for the more active and adventurous customer. In 1952, the references 6098 and 6150 (both using the A296 movement) were in fact the first prototypes of Explorer to be used by climbers; they were watches with white dials and leaf shaped hands and did not bear the name Explorer yet.  


Edmund Hillary’s Rolex


In 1953, these models became the references 6298 and 6350 when they were fitted with the typical Explorer-type 3-6-9 Arabic dial and later with the Mercedes hands.


Rolex reference 6298 (Photo: OreDelMondo)


Rolex Explorer reference 6350


So you can see that before Hillary and Norgay climbed on the top of Everest, Rolex did not name their watches as Explorer. Although Rolex had registered the trade mark of Explorer in Geneva on 26th, Jan of 1953, the Explorer gained its name after Hillary and Norgay climbing up Everest, that is, “Explorer” began to be added on Ref.6350 after the successful climbing of 1953.


Anyway, Ref. 6350 was indeed specially made for Explorers by Rolex: it  has a highly readable dial design, and its case is also specially strengthened and uses special lubricant making this watch usable between -20° C and +40° C. Ref. 6150 was stopped in 1959 and replaced by Ref. 6610. Ref. 6610 and Ref. 6150 are almost the same, but since Ref. 6610 used the new Cal. 1030 movement, the back is more flat.


Rolex Explorer reference 6610 (Photo: Cars and Watches)



Rolex Explorer reference 6610 with box and papers (Photo: Eric Ku)


After five years production of Ref. 6610, Ref. 1016 replaced its production in 1963. Ref. 1016 is the most famous edition with the longest production in all the Explorers, until Ref. 14270 replaced it. Explorer Ref. 1016 looks like Ref. 6610 from semblance, but its movement changed to use Cal. 1560 and its water resistant increased from 50m to 100m. During the long production of 26 years, the Explorer Ref. 1016 also changed quite a lot...


Early Rolex Explorer reference 1016 with gilt dial (Photo: Andrew Shear)


Booklet for the Explorer ref 1016


The Space Dweller is a variation of ref. 1016 that was launched in 1963 to commemorate a visit to Japan of the NASA astronauts. The production run is very small.


Rolex Space Dweller (Photo: The Beautiful Watch)


In 1989, Ref. 14270 came to the market with surprise. Apart from remaining the name of Explorer and mercedes hands, the conception of Ref. 14270 was completely different from Ref. 1016: the movement is Cal. 3000 with higher frequency, the crystal is sapphire, the case is designed again and the dial changes quite a lot. Such a change definitely makes the style of 14270 have a feeling of elegance and modern, but the pure sports and explorer style of Ref. 1016 actually made most watch lovers hard to forget. In 2001, the reference 114270 replaced 14270 to use Cal. 3130 and it is still in production.


Rolex ad for ref. 114270


Acknowledgements: Bill Clinton

This message has been edited by DrStrong on 2009-10-26 05:02:55 This message has been edited by DrStrong on 2009-10-28 05:25:27 This message has been edited by amanico on 2009-11-02 07:54:59

More posts: 10161030114270142701560313060986150629863506610Bubble BackExplorerGiltOyster PerpetualOyster Perpetual Date

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Crystal clear, Jeff!

 By: amanico : October 26th, 2009-14:57
Superb work, which will certainly be appreciated by all the Explorers Lovers! Thanks a lot! Just one question about the size of the 6610... 36mm, too? I thought that the 1016 bwas launched before 63...In fact I believed that it was introduced in '59... Th... 

Yes Nicolas...

 By: DrStrong : October 28th, 2009-05:06
some sources mention 1959 as the birth of ref. 1016, but I have never seen any of these watches with a production date before 1963. If you have examples I would be happy to add this to the post. Cheers Jeff

Thanks for the report Jeff

 By: SJX : October 28th, 2009-01:27
The Explorer I is the next Rolex on my list. - SJX

Great post!

 By: Peter  : October 28th, 2009-02:38
Thks for sharing

Thanks Peter ! [nt]

 By: DrStrong : October 28th, 2009-06:03
No message body

Thanks for great post Jeff

 By: hans_jorgen_1968 : October 28th, 2009-05:50
One should probably put a Explorer 1 on the wanted list... to join the others ;.) Best regards Hans

I'm waiting for mine...;-) [nt]

 By: DrStrong : October 28th, 2009-06:01
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...mmmhhh I started some serious searching ;-) [nt]

 By: hans_jorgen_1968 : October 29th, 2009-03:57
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One of the best...

 By: E.J. : October 28th, 2009-14:51
reads lately, Jeff!. Really thanks for this great job made. The Explorers always atracted me... With the time I think I must make the jump on it. Thanks for your lesson! Best Emilio

Thanks for the kind words Emilio ! [nt]

 By: DrStrong : October 29th, 2009-06:42
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That was great!

 By: joeyza : October 28th, 2009-18:05
Thanks Jeff for writing this history. It solidifies the fact that an Explorer is a must have for my modest collection.

Yes Joe, the Explorer is really a must have ! [nt]

 By: DrStrong : October 29th, 2009-06:45
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the beauty of collecting rolexes is part due to its rich history and literature...........

 By: a.ler : October 29th, 2009-07:45
available, part due to its superlative attributes, part due to its iconic look that u cannot miss. and the sum of parts is quite a lot of value. thanks for the write-up.

Exactly !

 By: DrStrong : October 29th, 2009-09:53
every Rolex Sports model has a fascinating history ! Cheers Jeff

couldnt agree more

 By: hans_jorgen_1968 : November 1st, 2009-06:43
but also the fact there doesnt exist any official literature fRom Rolex adds to the mystery, myths and stories. What a great watch Best regards Hans

superb post, thanks so much, Jeff...

 By: FanFrancisco : October 29th, 2009-08:19
explorer is definitely in my list. stefan

Thks Jeff, very nice post

 By: relax max! : October 30th, 2009-14:08
I think what is great about the explorer I is that it is one of the very few rolex sport watches that is also a very nice classy (small 36 mm) dress watch too

Merci for the journey back in time! [nt]

 By: BluNotte : October 30th, 2009-10:26
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My pleasure ! [nt]

 By: DrStrong : October 31st, 2009-00:13
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Thanks so much for this

 By: Asimut : October 30th, 2009-22:30
I just let my wife read it, she sports a 1974 1016 and absolutely loves it! I was just about to award my two daughters with two Explorers (they have reached the age where a serious watch is needed) until something more appealing (Rolex, of course) caught ... 

LOLOLOL, Asi, I did the same with my wife.

 By: amanico : October 30th, 2009-23:40
She read Jeff's post with a great interest. She just said: " Hey Crook, this is my watch, not yours ". ! She knows me well... ROFLMAO. Nicolas

That's the danger with these watches...

 By: DrStrong : October 31st, 2009-00:14
....sometimes wifes like to steal them...sometimes they even steal Daytonas....some PuristS can tell you about it ;-)

a lady's wrist with a daytona,,,,

 By: Asimut : October 31st, 2009-08:01
I got turned down after watching Kill Bill 2 ,,,lol Cheers, Asi

A vintage Daytona....

 By: DrStrong : November 1st, 2009-01:05
...of course ;-)...  

Heaven? :)))

 By: amanico : November 1st, 2009-01:26

Something close.....;-) [nt]

 By: DrStrong : November 1st, 2009-02:16
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Point taken

 By: Asimut : November 1st, 2009-05:04
and I am willing to reconsider my policy,,, Asi

Heaven on earth.

 By: hans_jorgen_1968 : November 1st, 2009-06:50
..though I would prefer to wewr the watch and eventually also drive the car Great picture and have a great Sunday Hans

Excellent report...

 By: hary.lim : October 31st, 2009-03:45
and this is my one and only Rolex in my collection. Love it, Exp I is an evergreen...  

nice explorer

 By: hans_jorgen_1968 : November 1st, 2009-06:55
Hi Hary Nice Explorer you have in your collection. Do you nave more pictures of this great watch to share with us Best regards Hans

One day, you should take my whole collection in pic, my friend

 By: amanico : November 1st, 2009-11:41
Your pics are awesome! Best, Nicolas

Great article. Thanks very much!

 By: J_Warden : November 2nd, 2009-06:24
I haven't removed my Explorer since I purchased it last month. Great watch. Jeff


 By: nilomis : November 11th, 2009-06:30
Sir, Wonderful report. Your text and pictures, for sure, offered a new life to my (modern) Explorer I. Cheers, Nilo

Great post Jeff

 By: Ravination : November 17th, 2009-06:52
Very informative as usual my friend!