Putting aside the crazy love by movie star loves, Explorer I actually is quite an attractive watch itself, apart from the outstanding technology used on it, behind its semblance full of sports feeling and elegance, Explorer I not only has exciting historical classical stories, but also with labyrinthian details, just like other Rolex sports watches (still remember the stories of Submariner, Daytona Cosmograph and Explorer II?). Although the latest edition I Ref. 114270 or the former one 14720 of Explorer have been quite different from the Explorer with amazing stories at that time, the typical and original 3-6-9 markers have been replaced by steel markers, and case design, movement and mirror have all changed, its look still the same.
In the conception of ordinary watch lovers, Explorer I is specially launched by Rolex just for commemorating Everest expedition. 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. Firstly, 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 is a watch from the British supporter Smith. But what Tenzing Norgay wore is indeed Explorer. On 19th, July of 1988, this watch was auctioned in Sotheby’s of London, and presently stored in Rolex Museum in Geneva. As for if Explorer is the first watch worn on the top of Everest, I am afraid that no answer will be found forever, as Hillary and Norgay have always not wanted to speak out who first climbed on the top, and persisted in that it is done by both of them.
Secondly, when observing the Explorer worn by Tenzing Norgay when climbing Everest, it indeed has the typical black dial and 3-6-9 night light markers, although the hands are not Skelette (Mercedes) which we are familiar with but the pure nightlight straight ones, the round nightlight spots on central second hand are al little bigger than today’s editions. What needs to concern is the “Precision” mark but not “Explorer” on the dial of this Explorer. In addition, according to the record of Sotheby, the back of this watch is bubble back style. According to these characters, it can deduce that it is Ref.6350. At that time, Rolex used to carve the production date inside the back. The production date for Ref.6350 worn by Tenzing Norgay is IV 53, which means made in April of 1953. So you can see that before Hillary and Norgay climbed on the top of Everest, Rolex did not name Ref.6350 as Explorer. Although Rolex had registered the trade mark of Explorer in Geneva on 26th, Jan of 1953, Explorer gained its name after Hillary and Norgay climbing up Everest, that is, “Explorer” began to be added on Ref.6350 after the success climbing in 1953. as for Explorer I becoming a fix style and classic watch, it was accomplished by Rolex after a certain time of scrabble.
Anyway, Ref. 6350 is indeed specially made for Explorers by Rolex. Ref. 6350 Explorer has highly readable dial design, and its case is also specially strengthened and uses special lubricant based on the need, making this watch can work between -20° C and +40° C and its accuracy will not affected by the change of emplastic. So regardless of before or after Hillary and Norgay climbing on the Everest, many explorers relied on Ref. 6350 as the necessary chronometer. The distinctive dial of Explorer I is not innovative, its big triangle mark at 12 o’clock position and dials with Arab and Roman numerals of some Rolex editions had been widely used in 1930’s and 1940’s, and 3-6-9 Arab numerals and long bar markers had been used in the early cushion and oyster style. However, these elements which had appeared before combined again in a unique way, creating a fresh and clear image for Explorer.
According to the research on the early Explorers by the author of “The Best of Time. Rolex Wristwatches: An Unauthorized History ”James M. Dowling, at the beginning Rolex was obviously not sure about the potential market of Explorer, therefore Rolex also put the dial with the registered trade mark “Explorer” or the name of “Explorer” on other editions. Air King Explorer is one of the most famous examples. The Air King Explorer means 3-6-9 black dial of Explorer is used by some Ref. 5500 Air King, but “Precision” is the mark on the dial, not Superlative Chronometer Officially Certified. Another example is Dress Explorer, means non-explorer dial with steel markers and hands are used by some Oyster Perpetual, but with “Explorer” carved on the dial, including Ref.5700 (also called as Explorer Date) with date display and Ref. 5504 without date display. These explorers which are considered as rare and precious today were mostly made in 1950’s and 1960’s, the earliest one, Ref. 6298 could be traced back to 1953. And their production did not come to a halt until the hot sell of Rolex.
Explorer Ref. 6350 was produced about one year in 1953, and then Ref. 6150 was in production in the same year. Most Explorer Ref. 6350 with black dial was carved with “Officially Certified Chronometer”, and the dial is with special honeycomb. Both Ref. 6150 and Ref. 6350 used A296 movement, but the case is 2 mm bigger than Ref. 6150, both with “Precision”. Ref. 6150 stopped to produce in 1959 and replaced by Ref. 6610. from semblance, Ref. 6610 and Ref. 6150 are almost the same, but since Ref. 6610 used new Caliber 1310 movement, so the back is more flat than bubble back. So these early explorers are all stainless steel made, and all the fonts, Rolex logo and minute markers all use golden color.
After five years production of Ref. 6610, Explorer Ref. 1016 replaced its production in 1963. Ref. 1016 is the most famous edition with longest production in all the Explorers, its production lasted until Ref. 14270 replaced it. Explorer Ref. 1016 looks like Ref. 6610 from semblance, and its movement changed to use Caliber 1560, water resistant increased from 50m to 100m. During the long production of 26 years, Explorer Ref. 1016 also changed a little. The first generation of Ref. 1016 was changed in 1975, changed to use the improved Caliber 1570 with hack from Caliber 1560, and the oyster strap was changed to made of solid stainless steel.
In 1989, Ref. 14270, which is familiar to most watch lovers, came to the market with surprise. Apart from remaining the name of Explorer and Benz hands, the inside and beauty conception of Ref. 14270 were completely different from Ref. 1016: the movement is Caliber 3000 with higher frequency, the mirror is sapphire crystal glass, the case is designed again, the dial changes quite a lot, the original full printed nightlight markers including clock markers, triangle mark at 12 o’clock and 3-6-9 nightlight Arab numerals are all changed into the design of K steel circle plus Tritium nightlight coating. 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, and since the number of it became fewer and fewer, therefore the price of Ref. 1016 in recent years has risen up quite a lot. The price is nearly as twice as the brand new 14270.
Explorer I changed a little again in 2001: 114270 replaced 14270, changed to use Caliber 3130. regardless the antique Explorer Ref. 6350, 1016, the former generation 14270 or the present Explorer 114270, Rolex Explorer I is always a very simple watch with simple semblance and functions, stainless case and strap, self winding movement and black dial with 3, 6, 9, it is really unremarkable, but maybe it is just because “simple is the best”, Explorer I seems to be more attractive as time goes by. What is more magic is that Explorer I not only loved by male watch lovers, even female consumers are always attracted by its modern and entertainment feeling. Most watch lovers can not understand the low complex but high price and hot purchased by consumers of Explorer I, but why should you need a reason for the love to a watch?
Its exquisite styling, elegant character and rich history are the best reasons.