Monday Morning Find: Rolex Explorer II With a Rare Cream Dial
Usually when we talk about vintage watches, we're referring to watches from before the mid-1980s, when such technologies as quick-set date mechanisms, fade-resistant paints, and sapphire crystals came onto the scene. This watch was created right as the transition to modern materials and production was taking place, and it represents that period of flux perfectly. The cream-colored dial is, in fact, the result of a mistake by a Rolex supplier, and very few of them are still out there.
When Rolex decided to change the Explorer II from the original orange-handed reference 1655 to the 16550, they made it look a lot more like the GMT-Master, but with a steel bezel and the option of a black or white dial. Except the early white dials (this one's from late 1986 or early 1987) came out with this funny cream color, instead of bright white, and they weren't terribly successful with customers. The error was corrected and ever since, the Explorer II has come in either true black or true white.
Some collectors love the color, and others hate it. I find the lower-contrast option rather nice, though it's a little too close to the color of the luminous markings to be practical. Either way, it's rare—and you know what that means: It's in high demand, and it's tough to find one in good condition. Those are just the rules of watch collecting.
This example is in nice shape, though the case has been polished before. The bevels are still visible on the lugs (an absolute must for serious collectors, and one of the first things to go when the watch touches a polishing wheel) even if they're a little thinner than they used to be. The polish on the sides of the case makes the watch look almost brand-new. This is a negative for me, but it will certainly appeal to a lot of people. The bracelet is a thick Oyster-style, with no stretching and an easy release clasp.
Something to keep in mind with watches like this one—watches for which one small detail doubles or triples the value—is that people will often fake things or substitute components to multiply their return. This watch comes with a full set of boxes and the paperwork from its original sale. This means you can know that the cream dial, in which most of the value resides, is authentic and original, not a later substitution or a refinished white dial.
This cream Rolex Explorer is available from Iconic Watch Co. for $14,000.