The Design Evolution of the Explorer 1016

When the Explorer 1016 made its debut, it retained the steel construction and dial design of previous models. The steel Oyster case measures 36mm, fitted on the familiar steel Oyster bracelet. However, a notable difference was the 1016’s increased water resistance—100m meters compared to the 50m rating of the 6610.

As is expected with vintage Rolex watches, early examples of the Explorer 1016 feature glossy black dials with gilt details. In the late 1960s, Rolex introduced matte black dials with white font to the Explorer 1016.

Aside from the glossy to matte and gilt to white font change, the Explorer 1016 always preserved the iconic dial layout with the oversized 3/6/9 Arabic numerals positioned alongside the stick hour makers and inverted triangle at 12 o’clock. The dial is what differentiates the Explorer from other Rolex watches. Even today’s Explorer watches have essentially the same dial design. Since this particular watch was sold as a companion to take with you on treacherous expeditions, Rolex had to ensure that the dial was highly legible—hence the oversized numerals and broad Mercedes-style hands. As with all Rolex watches made in the same era, the Explorer 1016 first used radium followed by tritium for luminescence.

Protecting the face of the Explorer 1016 is the vintage style domed acrylic crystal. However, it’s not uncommon to find pieces in today’s market that have replacement service acrylic crystals, which are flattened rather than domed.

Another change that happened with the Explorer 1016 during its production run was the switch from Caliber 1560 to Caliber 1570 in the mid-1970s.


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