Rolex Explorer 1016 'Space-Dweller'

Museum Piece

Look again, it doesn't say Explorer.

Hans Wilsdorf was a marketeer avant-la-letre and many models are aimed at prestigious professions. However, they lost the NASA race to Omega. A bitter pill to swallow for the Cosmograph that would never reach the Cosmos. But as the space race began to heat up in the 1960s, the brave men and women that conquered the extraterrestrial became international heroes. In 1963, astronaut John H. Glenn Jr. -from the Mercury flight program- visited Japan to much fanfare. The story goes that Rolex seized this opportunity by introducing a special release of the 1016 Explorer. This watch was essentially identical to other 1016s from that time, but featured the words “Space-Dweller” on the dial instead of “Explorer”.

The Space-Dweller print is only seen on a handful of dials in watches with serial numbers all over the place. Interestingly enough, they filed the trademark for the first time in 1966. Additionally, in 2008 four dials, made by Stern Freres for Rolex, turned up on a Sotheby's auction with these 2 coveted words underneath "Oyster Perpetual"; possibly left-over and unmounted. With this information; one could also assume these dials never left the factory mounted in a watch. Eversince, only a dozen ever turned up, with this one being properly distinguishable from the others due to the unique freckled pattern on the periphery of the dial. Its discovery has been covered by Hodinkee's "Bring a Loupe" segment in 2016. After it first turned up on the market in the United States, it found its way to Europe in 2019. In 2022 it was covered again by the media, this time Hairspring tried to explain the mystery featuring this very example.

Exploring isn't merely limited to our globe, one can go full astronaut-mode with this exceedingly rare version of the all-time classic 1016. The gilt dial shows amazing character with a strong glossy finish and milkyway-like pattern at the edges. The tritium on both the dial and hands aged wonderfully to pumpkin-patina. The condition of the case is fair and it comes on a comfortable riveted Oyster bracelet. A well-documented example of a quirky rarity.