Rolex Explorer Ads

Although the Explorer Ref. 1016 was in production for roughly 30 years, I believe less than a dozen magazine advertisements exist showing it. And, I've only come across 1 ad showing the next generation, the Ref. 14270 with a tritium dial, even though it was around for almost 10 years.

Rolex Explorer Advertisements

The Explorer is an exemplary model of what Rolex does best: creating functional timekeeping tools that are meant to last a lifetime. The 36mm no-frills watch, with the famous 3-6-9 dial, seems to have been officially dubbed the “Explorer” around 1954 based on the earliest published ad I’ve found. The two 1950s ads I’ve come across feature models that were precursors to the Grail reference 1016 - the references 6150 and 6610. Interestingly, these early ads don’t mention Tenzing Norgay’s and Sir Edmund Hillary’s historic summit of Mount Everest in 1953; however, several other 1950s Rolex ads feature other Oyster models with the expedition. I’ve yet to find a Rolex ad featuring a vintage Explorer and mentioning the 1953 summit. Nevertheless, incorporating their highly publicized expedition into advertisements helped the Rolex brand grow tremendously. From its inception, the Explorer has been marketed as an adventure companion for the everyday person and its modern counterparts, the references 14270, 114270 and 124270, live up to this purpose.

Mt. Everest and Hillary and Norgay’s heroic expedition ultimately end up in modern Rolex ads in the 2000s. The first mountain I’ve found to be mentioned in an Explorer ad is the Matterhorn located appropriately in Zermatt, Switzerland. In my opinion, this may be the best and most beautiful Rolex ad of all time. Although the Rolex Explorer has grown in popularity, its core design and ethos remains and can be traced throughout the exploration and adventure-themed ads that have been published throughout the model’s history.

For more great information on the history of the Rolex Explorer, check out Hodinkee’s Reference Points video and comprehensive article. Also, I highly-recommend as an invaluable resource for collecting vintage Explorer models.

Vintage Rolex Explorer

When you think of a vintage Explorer, the reference 1016 may come to mind, partly because of its 29 year production run from 1960 to 1989. The iconic “top of the Matterhorn” ad, published in several 1966 magazine issues, is likely the first Rolex ad to prominently feature the reference 1016 with a later gilt dial. Other Rolex Explorer ads from the vintage era show a variety of interesting ad styles and feature slightly different dial variations of the model through the decades. For example, the quarter-page 1978 Tiffany & Co. ad shows an extra-coveted version with a matte dial stamped by the famous jeweler. Interestingly, for a watch with such a long lifespan, only about a dozen unique 1016 ads have been found, with none being from the 1980s. From climbing to skiing to bull riding, these early Explorer ads really highlighted the versatility of the model, showing consumers at the time that this was truly a multi-purpose watch that’s built to last.

Neo-Vintage & Modern Rolex Explorer

The Ref. 14270, 114270 and 214270 all have arguably become THE Rolex model many aspire to buy and enjoy forever. What’s great about many ads for these models is that they not only show iterations of the modern Explorer, but also incorporate visual elements and verbiage regarding the marketing history that helped establish Rolex as a household name beloved by so many. Although the 14270 tritium dial Explorer was produced for over a decade, I’ve only been able to find one particular ad showing the watch - and it’s the early and highly collectible “Blackout” version. This same ad was used over and over again throughout the 1990s to represent the model even though that particular watch dial was phased out very-early into its lifecycle.