Once upon a time – not long ago – I had big dreams of being a watch dealer. Like most people, I wanted to make a living doing what I love. I thought I had what it took: An extensive background in sales, money saved-up, and I considered myself pretty-knowledgeable about watches – especially Rolex – which would be my bread and butter. I knew it would take time to learn the industry and earn people’s trust. But if I had the right inventory, I was confident I could make some headway and gain a reputation.
I was pretty gung-ho about becoming a dealer: I got a Federal Tax ID Number, opened a business checking account, bought a digital camera, and joined the International Watch and Jewelry Guild (IWJG).
Before long, I was headed to my first IWJG show in New York – with a wad of cash and a shopping list: I was on a mission to find Air Kings and Datejusts, Explorers – I and IIs – maybe a no-date Sub, something from Tudor…you get the picture. I scoured the display cases all day – I was having a hard time finding watches that made the grade. When the show was nearing its end, I still hadn’t bought anything. Not wanting my trip to be a bust, I felt the heat to make a purchase – but I wasn’t about to settle…At the eleventh-hour, I came across a white dial Rolex Explorer II…
My God…it was incredible: Untouched lugs with deep case holes, signed and dated certificate, practically new-old-stock. As the saying goes: Pictures don’t do it any justice – not even mine.
After getting it home, this Explorer II became my muse: I honed my camera skills taking pictures of it from every angle. Wanting to preserve its pristine condition, I never wore it: I kept it wrapped up in a paper towel – tucked away in a suede pouch. I decided to concentrate on selling this watch, before I bought any others.
One evening I brought it along to a meetup with a fellow watch junkie. When I revealed it in the dark of the restaurant, it lit up like Christmas. Hold on a minute…this is a sixteen year-old tritium dial – it’s not supposed to glow this bright. I didn’t think for a second it had been re-lumed, but I needed to get to the bottom of this anomaly. So the very next day I sent a text message – with a picture of the dial all aglow and information about the watch’s production – to a well-known dial expert I’d met at the New York IWJG show. His opinion: I had a first-generation luminova dial; not a re-lumed one.
Rolex upgraded to luminova technology in 1999. The paperwork for this Explorer II is stamped 3rd quarter of 1998: I’m not talking about the date when it was sold. I’m talking about the date when it shipped to the dealer, from Switzerland. In case you don’t know: Rolex watches imported to the States have a secret code – printed in red – on the reverse of their accompanying guarantee/warranty certificate. Mine was: C RR CT. To translate into a date, you need to use Rolex’s equivalent of a decoder ring: R=1 O=2 L=3 E=4 X=5 W=6 A=7 T=8 C=9 H=0. So it works out to 9/11/98: A very-late U-serial production – almost an A-serial (the most-common serial number prefix for first-series, “SWISS” only, luminova dials).
Most likely, Rolex had un-lumed tritium dials lying around and simply applied the new luminova technology to them, rather than waste them. A similar effect in a slightly older tritium dial would rightfully raise a red flag. But with the approximate production date of this Explorer II and the timeframe of luminova’s introduction practically overlapping, I have little doubt that this dial was born in the watch this way.
I consulted with a few other Rolex buffs and heard similar answers and explanations: The dial was fine. With that sufficiently settled – and my pictures finally up to snuff – I went ahead and listed it on a forum. It sold in a heartbeat.
After sending out the heavily bubble-wrapped package and then confirming with the lucky new owner that he was thrilled with his purchase, seller’s remorse kicked in: Not just because a white dial version would’ve made a perfect sidekick for my black dial Explorer II, but because I had really grown attached to this particular watch due to the rarity of the dial. To me, it was quite a special watch: A once-in-a-lifetime timepiece.
What that experience quickly taught me was that I have more collector in my blood than dealer. Since selling that Explorer II, I’ve switched hats and become more of a broker. In all honesty, being a middleman suits me better: I get to help people without having to take on the expense or risk of buying and maintaining inventory. Plus – now when I come across an amazing watch – I can buy it and wear it knowing there’s no pressure to flip it.
I’ve yet to make it back to an IWJG show. Instead, I patrol the Internet and ogle people’s wrists. Occasionally I strike-gold and cross paths with someone wearing something truly heart-palpitating: Most recently, a gentleman casually wearing his late 70s ref. 1655 Rolex Explorer II. Unfortunately I never have any luck getting people to sell me their watch: My generous offers are no match for the sentimental value. Although frustrating, I completely understand: I wouldn’t part with my Datejust.
This is one of the reasons why I started watchpatina.com: Spending time with someone’s favorite watch and hearing their story about it – for me – is the next best thing to acquiring it.
As far as this “Polar” dial Explorer II goes…all I have now is a few pictures and bittersweet memories. Also, my case of seller’s remorse has definitely worsened: Lately I’ve seriously contemplated contacting the buyer to see whether he’d sell it back to me…Replacing this loss with just “any old” white dial Explorer II just won’t do: I need to be reunited with one that has a transitional, factory “tritinova” dial.
If anybody knows of one for sale, please let me know!