When we think of a brand like Rolex today, we might be tempted to view it as a monolithic entity, turning out the same watch over and over again, without any major variations in the product that ends up in the consumers hands. Today, it’s easy to see how they can accomplish this uniformity, with their production housed in only four facilities. This wasn’t always the case, however.

For this story, we need to go back to 1985, where Rolex had, rather than it’s four factories, they had 25 (or more) subcontractors producing all of the various components. This, of course, would explain some minor variations within a line, but prior to ’85, there hadn’t been any sort of major mistakes. Then came along production of the Explorer II (for those privy to these details, it was the ref. 16550), with it’s white and black dials. That is, there was to be a white dial, and a black dial (buyers choice).

A '75 Explorer II
A ’75 Explorer II

Up to this point, the Explorer II had been a sort of “ugly duckling” of the lineup (since it’s introduction in 1971) – people literally thought the watch was too ugly to purchase, due to the dial design (so, bemoan fashion watches as we may, there is definitely a time and place for good style on a quality watch); personally, I kind of like the design, but that’s an aside. So, 14 years after the initial introduction, Rolex decided to make a change to bring the Explorer II more in line with the styling of their other 40mm sport watches.


Of all the things that could go wrong assembling these tiny machines, it was the paint that made for this rare Rolex mistake. As I mentioned at the start, there was supposed to be a white dial, as well as a black dial. What they actually ended up with, instead of the brilliant white dial (that we know and love today on the Explorer II) they had a sort of cream (or beige) color. Not too surprisingly, there weren’t many of these that sold – blame it on a combination of low production numbers and the fact that no one really seemed to want the watch.


That means that, today, should you run across an Explorer II with an off-white dial, you may have run across something rather rare. Sure, it could be a dirty and/or faded dial, but it could be a fairly intriguing model in Rolex’s history – one worth a closer look. If you’d like to read some more details on this particular bit of history, check out this article over on Prodigal Guide.

All images courtesy of Prodigal Guide


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