Our ‘One Watch…’ series is a periodical feature where either Bernhard or I wear one of our favourite watches for a week and try it on a variation of straps and bracelets. This edition features a watch that is as iconic as they come…the vintage Rolex Gilt Explorer reference 5500.I’ve written before here about the 5500 Explorer and it truly is one of my favourite references. Cased in a classic 34mm size the reference 5500 was used for the Air King and a variety of dress-Explorer watches as well as the much sought after (and often faked) gilt dialed Explorer with its timeless 3-6-9 dial layout and mercedes pattern hands.
A Riveting Look
My first option was the Explorer’s original era bracelet. The early Oyster bracelets had the classic Oyster links fastened together by rivets, which gave the term rivet bracelet. There were three main types of rivet bracelet that were produced for different markets. The 5500 takes a 19mm bracelet and in that size there were C&I (with hollow end rivets), the 7205 fixed link bracelet and finally the 6635 expanding link bracelet. The above version is a beautiful condition 6635, with expanding sprung links. These original bracelets give the watch a very classic tool watch and I loved wearing the Explorer on this.
The Saffiano leather straps are one of my favourite finishes that we offer on B&S. Invented by Mario Prada, the leather is stamped with a cross-hatch pattern and then finished with a wax coating that makes the strap very hard wearing. I chose the Army Green colour to go on my Explorer and the waxed finish complimented the gloss of the dial well. If I was going to wear the watch to a formal dinner, the Army Green Saffiano would definitely be the combination I would choose.
Classic Caramel Colour
One of most enduring and popular straps at B&S is the Caramel Brown vintage leather strap. With it’s cream side stitch finishing, it is a classic look on any vintage watch. The patina that is evident on this strap was the perfect partner for the patina on the markers of my over fifty-year-old Explorer. The Explorer was named after the adventurers that had worn the early Oysters on expeditions all over the planet and the Caramel Brown strap gave the Explorer a spirit of adventure. Whether trekking to the deli for coffee or racing your vintage sports car down the coast, this strap is perfect for what exploits your life journey encounters!
The gilt dialed vintage Rolex sports watch dials are often likened to pools of oil, due to their depth and glossiness. The Black Vintage watch strap was a cool extension of the deep black of the gloss dial and gave the watch a dark edge (something of the night!) and looked particularly good with the Oskar Gydell jasper double bracelet. The cream side stitch finish looks really good too and ‘pops’ with the patinated hour markers on the Explorer.
Straight to It
The final look I went with was a vintage style ‘beads of rice’ bracelet. With cool straight endlinks, this combination is a classic vintage look that is popular on the early Oysters from Rolex and Tudor. These steel bracelets are actually much heavier than the vintage Oyster bracelets and the watch felt heavier on my wrist. Visually the look is very different too, more like a jubilee but a lot narrower, which lent a fine air to the overall look of the watch.
A gilt dialed Rolex sports watch is a special thing, especially when the dial has remained a flawless as this example. I believe these watches still represent great value for money…but as the first lot at Phillips The Geneva Watch Auction: Three is one of these, I think that might be about to change!