Bright Idea: Nick's Polar

 

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 dialExplorer 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!

Enjoy reading this? If so, sign up here to be alerted when new watch stories are published. Also, follow Watch Patina-related news on Instagram @boxandpapers.