1972 Rolex Explorer “Frog’s Foot”

In January 2019, a pleasant gentleman brought this watch into the Miltons store in Birkenhead, asking for an offer to buy it. We think the watch may have been left by his father, as he then sought his mother’s approval to sell. They were both happy with our price and so we were delighted to complete the purchase.


The Explorer’s distinctive and easily-read dial with its Arabic quarter numerals has become something of a design classic, but what is the model’s history ?

From around 1950 Rolex had been supplying watches to various adventurers including mountaineering expeditions. When Everest was first conquered in 1953 (also the year of the Coronation), they saw a massive marketing opportunity and have long been associated with this triumph. There is, however, a problem. It seems that a Rolex was not worn for the final ascent. While Rolex were undoubtedly worn by many on the expedition at different times, you will note that Rolex wording carefully does not claim specifically that one of their watches was “first to top Everest.” This page is from a March 1980 “YOUR ROLEX OSYTER” booklet (not supplied with our watch) :

Testimonials from a number of expedition members, however, do at least support Rolex watches’ place in mountaineering history. This page is from the Explorer booklet that does come with our watch :

In the 1950s Rolex quickly developed a number of specialist “professional” or “tool-watch” lines and the Explorer fits the pattern, evolving through a number of versions such as the 6298, 6350 and 6150 before settling into a model that would then be made for decades : the 1016 with COSC chronometer movement.

Early versions of the 1016 were fitted with “gilt” dials, that is, the text and markings on the dial were in a gold colour, as found on this superb example in the Miltons collection :

As with other models, though, the dial markings and text changed to white before the end of the 1960s and this remained the case until the final production of L-case number watches, sold around 1990.

Even the white-text dial came in many different versions through the years. The subject of this photo-essay has what we term a “Mark 1 / Frog’s Foot” dial :


It’s not difficult to see where the name comes from ! The Rolex coronet looks a little like the splayed, webbed foot of an amphibian :


Even this single dial variant is in fact found in slightly different versions. The extensive Miltons collection includes a later example with fatter luminous markers, macro images of which may be found in our unfinished photo-essay here.

Other styles without a Frog’s Foot dial are illustrated on this 1970s cue-card supplied to Rolex main agents :

and this sales brochure, which shows a 1016 but with the peculiar, additional “1025” product code that the model seems to have been given in the UK :

We are particular fans of the 1016 dial classification system set out in Andrew Hantel’s website and the relevant page for the Frog’s Foot dial may be found here.

The model number on our watch is clear between the lugs at the 12 o’clock end of the case :

While at the six-o’clock end is the watch’s unique case number :

Our own massive archive indicates that such a case number will have been applied to a watch in 1972 and this is supported by the case-back, which is marked inside thus :

That code “I.72” indicates that the case-back was stamped not in January 1972, but in the first quarter of 1972 (January-February-March).

The movement is a chronometer-rated Rolex 1570 calibre as we should expect :

Do please note that these movement images were taken before the extensive service and re-sealing of the case by Stephen Hale Watch Restoration :

It is a hacking movement, which means that the seconds hand may be stopped when the crown is pulled out, to enable accurate setting. The movement’s unique number 236642 may be seen here :

The watch comes with this valuable, early Explorer instruction booklet :

The inside front page illustrates the model . . .

. . . and it even seems to be exactly this variant :

The watch comes in a period-correct “green stripe” box set as shown below, ref. 06.00.06 :


Note the early 1970s chronometer swing-tag, the base of the Rolex coronet in the centre being unusually narrow like this for only a short time before a fatter coronet replaced it :

This is what the dial looks like when excited under a UV torch . . .

. . . and immediately after it is removed :

Finally, we cannot write about such a watch without reference to  the (formerly) controversial argument about whether such a watch should be referred to as an “Explorer I” when that name never appeared on the dial. If you are interested, we direct you to our own research which is now commonly cited as the definitive proof of the position : click here for pedantry !

Miltons in Chester and Liverpool city centre are always looking to buy such interesting Rolex watches. Please contact us if you have piece that you think may be of interest , whether you would simply like to learn more about it or for us to make an offer, without commitment on your part.

© Haywood Milton, October 2023.


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