Earlier this week, we told you about the upcoming Timepieces auction sale at Leslie Hindman Auctioneers to take place here in Chicago on April 8th. We also told you that we would be featuring some of the most interesting timepieces to be auctioned; therefore, today, we are talking about this amazing vintage Rolex Explorer II ref. 1655 'Freccione' a.k.a Steve McQueen featuring a correct time period MK I 'Frog Foot' Rolex coronet dial, MK I bezel, straight seconds hand and accompanied by the original warranty papers dated 1972.
This fabulous 'one-owner' watch was originally purchased in Buenos Aires at the renowned jeweler Walser, Wald & Cia. The punched papers show a purchase date of August 25, 1972 and we can tell by the condition of the watch, that it was probably the owner's daily beater for more than 40 years. Something we love about vintage Rolexes like this one, is the rich history that comes with them and the memories that were collected by the timepiece while on the owner's wrist for decades.
The Rolex Explorer II ref. 1655 nicknamed by collectors as the Steve McQueen or 'Freccione' by some Italian collectors because of the bright orange arrow-shaped 24-hour hand on the watch —the word 'Freccione' comes from the Italian word 'Freccia' which means "arrow"— was only produced by Rolex from 1971 through 1984. During the time of its production, the Rolex Explorer II ref. 1655 'Freccione' a.ka. Steve McQueen watch went through up to five slight dial variations —which we will explain later—, two different seconds hands —straight seconds hand and seconds hand with dot— and even up to four different bezel variations including a MK I bezel with thick font and numbers closer to the plexiglass, a MK II bezel with thick font and centered numbers, a MK III bezel with thin font full size numbers and lastly a MK IV bezel with thin font and slightly reduced numbers when compared to those on the MK III.
At the time of its launch, the watch was intended to be a 'tool' watch for cave explorers that after spending days in a cavern, couldn't tell if it was day or night outside. A problem that was easily solved by the 24-hour orange arrow-shaped hand that along with the 24-hour military time bezel, would help them identify day or night times with ease. Interestingly enough, the 24-hour hand was originally crimson red between 1971 and 1974 as seen on Rolex catalogs and advertisements from the era, but today, discolored by time, they appear orange to yellow and sometimes almost white as in the so called 'Albino' Explorers.
Now, when it comes to the dial variations, the Explorer II ref. 1655 'Freccione' experienced some variations that included the use of different Rolex coronets such as the 'Frog Foot' shaped coronet —one of the most unique and rare and only present on watches from 1972 thru 1977—, the use of a slightly bigger font and different alignment on the 'Superlative Chronometer...' writing originating the Mark III 'Rail Dial' from 1974 thru 1977 and lastly around 1977-1978 the inclusion of the writing 'T Swiss <25 T' —instead of 'T Swiss T'— on the MK IV and MK V dials. The purpose of including the 'T Swiss <25 T' writing was to alert owners of the use of tritium —a radioactive substance emitting less than 25 mCi— as the luminescent material used on the hands and markers of the watches.
This particular Explorer II ref. 1655 'Freccione' circa 1972 that will be up for auction at Leslie Hindman Auctioneers at the beginning of April, features a correct time period 'straight seconds hand' with no dot —a characteristic that is only present on 1655s produced between 1971 and 1974—, a MK I bezel, silver calendar wheel with open 9s and 6s, reference and case number engravings visible to the naked eye, original oyster folded link bracelet with service clasp and what to our trained eyes seem to be the original hands.
On the wrist, the iconic presence of this reference is just fascinating and breathtaking. One thing we've always noticed when wearing an Explorer II ref. 1655 'Freccione' is that the watch wears slightly smaller than its actual size, but frankly, who cares about that when shopping for a highly coveted discontinued Rolex reference like this one.
Leslie Hindman gave this watch an estimate between $8,000 and $12,000 USD —which seems quite reasonable. It will be quite interesting to see next month how much this watch ends up fetching. UPDATE: Hammer Price $15,000 USD.
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Disclaimer: Please do not use our images or content as your buying guide or condition report for this watch. Only Leslie Hindman Auctioneers can provide you with such information.