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Prodigal Questionnaire: Rolex Explorer reference 1016

By on 2 August 2010 in Watches

Prodigal Questionnaire: Rolex Explorer reference 1016
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Deaton's Explorer with, in the background, his copy of the first edition, first impression “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service,” and the very rare Uncorrected Proof published just before it. The black magazine cover with blue printing on which the watch is sitting is one of the “Playboy” magazine issues in which “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” was serialized.

Vanity Fair has the Proust Questionnaire. Theirs is “candid, surprising, fascinating.” Ours? Not so much. It’s more: contrived, surpassed, fallacious.

We’re kidding of course. No way do the guys at Vanity Fair have a monopoly on revealing interview techniques. When it comes to penetrating the reasoning behind a watch-buying decision, we think you can’t do better than the Prodigal Questionnaire.

One watch. One decision. And 12 little questions that shine a probing, edifying light on them both.

Today, we’re putting Dell Deaton, the world’s foremost expert on James Bond watches and the editor-in-chief of, on the couch to ask him about his Rolex Explorer (reference 1016):

One o’clock: Where or how did you purchase this watch?

Prior to the Ian Fleming Centenary on May 28, 2008, I was working with his stepdaughter and members of her family on the identification of the author’s personal Rolex for show at the Imperial War Museum in London.

There was a period of time after which I’d become the first person ever to make the ultimate connection between Rolex and James Bond here, and the point when the watch would actually be first seen by the masses on public display. In other words, I had the only specifications in existence for acquiring a watch that was absolutely consistent with the only one described by Ian Fleming as the personal choice of his world-famous gentleman agent.

My horological grail — the ultimate James Bond grail watch for any true fan, I’m sure — could actually be obtained now.

Very few of these show up for sale in any given year, but still I had alternatives. Since I had the added advantage of knowing the exact case number on Ian Fleming’s watch, I held out for a Rolex with documentation that placed its likely manufacture point to just a few hours before that of the Fleming-Bond Rolex 1016 Explorer.

That’s when I bought.

I like to think my watch and the one destined for 007 started in production together back in the fourth quarter of 1960. Beyond that, I then readily admit that my ultimate fantasy goes on to have Mr. Fleming at a jeweller, trying on both watches, selecting his, and leaving the other take another path for ultimate residence on my wrist half-a-century later.

His is unquestionably The Most Famous James Bond Watch in the World. I’m content with making mine the second most famous.

Two o’clock: What living person is it most like?

Brad Pitt.

For starters, he’s actually done television advertising for the Rolex Explorer, albeit a more contemporary iteration.

Then, of course, he’s an actor. Ian Fleming always intended his fictional James Bond character for the big screen, even before he first typed the words in 1952 that put Agent 007 in the “scent and smoke and sweat of a casino … at three in the morning.” Brad Pitt is surely up to the task of necessarily blending the imperatives of both the literary- and movie-Bonds, right through today. Think Inglourious Basterds and Mr. and Mrs. Smith. Ocean’s Eleven.

Then you have the last five decades walked concurrently by we three. Mr. Pitt and the watch and me, we’re all about the same age.

Final criteria: Slept with Jennifer Aniston (that is to say, referring solely to Brad Pitt on this one).

Three o’clock: What is the watch’s greatest achievement?

Still has its original Radium 226 dial. Surely more rare than a virgin at the end of an MI6 mission.

Four o’clock: What talent would it most like to have?

Gadget-functioning à la Q-Branch.

Five o’clock: Where should the watch live?

This watch is unquestionably the first choice of Double-O secret agents, which puts it in clear residence among those field operatives, wherever their missions may take them: Bar-fight to boudoir, casino to combat.

Six o’clock: Which hero of fiction wears or should wear this watch?

Bond, James Bond.

Seven o’clock: What are its real life heroes?

Actually, it’s hanging out with them right now at the National Watch & Clock Museum: Displayed at this very moment within inches of The Most Famous James Bond Watch in the World.

So my own watch’s greatest affinity is obviously for the Ian Fleming 1016 Explorer which modelled for the novel, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. That very manuscript, as typed by Ian Fleming himself at Goldeneye in Jamaica, is there with these two watches in a high-security case at the “Bond Watches, James Bond Watches” exhibit.

But I’m sure I’ve caught my timekeeper evidencing more of an inclination toward the Playboy magazines in another case just five feet away. As the argument goes, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was serialized in three issues there, too; but I don’t buy the argument that said interest is just about the articles.

Beyond this, rest assured that I’ve never seen it show anything but respect and admiration for all of the other fine 007 wristwatch brands and models that have followed Ian Fleming’s choice.

Eight o’clock: What’s your greatest regret about buying this watch?

No regrets (I never have ’em).

Nine o’clock: If it had a name, what would it be?

“Black Velvet” (after the only piece of clothing that Tatiana Romanova was wearing when she first met James Bond in From Russia with Love: A black velvet ribbon, around her neck). Sure, I could have said “Knuckle-duster” here, but that would have been too cliché.

Ten o’clock: What do you most value about this watch?

Its James Bond pedigree: You can’t get much more “James Bond watch” than this.

Eleven o’clock: What is the trait you most deplore in it?

Its James Bond pedigree: It’s just too damn rare to routinely wear!

Twelve o’clock: Keep, sell or trade?

Perpetual keeper (pun intended).

Be Prodigal

The Prodigal Questionnaire is published on the first Monday of every month.

One watch. One decision. And 12 little questions that shine a probing, edifying light on them both.

If you would like to be the subject of PQ, drop us a line together with the details of the watch you own at:


Prodigal Questionnaire: Rolex Explorer reference 1016

Vanity Fair has the Proust Questionnaire. Theirs is “candid, surprising, fascinating.” Ours? Not so much. It’s more: contrived, surpassed, fallacious. We’re kidding of course. No way do the guys at Vanity Fair have a monopoly on revealing interview techniques. When it comes to penetrating the reasoning behind a watch-buying decision, we think you can’t do […]

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Our editor-in-chief, the self-proclaimed "greatest wit, raconteur and bon vivant of our age", borders on delusional. Over the years, the fool has squandered more money on fast cars, Swiss watches and electronic gadgetry of all kinds than he – or Mrs Fool – cares to remember. Come nightfall, he can invariably be found stumbling out of Dukes mumbling “just one more Martini; I could have handled just one mmmmm… [thud!]”

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  • Frank T

    Great post … of all the Rolex tool watches, this is my favorite. The dial in this incarnation (glossy gilt, radium chapter ring “Swiss only” ) is one of the most beautiful in all of watchdom. I found a similar example after a two-year search … but I wear it all the time!

    • The Prodigal Fool

      I’m with you, you have to wear watches regardless of how precious they are. Otherwise what’s the point?

      • Dell Deaton,

        Two separate questions here — and it’s important that we clarify the differences.

        First, to the operation. A great majority of the pieces currently on display as part of “Bond Watches, James Bond Watches” are from my own collection. If one were among the unique few to have physical access to these, upon removal you would find that all are fitted to my wrist (including, for reasons to be further expanded upon at a later time and place, “The Most Famous James Bond Watch in the World”).

        Moreover, all are fully operational. In fact, when I last saw them at the Museum, all were synchronized to the same time and running. (The mechanicals, of course, including that on loan from the Fleming estate, ceased in doing so as power reserves exhausted.)

        So, “wear” them? I do, indeed.

        But surely you are not suggesting that one would reject ownership of, say, the original Ian Fleming 1016 Explorer for lack of application to everyday wear? And if not that, the exclusive real-world basis for James Bond’s literary-named brand, then surely also to some degree of separation from it. For of course in any wear, authenticity is lost.

        Lastly, there is also the consideration of lifestyle. The Prodigal Fool is already well-aware of the James Bond wrist that substantially supports my daily routine. And it rises to the occassion of my needs in a way that “the second most famous James Bond watch” cannot. Technology has changed. Age depletes manufactured capability.

        Thus I can see and respect both points of view when it comes to the vintage watch owner.


  • Speedmaster

    I enjoyed that, thanks!

    • The Prodigal Fool

      Thanks for stopping by!

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  • Marcus

    Having read the various online articles about Bond’s watch being a Rolex Explorer 1016 in the last three Bond novels, this leaves open the possibility that in the previous ten novels he didn’t wear an Explorer, which would make it’s claim as being “the definitive James Bond watch” slightly overstated.

    In the Thunderball novel, Bond is mentioned as wearing a water resistant watch on his dive to examine the underside of The Disco Volante. As the novel was published in 1961, and completed probably up to a year before that, this would make the watch unlikely to be the Explorer 1016, as that only came into production in 1963.

    If the watch mentioned in Thunderball was an earlier model of the Explorer, then its depth rating would have only been 50m, as the increase to 100m only came with later models of the Explorer, starting with the 1016 in 1963. If Bond’s watch in Thunderball had been one of these earlier models of the Explorer (necessarily, it would have to be a model earlier than the 6610, as in Thunderball Bond’s watch is described by Felix Leiter as being an old one, and as the 6610 came into production only in 1959 it could hardly be described as old at the time Leiter made the observation) then it would be foolhardy of him to take it on a dive. True, the dive did not extend to a depth more than 50m but for someone like Bond who was aware that diving played a part in his job, a watch that only went 50m would have been an unlikely choice for him to wear on a daily basis given his profession.

    • The Prodigal Fool

      Fascinating, Marcus. Thank you.

      • Marcus

        You’re welcome.