Most people know about the original Rolex Explorer I (ref 1016). It’s timeless, understated, and at home on the top of Everest or under the cuff of your suit in a meeting. The watch’s versatility is a big reason why the 1016 Explorer is incredibly popular and a mainstay in most heavy-duty vintage collections. The watch many of those collectors don’t know anything about is the Tudor Ranger, however, is the Explorer’s close cousin, produced in small numbers for nearly 20 years. Even if collectors are aware of the Ranger’s existence, you rarely see them in collections. How could that be? The answer is actually quite simple: it’s possible that the Ranger is the most commonly faked watch in the vintage world. For every ten that appear for sale on the forums or eBay, nine of them are likely fake. And in response, most collectors simply put them in the “too risky” category and don’t even seek them out.
That was also me for a long time. I loved the Ranger’s looks (and the price tag), but knew what I didn’t know…which was a lot. For example: in January of 2016, there was a Ranger that appeared on eBay, looked the part, and had a backstory that is normally squarely in the bulls-eye for me as a buyer (son of the original owner who knew nothing about it and took pretty bad pictures for the listing). The patina was gorgeous, the condition was nearly perfect…but I didn’t trust myself. I couldn’t find many examples of the no-date, manual wind layout (key indicator being the single “Oyster” below Tudor) and it seemed too good to be true. In the end, I didn’t bid and it sold for a bargain price (~$1,700). It was another eleven months until I saw another Ranger in this configuration that appeared legitimate, and it happened to be towards the end of the catalogue for Watches of Knightsbridge’s upcoming auction.
If you’ve gone through the site, you’re probably aware that in general, I rely on classifieds, eBay, and other collectors to source my watches instead of dealers or auctions. In this case, however, I was prepared to put up with premiums and a lot of competitive eyeballs for the prospect of locking down a legitimate vintage Ranger. On the day of the auction, I woke up early, did a little “good luck” dance (no, seriously, I did), and signed into the auction. I’ll spare you the anticlimactic play-by-play, but thankfully I ended up the highest bidder and a week later, I was finally able to officially add it to my collection.
The Nitty Gritty
This particular Ranger is in pretty good shape. The lume, while not totally even throughout the indices and hands, is still attractive and wholly intact. The seconds hand is typically seen with a rectangular lume plot, but I’ve seen a couple others from the 1980s that had circular plots and the patina matches the dial and hour/minute hands. The case is sharp and appears to have escaped heavy polishing over the past 30-40 years. What’s hard to capture from pictures is the size and fit of the watch. At 34mm, it’s smaller than all modern watches (and a couple millimeters smaller than the 1016 Explorer), but the case has a very slim profile and it’s a perfect watch to wear under the cuff of a shirt.