How it Began: The History of the Rolex Explorer
In 1953, Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay famously became the first men to officially climb to the summit of Mount Everest. To honor the milestone, Rolex launched the Explorer watch that very same year. As its name suggests, the Rolex Explorer was built for those who seek out adventure and exploration. The defining traits of the Rolex Explorer are its stainless steel construction, its waterproof Oyster Perpetual case, its sturdy Oyster bracelet, and its black no-date dial with 3, 6, and 9 numerals and Mercedes-style hands.
[caption id="attachment_927" align="aligncenter" width="600"] Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay during the historic Everest Expedition in 1953[/caption] Over the years, the overall look of the Explorer stayed quite true to early examples, however, Rolex did make some notable changes such as greater water resistance, caliber improvements, and later on, size increases. Some key Rolex Explorer models include the Explorer ref. 6610, launched in the late 1950s with a 36mm case, water resistance of 50m, and Caliber 1030 ticking within. Then there’s Explorer ref. 1016, introduced in 1963 where early models had Caliber 1030 and 50m water resistance, while later versions were equipped with Caliber 1570 and had 100m water resistance. In 1989, Rolex unveiled the Explorer 14270 with the same 36mm Oyster case but with a slightly thicker and more robust silhouette. There was also the then-new Caliber 3000 beating within along with sapphire crystal. Finally, in 2010, Rolex introduced the Explorer ref. 214270, which as we’ll see brought big changes to the model.
Modern Variation: The Rolex Explorer 214270
When Rolex unveiled the Explorer ref. 214270, it was clear that the brand wanted to update their entry-level sports watch to suit contemporary tastes. Most notably, the size of the Explorer, which had always been 36mm, grew to a more modern 39mm. In addition to the measurement size, the silhouette of the stainless steel Oyster case is now broader than its predecessors. Rolex also tweaked the dial of the Explorer ref. 214270 where the signature 3, 6, 9 numerals are now fashioned from 18k white gold. Plus, the EXPLORER label moved from the top of the dial to the bottom. However, Rolex did keep the characteristic black dial color as well as the simple baton hour markers and no date window to speak of.
[caption id="attachment_924" align="aligncenter" width="600"] The Rolex Explorer ref. 214270 is a modern interpretation of the watch from the 1950s[/caption] The bracelet of the Explorer ref. 214270 also underwent some improvements, now boasting the studier Oysterlock clasp and useful Easylink 5mm extension system. Finally, the newest Rolex Explorer reference also received a new movement, the automatic Cal. 3132 with 42 hours of power reserve. Plenty of new details with just the right amount of old-school Rolex sports watch flair. It’s worth mentioning that in 2016, Rolex updated the Explorer 214270 to include longer hands and luminescent numerals.
A New Path: The Rolex Explorer II
In 1971, Rolex released the Explorer II watch. Make no mistake, while the Explorer I and the Explorer II may share similar names, they are very different watches. This time, rather than for mountaineers, the Explorer II was built with the spelunker (aka caver explorer) in mind. The inaugural model was the Explorer II ref. 1655, sporting a steel 39mm Oyster case, steel Oyster bracelet, 24-hour marked bezel, extra 24-hour orange arrow hand, and a date window. The premise behind the Explorer II was that it could be used by cave dwellers to tell the difference between night and day when sunlight wasn’t an option thanks to that extra hand. On the Explorer ref. 1655 (sometimes erroneously referred to as the “Steve McQueen, although there’s no evidence that the actor ever had one), the 24-hour hand and the main hour hands are not independent from each other. Therefore the 24-hour hand serves as an am/pm indicator rather than a second time zone indicator.
[caption id="attachment_930" align="aligncenter" width="600"] The Rolex Explorer II 16570[/caption] In 1985, Rolex replaced the 1655 with the Explorer ref. 16550. With it came a larger 40mm case, sapphire crystal above the dial, and the option between a black or white dial. What’s more, the Explorer II 16550 is equipped with the Cal. 3085 where the center hour hand and the red arrow tipped 24-hour hand are independent of each other. Therefore, the Explorer II is now a dual time watch. At the end of the decade, in 1989, Rolex presented the Explorer II ref. 16570. Whilst much of the exterior design stayed the same as the previous reference, the movement was changed to the Cal. 3185 followed by the Cal. 3186. In 2011, on the 40th anniversary of the Explorer II, Rolex debuted the Explorer II ref. 21670 with a larger 42mm case, Caliber 3187, and as a nod to the original, an orange 24-hour hand.
The Last of the Classic: Explorer II ref. 16570
As we mentioned, the current Explorer II has a larger 42mm case, so the older Explorer II ref. 16570 is considered by many as the last of the classic Explorer II watches. With its 39mm Oyster case, smaller lume plots on the dial, and thinner numerals on the bezel, it does offer a retro (ish) vibe. Yet, thanks to its sapphire crystal and independent 24-hour hand, it also boasts modern appeal. The best of both worlds, if you will.
[caption id="attachment_939" align="aligncenter" width="600"] The white dial versions of the Explorer II are often referred to as "Polar"[/caption] Like many Explorer II references, the 16570 comes with either a black or white dial. The latter shade is often nicknamed the “Polar” dial for obvious reasons. Particularly interesting on the “Polar” dials of the Explorer II ref. 16570 are the black surrounds on the hour markers and Mercedes-style hands, which pops against the white dial. A great looking sports watch, the Explorer II ref. 16570 is both a joy to look at and practical to wear. Regardless if you go for the understated Explorer I or the sportier Explorer II, both watches are an important component of Rolex’s story and with decades-old history, they illustrate the longevity of great design.