Since Sir Edmund Hilary and Tenzing Norgay climb of Mount Everest in 1953, the Rolex Explorer has been one of the most popular pre-owned and vintage watch models. Due to the smooth bezel, it also makes a stylish yet unpretentious dress-watch. Its recognizable features include its durable 904L stainless steel case and wristband, the black dial with luminescent indices, and big, easily legible numerals - so even in the dark of the base camp you can tell perfect time. Are you adventurous enough for this watch? If so, grab a Brand new Explorer today!

Popular Rolex Explorer II Watches:

Rolex Submariner Watches by Model Number:

Rolex Explorer II Model History

Introduced in 1971, the Rolex Explorer II was a spin-off from the original Explorer model, building on its design with the inclusion of a 24-hour time display. Like its predecessor, it was designed for professional use by expedition groups, explorers, climbers, speleologists, volcanologists, catering to their various needs.

However, while it is now one of Rolex's most recognisable models, the Explorer II was not an instant success and is actually a great example of a timepiece that grew in demand over time. In this post, we take a closer look at the various Explorer II models and how the collection has evolved throughout history.


The First Rolex Explorer II

The first Rolex Explorer II model, officially known as the Reference 1655, was released in 1971, with its defining features being its 40mm steel case, as well as the presence of a 24-hour scale on the bezel, and an additional hand for indicating the time on that scale, in 24-hour format. It was powered by a calibre 1570 or 1575 movement.

In terms of function, the 24-hour time display was considered to be an important addition, especially for those spending long periods underground, or away from natural light, where it can be easy to become disorientated. The 24-hour hand on the original model was bright orange in colour and longer than the main hour hand.

Throughout its life cycle, the Reference 1655 underwent some changes, starting with the addition of extra luminosity in 1974, enhancing legibility. This was followed a year later by a decision to switch the orange 24-hour hand to a red hand. Over the years, some small changes were also made to the dials.

Initially, the Explorer II did not sell especially well, although sales increased as time went on. As a result, older models are now highly sought after by collectors and the small changes throughout its production cycle can have a drastic impact on the value of a Reference 1655 when it is sold at auction.


Explorer 2 Watch Innovations

In 1984, Rolex introduced a second generation of Explorer II watches under the name Reference 16550. Among the major changes were a switch to a new calibre 3085 movement, as well as a significant change to the model-defining 24-hour hand, which remained red in colour, but now featured a white arrow-shaped tip.

Moreover, the Reference 16550 was available with a choice of the previous black dial, or a new white dial. Models with the white dial had a slight defect, which caused the white to gradually fade to a cream colour. While this was considered a problem at the time, models with this faded cream dial now attract high prices at auction.

That particular model number remained in production for just four years, before making way for the Reference 16570 in 1988. Again, the movement was updated, this time to the calibre 3185, while the main alteration to the aesthetics was the addition of black hour marker rings on the white dial version.

Despite the changes, the Reference 16570 was not an especially popular model and sales were not as high as many other timepieces in the Rolex catalogue. Throughout the following years, however, there became an increased demand for vintage Explorer II models, suggesting that a demand for the collection still remained.


New Rolex Explorer II Models

In 2001, Rolex introduced a new Explorer II model, Reference 114270, bringing the collection into the 21st century. The most notable feature of this release was the switch to a calibre 3130 movement. Ten years later, the manufacturer unveiled a more significant update to the collection in the shape of the Reference 216570.

Embracing modern design trends, the Explorer II Reference 216570 benefited from an increased 42mm case diameter and was powered by the calibre 3187, complete with a Parachrom hairspring.

Visually, the model retains many vintage Explorer II elements, although the orange 24-hour hand, a clear nod to the original Explorer II, is now larger in size and bolder as a consequence. Other improvements include improved luminosity, further improving legibility, and a new Oyster bracelet with Easy-Link system.

At present, the Reference 216570 remains the most recent release in the Explorer II collection and it has attracted admiration from collectors, professionals and more casual buyers alike. As with all Explorer II models since the second generation Reference 16550, it is available with a choice of either a black or white dial face.

Rolex Explorer I Model History

Originally released in 1953, the Rolex Explorer built upon the success of previously existing Oyster models and was designed to meet the needs of mountain climbers, explorers and other adventurers. Indeed, the watch is recognised as being one of the first to reach the summit of Mount Everest, making it synonymous with extreme climbs.

With that being said, thanks to its sporty appearance and distinctive 3-6-9 Arabic dial, the Explorer has also attracted the admiration of serious luxury watch collectors and more casual Rolex customers alike over the years. In this post, we more closely examine the history of the Rolex Explorer, starting with the first ever model.


The First Rolex Explorer I

Since the 1930s, many explorers had been relying on the Rolex Oyster Perpetual Chronometer to assist them during expeditions up some of the world's highest mountains. In 1953, Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay became the first people to reach the summit of Everest and did so wearing a Reference 6350.

Later that year, the Reference 6350's dial was updated to include the word 'Explorer' and the collection was born, paying tribute to Hillary and Norgay's accomplishment in the process. The model was defined by its 34mm steel case, as well as a new Twinlock winding crown and Arabic dial markers on the 3, 6 and 9 o'clock positions.

In terms of features, the first Rolex Explorer was able to perform at temperatures as low as -20? and offered water resistance for up to 50 metres. Additionally, its dial was highly legible, making it useful in just about all conditions. After around a year, this model became the Reference 6150, with an increased case size of 36mm.

Before the end of the decade, in 1959, the Reference 6150 was replaced by the 6610. As far as the aesthetics were concerned, this model looked similar to its predecessor, although it did have a flatter back. More importantly, however, this model saw an improvement to the movement with the introduction of the calibre 1310.


Explorer I Watch Innovation Evolution

Around four years later, in 1963, Rolex introduced the next model in the collection's history, the Reference 1016. This model would go on to have an exceptionally long production cycle, with new timepieces being created all the way up to 1989. As a result, it became by far the best-selling Explorer model up until that point.

Visually, there were very few changes to the preceding Reference 6610 in the early days, although later on in its life cycle, the Oyster bracelet received solid links and the luminous radium accents were replaced with tritium.

Yet, the main improvements were related to the performance of the watch, which included a new movement in the form of the calibre 1560 and increased water resistance of up to 100 metres. During the 1970s, the movement was improved with the calibre 1570, and a hacking feature was added, allowing for more precise time setting.


New Rolex Explorer I Models

After more than 25 years, Rolex replaced the Reference 1016 with a new model, officially known as Reference 14270. This model is often credited with taking the Explorer collection into the modern era, although its changes were not universally popular among watch enthusiasts, who liked the classic, sporty style of previous models.

Nevertheless, Reference 14270 introduced a sapphire crystal, offering far superior protection against scratches, as well as a lacquered dial, which replaced the matte dial utilised on its predecessor. Applied indexes replaced the printed dial markers and the movement was now the more up-to-date calibre 3000.

The most recent update to the Explorer collection was unveiled in 2010, with the launch of the Reference 214270. This model brought about what may well be the most significant change to the collection in many decades, as the dial size was increased to 39mm, in order to keep up with the modern trend for larger watches.

Powered by the calibre 3132, the Reference 214270 also saw a move to white gold dial numerals, which lost their luminous quality as a result. Another design change saw a repositioning of the word 'Explorer' to above the 6 o'clock mark. In 2016, the model was updated to re-introduce luminous numerals and adjust the proportions of the hands.