The original Explorer I was designed with adventure in mind and was sent up Mount Everest on the wrists of Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay. It lived to tell the tale but soon Rolex reinvented it entirely, fitting it with a fixed 24-hour bezel and a third hand, which unlike the GMT-Master was designed to give a 24-hour time reading not a second time zone. The new idea is that it would be useful to those spending long hours in the dark and its target market was now speleologists, aka cave scientists. Believe it or not it didn’t sell as widely as other models designed for pursuits such as scuba diving (Submariner) or motor racing (Daytona). Yet the Explorer II lives on and it has its fans, its very rarity now a key part of its appeal.
We were interested to see how Owen, a bona fide Rolex fan, would get on with it, seeing as he’s dead set on getting a Rolex next (he’s currently a Tudor Submariner wearer) and he has cultivated opinions on the different models yet never seems to mention the Explorers. So we gave him a recent model (the one before the latest—closer to his price range!) and sent him away with it for a week. Here’s what he thought…
What did you initially like about the Explorer II?
I liked the brilliant white dial and found it a welcome change to my usual Submariner. I also love the brushed steel bezel as it gives the watch a utilitarian look. The black hands and outlined hour markers look great against the white of the dial too.
Was there anything about it you weren't too keen on?
I’m an admirer of the majority of the Rolex sports models, but the Explorer II had, until this week, been one I’d not paid much attention to in all honesty. I tended to lean towards the Submariners and GMT-Masters, so I was interested to see if wearing an Explorer II for a week would change my opinion on it. I also wanted to wear the white dial version as I’m used to wearing black-dialled watches day to day.
How did it feel on the wrist?
Very comfortable. The 40 mm Oyster case is the perfect size for me and looks good with anything from casual jeans and t-shirt to a more formal suit and tie. I decided to wear the watch on my own leather strap for the majority of the week, but the Oyster bracelet, which comes with all of the sports models, is probably the most comfortable I’ve ever worn. It’s made incredibly well and allows me to forget that I’m even wearing the watch. The lume is also fantastic, glowing a bright blue/green in low light for well over half an hour.
It’s worth noting that the newer reference 215670 is 2 mm larger on the case, which I found a little too large for my tastes. I think for those with smaller wrists, the 16570 is the better choice.
Did your opinion change over the course of the week?
It did, yes. Initially I thought the Explorer II was a little dull and I didn’t really see why it existed alongside the GMT-Master II. After wearing it for a week however, I’ve certainly come around to its charm. The minimalistic design is to the point and it’s not trying to be something it isn’t. I’m thinking of purchasing a Rolex to add to my collection next year and as a result of this test, the Explorer II has gone straight to the top of the pile!
Who would you recommend this watch for?
Anyone who appreciates a well-made watch with a simple yet strong design.
Finally, rating out of 10?
For more information visit our dedicated pre-owned and vintage Rolex watches page.