WatchWorks Haarlem / Exploring The Explorer II; The Watch Rolex Designed For Cave-Explorers

Exploring The Explorer II; The Watch Rolex Designed For Cave-Explorers

Within the Professional collection, Rolex designed watches with a specific sport and/or profession in mind. In most cases, like with the Submariner or Daytona, what those are is quite apparent. For the Explorer II, this might be different, as not everybody knows that Rolex created this watch, especially for cave explorers. While today it can be used as a GMT watch, this wasn’t the case initially. A signature feature of the Explorer II is the fixed bezel, but as the 24-hour hand couldn’t be individually adjusted when this model was launched in 1971, it served as a reference for people staying below ground for an extended time whether it was day or night.

The coveted first generation of the Explorer II

The first Explorer II was reference 1655, also known as the ‘Steve McQueen.’ This is quite surprising as there is no direct link between the watch and the actor, and he wore other watches far more prominently. This Explorer II stood out because of its bold orange arrow-shaped GMT hand and the box-shaped indices. This is quite different from its successor, reference 16550. This watch introduced the style that is now synonymous with the Explorer II and brought it more in line with the rest of the collection. The case was enlarged from 39mm to 40mm, it was fitted with a sapphire crystal, hand more like the GMT-Master, and a white dial became available next to the black one. As it was now powered by caliber 3085, the GMT hand could be set separately, making it an actual travel watch for those who stay above ground.

Perfect legibility with the Explorer II reference 16570

In 1989, Rolex finetuned the Explorer II a bit with reference 16570, updating the movement and some other details. The next big change came in 2011 with reference 216570. Here Rolex took some design elements of the first Explorer II, mainly the large GMT hand, and mixed it in with more contemporary design features. The case also grew to 42mm, resulting in a bolder watch. In 2021, the Explorer already celebrated its 50th anniversary. In typical Rolex-style, they introduced a new generation of the watch, reference 226570, but don’t expect any significant changes. The movement was updated once again, as was the luminous material on the dial, and the case got a bit thinner. Combined, it fits perfectly in the Rolex philosophy of not changing a winning team too much.