The Rolex Explorer II sports watch is a bold and modern update to the original Explorer of the 1950s, inspired by the timepiece that accompanied Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay in their first ascent to the top of Mt. Everest.
Making its debut in 1971, the modern Explorer II added the date and an additional arrow-tipped 24-hour orange hand with hour markers on a fixed bezel. This Explorer II Rolex review discusses the finer points of the wristwatch and how it has changed over time.
Choosing a Rolex Explorer II reflects a desire to own a classic timepiece that projects confidence, style, and rugged endurance.
It looks handsome in the boardroom, at a cafe, or exploring the wilderness.
The modern design of the Explorer II increases visibility in extreme conditions.
The original had an easy to read, time-only display and simple design.
The Explorer II watch was larger than the original, and the dial optimized for viewing in dark conditions, allowing the wearer to distinguish day from night in places like the polar regions or inside a cave where the customary cues of night and day are difficult to observe. The luminescent hands and markers at 2.5-minute intervals allow you to read your watch in the dark.
You can distinguish night from day using the 24-hour orange hand.
The original Explorer II model with the arrow-tipped 24-hour orange hand is known as the “Freccione” from the Italian freccia, meaning arrow.
These features were characteristic of reference 1655, making it a classic for the brand.
The Explorer II used the same movement as the GMT-Master, but the fixed bezel prevented showing a second time zone.
Reference 1655 was not favored with good sales during its 14-year run, despite its advanced features.
The next significant advance for the Explorer II was in 1985. The updated movement allowed for independent adjustment of the 24-hour hand for GMT timekeeping.
The 16550 also added the option for both a white dial and black dial (black was the only option on the 1655).
Later editions of the 16550 added black surrounds to the markers and hands for contrast and better visibility against the white dial.
The dial on the 16550 was simplified, replacing the busier 1655 dial.
One characteristic of the 16550-white dial was its tendency to change to a cream color over time due to a flaw in the paint.
This “defect” made the 16550 popular with collectors.
It was a transitional model that evolved to become the Rolex 16570. Changes to the 16550 over time consolidated in reference 16570, introduced in 1989.
These included the white “Polar” dial and the black surrounds on the hands and markers.
Rolex updated the motion to calibre 3185 and 3186 in later editions.
It also supported dual time zone display.
The 16570 model remained in production for 22 years until it was replaced by the current reference 216570. The Explorer II turned 40 in 2011. Rolex introduced reference 216570 to celebrate.
Using the 1655 as inspiration, the 216570 model enlarged the Oyster steel case to 42mm and increased the dial size, hour markers, and hands.
The expanded size allows for larger lume sizes and improved legibility.
As a homage to 1655, Rolex restored the orange 24-hour hand along with the “Explorer II” text on the dial.
The modern 216570 supports dual time display and has a caliber 3187 self-winding mechanism that features a Parachrom hairspring and Paraflex shock absorption.
The movement has a Superlative Chronometer classification, accurate to -2/+2 seconds per day.
Choosing between a new Rolex Explorer II watch and a used one depends on several factors, not the least of which is personal preference. Acquiring a used or vintage Rolex requires you to spend hours researching, vetting sellers, and selecting from prospective Rolex watches you see. What you get from a used or vintage Rolex that a new one doesn’t have is that aura of history. A vintage watch has witnessed times and places you could never know, and something is inspiring about that.
On the other hand, fraud is rampant in the used Rolex market, so finding a seller you trust takes some time and investigation. Anyone proclaiming to have an “exclusive” model may not be altogether trustworthy since most Rolex models—the Explorer II included—are not really exclusive at all. Even vintage editions. Also, while aesthetics may be a significant driver in your purchasing decision, ensuring the watch is mechanically sound upfront can save on unexpected repair costs later.
While some collectors may not have a favorable opinion, buying a new Rolex has its advantages. You’re buying the latest technology and design, including the 3187 movement and the 42mm Oystersteel case. All incremental updates to the Explorer II since the 216570 are available when you purchase new.
Ultimately, whichever way you decide, purchasing a Rolex watch is an investment that will retain most of its value—if not increase in value, especially over time. There are advantages from a purely investment point of view to owning a used Rolex, but it can be a significant investment. New watches often have a lower entry point. If upfront price is a factor, then reference 16570 or reference 216570 may be an excellent place to start.