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Explorer II: The Nocturnal Rolex

The Explorer II is a reliable outdoor companion anytime, night or day. A 24-hour bezel and an extra hour hand set this robust, stainless steel watch from the Swiss manufacturer Rolex apart.

Highlights

  • Fixed bezel with 24-hour graduations
  • Additional hour hand makes a full rotation once a day
  • Date display
  • Waterproof to 100 m (10 bar)
  • 42-mm stainless steel case

Designed for Exploring Caves

The Explorer II is a member of Rolex's Oyster Perpetual family. The manufacturer designed the watch specifically for a special group of explorers and scientists. When the Explorer II premiered in 1971, it was the perfect tool for spelunkers. Spending long hours in the underground labyrinths without any sunlight causes you to lose sense of whether it's night or day. Is it 10 AM or 10 PM? Regular watches, whose hour hands don't distinguish between AM and PM, aren't much help in this situation. This can be a problem in polar regions during the winter as well, as the sunless polar night can be disorienting.
Therefore, Rolex developed a watch to solve this problem. The Explorer II has an additional orange hour hand which makes a full rotation once a day and works in combination with a fixed 24-hour bezel. The GMT-Master II also features a second hour hand, but it has a rotating bezel in contrast to the Explorer II's fixed bezel. The rotating bezel makes it more appropriate for travel through different time zones. However, because the second hour hand in both models can be set separately, the Explorer II can also display a second time in another time zone.
When used as intended, the Explorer II functions so: At 6 AM, the extra hour hand is at the three o'clock position, pointing to the six on the bezel. At noon, it's at the six o'clock position, which corresponds to 12 on the bezel. At the beginning of the evening at 6 PM, the hand moves to the nine o'clock position, corresponding to 18 on the bezel. Six hours later at midnight, the hour hand reaches the final point of its full rotation: the 12 o'clock position corresponding to 24 on the bezel.

Buying Advice for the Rolex Explorer II

Are you searching for a robust watch from a top Swiss brand to assist you on your travels? The Explorer II offers quality and prestige from the most famous watch brand in the world. Its stainless steel case is 42 mm in diameter and waterproof to 100 m (10 bar). A crown guard protects the double sealed crown from damages, and the dial is available in white or black. Thanks to the watch's Chromalight indices, you can also easily read the time in the dark.
The second hour hand makes one rotation every 24 hours. It's incredibly useful while traveling: Even when you're not at home, you can keep track of the time there.
An unworn Explorer II costs a bit over 7,000 euros. Newer, well-maintained models can be purchased for about half of that, while the prices of vintage models move in the opposite direction, costing over double. Early Explorer II models can cost much more than 10,000 euros, depending on their scarcity value. You should keep an eye out for an older Explorer II model if you find the 42-mm size too large, as earlier models were only 40 mm in diameter. A comparable watch is the Ingenieur Dual Time from IWC.

Buying Tips

  • Price for an unworn Explorer II: 7,000 euros
  • Rarer, sought-after models from the 1970s for over 10,000 euros
  • Vintage Explorer II with reference number 1655, newer Explorer II with reference number 216570

Waterproof Thanks to the Twinlock Crown

When the extra hour hand and 24-hour bezel are not taken into consideration, the Explorer II offers the traditional display: central seconds plus an hour and minute hand. In addition, there's a Cyclops lens over the date display at three o'clock.
Both the case and three-piece link bracelet are made of type 904L stainless steel. This type of steel is regarded as especially corrosion and scratch resistant. The watch is a bit larger than the average medium-sized watch with a diameter of 42 mm, but it still looks good on smaller wrists.
The screw-down Twinlock crown is equipped with two gaskets to protect it against water and dirt. The system and the screw-down case back ensure waterproofness to a depth of 100 m (10 bar). Thus, you can wear your Explorer II while swimming and snorkeling without any problems.

Black or White Dial and a Cyclops Lens

The dial is available in two colors, black or white. The hour indices are available exclusively as symbols instead of numerals. The eight circles, two lines, and the triangle at 12 o'clock are filled with a luminescent material, Chromalight, which emits a blue glow. Even the hands are filled with Chromalight. Other manufacturers usually use Superluminova, which glows green. Rolex previously used Superluminova, but have discontinued their use of it.
Scratch-resistant sapphire glass protects the dial from above. The glass above the date display is domed in order to magnify the numbers. This so-called Cyclops lens is a characteristic sign of other Rolex models, such as the Submariner.

Coveted Faded Hands

In the 1970s, when the Explorer II was still a new addition and bore reference number 1655, a rumor went around that actor Steve McQueen was the owner of such a watch. This was never confirmed; in various photos from this time, you can only see McQueen with a different Rolex model, the Submariner. However, the rumor was enough to propel the Explorer II away from its slow start and turn it into a desired watch. A few watches from the early phase have a recognizable, yet accidental, characteristic. The second 24-hour hand, either once orange or red, has faded significantly over the years, as the material wasn't UV resistant. The Explorer II was, after all, designed with spelunkers in mind. Rolex has since replaced the faded hands, but they've become a characteristic of the vintage models and are not treated as a defect, but rather as a price-raising feature. An early 1655 can cost significantly over 10,000 euros, double the price of a new Explorer II.

Precise, COSC-Certified Automatic Movement

In the newer-generation models with reference number 216570, Rolex uses the caliber 3187. It's an automatic movement beating at 28,800 alternations per hour (4 Hz) with a power reserve of 48 hours. Thus, this is a movement that performs its job very precisely. It deviates from the reference time by only two seconds a day. The caliber is COSC-certified, meaning the Official Swiss Chronometer Testing Institute (COSC) tested the caliber's accuracy and awarded it a certificate confirming its high performance. The 3187 is derived from the 3135, a movement which is used in many different Rolex watches, such as the diving watch Sea Dweller Deepsea.
The 3187 features a blue Parachrom hairspring. Rolex introduced this important balance wheel component in 2005 after a five-year period of development. The hairspring is made of a non-magnetic zirconium-niobium alloy and is ten times less affected by jolts than regular hairsprings. The Explorer II is even more protected, though, as its Paraflex shock protection system shields it from shocks and extreme situations.

Robust Outdoor Watch

The Explorer II is a robust, sporty stainless steel outdoor watch. Thanks to its waterproofness to 100 m and its crown guard, it can withstand harsh conditions unharmed. Unlike its older sibling the Explorer, it has an extra hour hand and a fixed 24-hour bezel. The Explorer, in comparison, is more minimalist in design and a bit smaller. The Explorer II has long outgrown its original role as a watch just for spelunkers: You can set the second hour hand to a second time zone, for example, so you know what time it is at home when you're on vacation. Well-maintained vintage models with reference number 1655 sell for five-figures.

Further Details

  • In-house caliber
  • Certificate from the Official Swiss Chronometer Testing Institute (COSC)
  • Flat three-piece link stainless steel Oyster bracelet
  • Cyclops lens over the date window

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