Rolex Explorer II: The Lucrative Tool Watch
The Rolex Explorer II is a practical watch with an additional 24-hour display. This timepiece attracts attention with its orange hand for the second time zone. Collectors and investors are turning to the Explorer II as a profitable investment.
A Tool Watch With a 24-Hour Display
Rolex first introduced the Explorer II in 1971. This timepiece belongs to the same family as the Explorer, which debuted in 1953; however, it is easy to tell the two models apart. The Explorer II stands out thanks to its stationary 24-hour bezel and additional orange hand with a large arrow tip. Rolex chose these components to make it easier to tell day from night in early versions. Since an update in the 1980s, the Explorer II has been able to display the time in two time zones simultaneously. Today, the Explorer II is a great alternative to the Rolex GMT-Master II.
The Explorer II's Oyster case comes in stainless steel and is water-resistant to 100 m (10 bar, 328 ft) thanks to its Twinlock crown. As of 2011, this timepiece is 42 mm in diameter. There are also older variants available with 39 or 40-mm cases.
Each Explorer II model gets its power from an in-house, chronometer-certified caliber with a 24-hour display and date window at 3 o'clock.
Over the past few years, the Rolex Explorer II has secured its place as a worthwhile investment, bumping shoulders with the likes of the Submariner and GMT-Master. As a result, virtually all models have spiked in value. Top performers include the vintage ref. 1655, which all but doubled in value between 2018 and 2022. The neo-vintage ref. 16570 and its modern 42-mm versions saw similar levels of appreciation.
5 Reasons to Buy a Rolex Explorer II
- Additional 24-hour display
- Second time zone display
- COSC-certified in-house calibers
- Water-resistant to 100 m (10 bar, 328 ft), stainless steel Oyster case
- Excellent financial performance
Prices at a Glance: Rolex Explorer II
|Reference number||Price (approx.)||Size, caliber, dial|
|1655||34,000 USD||39 mm, 1575, black|
|16550||19,000 USD||40 mm, 3085, white|
|16570||15,500 USD||40 mm, 3185 or 3186, white|
|226570||15,000 USD||42 mm, 3285, white|
|16570||14,500 USD||40 mm, 3185 or 3186, black|
|216570||14,500 USD||42 mm, 3187, white|
|16550||14,500 USD||40 mm, 3085, black|
|226570||14,500 USD||42 mm, 3285, black|
|216570||13,500 USD||42 mm, 3187, black|
How much does a Rolex Explorer II cost?
As of mid-2022, the most affordable investment in the Rolex Explorer II is around 13,500 USD. This will get you the ref. 216570 with a black dial. The watch's predecessor, the ref. 226570, will cost you around 1,000 USD more. The neo-vintage ref. 16570 has performed brilliantly in recent years and models with a black dial in mint condition typically cost around 14,500 USD at the time of writing. Pre-owned timepieces are much easier to find and are significantly less expensive at around 9,500 USD.
The vintage model under reference number 1655 is especially coveted, so you will need to invest over 31,500 USD to add one of these timepieces in good condition to your collection.
About the Explorer II
Since its premiere in 1971, the Explorer II has only received five updates. The original ref. 1655 sets itself apart from later models mainly in its dial and bezel design. It has stamped line indices on the dial, and the bezel's numerals are markedly thinner than those found on subsequent models. This watch also features narrow baton hands instead of the Mercedes hands that are so common today.
Inside the 39-mm stainless steel case, you'll find the caliber 1575. Another aspect unique to the ref. 1655 is that it was only manufactured with a black dial. The indices and hands on this model primarily rely on radium-based luminous material.
The Explorer II ref. 1655 is listed on Chrono24 for around 31,500 USD pre-owned (as of mid-2022). Prices for timepieces in particularly good condition or that come with original accessories can even exceed 52,500 USD. All in all, this reference is performing strongly.
Explorer II Ref. 16550: The New Design
The next Explorer II followed in 1985 under the reference number 16550 and brought with it numerous significant changes. The dial of this model bears a stronger resemblance to the GMT-Master. For example, the original's stamped line indices gave way to round hour markers in white gold, which are filled with a tritium-based luminous material. Sapphire crystal, Mercedes hands, and a red 24-hour hand with a thinner arrow tip were also new to this now 40-mm timepiece. The caliber 3085 ticks away in both Explorer II and GMT-Master watches from this time period, meaning both watches can display the time in a second time zone. Furthermore, it was the first Explorer II to come with the option of a black or white dial.
The price trend on Chrono24 reveals that the value of this watch has been rising significantly since the beginning of 2018, with only minor fluctuations observed. In just over four years, the price of the Explorer II ref. 16550 has risen from around 8,500 USD to 19,000 USD (as of May 2022). This corresponds to an appreciation of almost 124%.
About the Explorer II Ref. 16570
The Explorer II ref. 16570 debuted in 1989 and is nearly identical to its predecessors bar a few cosmetic changes. For example, models with white dials feature indices trimmed in black as well as black hands. The caliber 3185 powered these watches until 2007, after which it was replaced by the 3186. You can recognize later models by their lugs, which were no longer drilled through, and by the Rolex engraving on the dial's edge.
The value of both new and pre-owned models of the Explorer II ref. 16570 have spiked in recent years. While you might have been able to get hold of a new model with a black dial for around 7,500 USD in May 2018, you'll now need to invest almost double that at 14,500 USD. The price for pre-owned pieces also doubled from around 4,500 USD to 9,000 USD. Variants with a white dial tend to cost a bit more due to their popularity.
Explorer II References 216570 & 226570
The Explorer II experienced its biggest update with the introduction of the ref. 216570 in 2011. The stainless steel case of this ref. is 42 mm in diameter and feels significantly heftier. The model was given a maxi dial with enlarged glow-in-the-dark indices filled with Rolex's proprietary Chromalight. This reference also marked a return to the orange, arrow-shaped 24-hour hand found on the original Explorer II ref. 1655.
Its movement also received an overhaul. The caliber 3187 ticks away inside this timepiece and offers a power reserve of 48 hours. This movement features a blue Parachrom hairspring, an innovation made of an anti-magnetic niobium-zirconium alloy, and is thus ten times more resistant to shocks than conventional hairsprings. Rolex also equips this Explorer II with their patented Paraflex shock protection system for added protection against hard jolts and other extreme conditions.
In 2021, Rolex announced another update to the Explorer II collection with the ref. 226570. Visually, the watch is unchanged. Inside the case, however, the caliber 3187 passed the baton to the new 3285. This model boasts a power reserve of 70 hours, a significant improvement from the previous 48 hours.
As expected, the waiting lists for the ref. 226570 are very long. You can expect prices for the current Explorer II with a black dial in mint condition to come in at around 13,500 USD. Demand for the white dial version is slightly higher, and it is thus a bit more expensive at around 15,000 USD. Rolex lists this watch for 8,550 USD.
A Watch for Adventurers
Rolex initially developed the watches in the Explorer collection as tools for researchers and adventurers. The original Explorer II's target audience was spelunkers. Spending long hours in underground labyrinths without any sunlight can cause you to lose a sense of whether it's day or night. Regular watches with conventional 12-hour displays aren't much help in this situation. This can also be a problem in polar regions during the winter months, as the sunless polar night can be disorienting. Rolex solved this problem by adding a fourth hand that completes one full rotation every 24 hours. The wearer can use the additional hand and the bezel's 24-hour scale to determine if it is day or night with a single glance.
The transition to newer calibers saw the Explorer evolve into a full-blown GMT watch. This means you can use its 24-hour hand to display the time in an extra time zone.