Tool Watch Time: Rolex Watches for Exploring

For the next chapter in our Tool Watch Time series, we investigate the utilitarian Rolex watch created to answer specific needs. This leads us to take a look at Rolex tool watches for explorers and adventurers. Rolex has focused on the exploration community as far back as the 1950s and continues to do so today. In fact, the brand recently announced the “Rolex Expedition Watch Program” with the ultra-elite Explorer’s Club in New York City where watches will be given to wear during select expeditions. As Rolex continues to support the quest to discover more about the planet we live, let’s find out which of the Rolex tool watches for explorers the Swiss watchmaker has created to accompany adventurous excursions.

Rolex Watch for Exploring #1: The Explorer

Vintage Rolex Explorer from 1953

The aptly named Explorer watch made its debut in 1953. It was inspired by Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay’s historic climb to the summit of Mount Everest. As a tool watch for exploring, Rolex ensured that the Explorer watch could withstand long and arduous missions. Rolex crafted it in stainless steel, made it water resistant, and gave it a legible and luminous dial. As a result, the Explorer offered wearers a straightforward and robust timekeeping instrument that could keep up with even the most adventurous lifestyles.

A signature trait of the Explorer watch is the black dial. This includes large Arabic 3/6/9 numerals alongside baton indexes and Mercedes style hands. We now know this particular dial layout as the Explorer-style dial. Even when we find it on other models, such as the Air-King.

Throughout most of its history, the Explorer included a 36mm case. However, that changed in 2010 when Rolex introduced the newest version of the Explorer with a 39mm case.

Rolex Watch for Exploring #2: The Explorer II

In 1971, Rolex continued the exploration theme by releasing the larger and more complex Explorer II watch. This time, Rolex geared the Explorer II  towards cave explorers and polar explorers. In fact, for anyone who may find themselves in environments where it’s impossible to differentiate between day and night.

Rolex Explorer II from 1971

The early models of the Explorer II included a 39mm case topped with a fixed 24-hour bezel, a date window, and an orange arrow-tipped 24-hour hand on the dial. That extra hand served as an AM/PM indicator by pointing to the hour on the bezel. Later models of the Explorer II had 40mm Oyster cases. These also had an independent 24-hour hand. This meant that it could now track a second time zone rather than just a day/night indicator.

In 2011, Rolex launched the most current version of the Explorer II with a larger 42mm case. Furthermore, there’s the return of the orange 24-hour hand. Rolex, however, replaced this with a red one in the preceding decades.

Rolex Watch for Exploring #3: The Submariner

Beyond mountain peaks, dark caves, and frigid Polar Regions, Rolex gave us dive watches to explore the underwater worlds too. The most famous Rolex dive watch by far is the Submariner, first unveiled in 1953. Made to accompany scuba divers of the era, the Submariner was the first divers’ watch waterproof to 330 feet. Rolex equipped it with its rotating bezel to track immersion times and gave it a luminescent dial. As a result, the Submariner quickly became the go-to tool watch for divers everywhere.

Vintage Rolex Submariner from 1953

Much has happened to the Submariner during the course of its history. Rolex, of course, has improved the watch immensely by boosting water resistance, using higher quality materials, offering models with the date functionality, and tweaking the case and bracelet design. Today’s versions of the Submariner include 40mm Oyster cases. These are waterproof to 1,000 feet and have ceramic dive bezels and precise, reliable automatic movements. Plus, in addition to the classic steel models, there are plenty of more luxurious editions in gold, two-tone gold and steel, and even some with gems. In fact, the Submariner has reached an audience well outside the diving community to become one of the most coveted luxury sports watches to own.

Currently, it seems that most Rolex tool watches for explorers and adventurers are not worn for their tool watch capabilities. They’re worn more for their attractive styles and brand recognition.  However, the story behind the development of the watches and how they came to serve specific communities adds to the significance of these popular timepieces.