History of the Rolex Explorer

The First Explorer

Rolex Mens Explorer Stainless Steel 6610

Rolex produced prototypes in 1952 before the Explorer was widely available. These were the Bubbleback models 6098 and 6150. Originally, they had white dials and leaf shaped hands. Upon the release of the Explorer, the references were 6298 and 6350 displaying the now famous Arabic numbers at 3,6 and 9.  Rolex Explorer history shows that it was after the successful Everest expedition when Rolex finally added the word ‘Explorer’ on the 6350 dial. Most of the early 6350 dials are also unusual in the fact that they are “honeycombed” textured and are signed “Officially certified Chronometer”.

They produced reference 6150 until 1959. Subsequently, Rolex replaced this with the 6610, which looked exactly the same, but had a flatter case back due to the new calibre 1030. The dial of the 6610 is signed ‘Chronometer’.

The Explorer II

Rolex introduced a new Explorer II in 1985, the 16550. These changes included the sapphire crystal, a caliber 3085 movement with a double bridge, and a white dial in addition to the black dial model. The shape of the hands changed drastically as well, especially the 24 hour indicator which changed from a small red-orange arrow shaped hand to a long and sleek designed red 24 hour hand with a white arrow at the end.

This model, in combination with its white dial, had some issues with the paint. The hue went from a white to a creamy color. The black models encountered problems as well, showing cracks in the gloss finish. Some owners thought this was a major problem.  They, therefore, had this faulty dial replaced by a Rolex Service Center. Those who did not replace these dials are now proud owners of the highly sought after cream-dial Explorers. Or, in the case of the black dial models, spider dial Explorers.

Rolex Explorer II 16550

They introduced the new reference 16570 in 1989. However, they occasionally refer to the previous reference 16550 as a transitional model. For Rolex in particular, 4-5 years is a very short production time for watches.

Through Evolution

The next iteration of Rolex Explorer history shows that the 1016 had the longest running production period from 1963 till 1989 and was available with the 1560 or the 1570 calibres. Rolex upgraded the bracelet from folded steel links to solid steel, which added to the feel of quality.

The new Explorer bearing the model designation 14270, sported a new case, dial, movement, and crystal glass. The hands and the name are the only thing carried over from the 1016. Under this new crystal, the dial featured white gold skeleton markers with luminous tritium fillings: these replaced the previously painted markers. Under the dial was the very latest calibre 3000. These modifications brought the Explorer in line with all the other Rolex models of the time.  Because the cosmetics of the new watch differed so much from that of the old ones, the price in the collectors market for the old one spiraled.

In Fall 2010, Rolex replaced their 14270 classic 36mm with the larger 39mm 214270 which housed a unique Rolex 3132 caliber. All the usual updates to 904L steel parachrom spring are present in this newest edition.


Rolex Explorer Milestones

1952 Prototype Bubblebacks Explorer 6098 and 6150.
1953 Explorer 1 is officially introduced showing the now distinctive Explorer Arabic Dial on the 6350
1959 Reference 6610 replaces the 6150, flatter case back is the big giveaway.
1963 Evolution again sees the ref 1016 take shape with the new calibre 1560 at its heart.
1989 End of an Era as the 1016 comes to an end, 6 months later the new revised Explorer is revealed. Reference 14270 sporting a new case dial movement and sapphire crystal.
2010 A new generation of watches is coming out of Rolex, with the introduction of the use of 904L and also Paraflex in the calibre 3132 fitted to the new 39mm 214270.

Rolex Explorer II Milestones

1971 The not so popular first Explorer II the 1655 released
1985 16550 is introduced including a whole raft of updates, new sapphire crystal, calibre 3085 movement and an additional white dial option to the original black. Original small red-orange hand changed to a long sleek red one.
1989 16570 released this year with the 3185 and later on 3186 calibre. Later editions of the 16570 had the 3186 fitted in conjunction with a ‘Rolex’ rehaut. First use of black outline hour markers.
1991 The Rolex Explorer becomes popular!
2011 Baselworld 2011 sees the end of the 5 digit Rolex Explorer and the ushering in of the new 216570 with the new 3187 powering it all