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History of the Rolex Explorer and Explorer II

Like many Rolex watches, certain models are inextricably linked with adventures and personal stories, the Explorer and Explorer II are no different.

Explorer: It was introduced in 1953, and has had one look through-out its life; a black dial with Arabic numbers at 3′, 6′ and 9′, no date, smooth bezel, Lumiscent triangular marker at the 12 o’clock and the Arabic numbers were also lumiscent. Oyster bracelet, and a stainless steel 36mm case. Except for the updates that all Rolex watches have received, it remained essentially the same watch

In 1952 before the Explorer was widely available there were prototypes produced, the Bubbleback models 6098 and 6150. Originally with 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. Only after the successful Everest expedition was the word ‘Explorer’ applied on the dial of the 6350. Most of the early 6350 dials are also unusual in the fact that they are “honeycombed” textured and are signed “Officially certified Chronometer”.

Produced till 1959 the 6150 was then replaced by the 6610 which looks exactly the same but has a flatter case back, due to the new calibre 1030. The dial of the 6610 is signed ‘Chronometer’.

The next iteration of the Rolex Explorer, the 1016 was the longest running production from 1963 till 1989 and available with the 1560 or the 1570 calibres. The bracelet was upgraded 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 and because the cosmetics of the new watch differed so much from that of the old one the price in the collectors market for the old one spiralled.

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

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 caeback 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.

Explorer II: This model was introduced in the early 1971 and was never widely distributed or popular until 1991. The original model was produced until the next generation model was released in 1985. The engraved steel bezel is stationary and was originally designed for speleologists (cave explorers) who can have a hard time determining if it is am or pm. The movement inside the Explorer II was identical to the movement used in the GMT-Master models, also featuring a 24 hour hand. Caliber 1570 and 1575 movements were used for the entire line-up of 1655 Explorer II watches.

1985 saw Rolex introduce a new Explorer II the 16550. 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 and therefore had this faulty dial replaced by a Rolex Service Center. Those who did not are now proud owners of the so-called and highly sought after cream-dial Explorers or – in case of the black dial models – spider dial Explorers.

The reference 16550 is also occasionally referred to as a transitional model, as the new reference 16570 was introduced in 1989. For Rolex in particular, 4-5 years is a very short production time for watches.

The Explorer II reference 16570, featured a newer type of movement the caliber 3185 and later the 3186. It also only had one obvious visual change from its predecessor, the use of black hour marker rings and hands on the white dial version. The cream-dial model had white gold hour markers and hands, just like the Submariner and GMT-Master for example. It is said that beneath the black paint, the hour markers and hands are still white gold.

The 40mm 16570 was replaced by a new 42mm version with an orange hour hand (216570), which was introduced at BaselWorld in March 2011, and released to the public later that fall. This time equipped with the new 3187 calibre.

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 conjuction 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

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