The Explorer is Rolex's easy-to-read minimalist watch. It features a stainless steel case, black dial, and three hands - you don't need anything more for a simple, robust outdoor watch.
- Plain aesthetics
- Medium-sized: 39 mm diameter
- In-house caliber
- Chromalight luminescent material
- Waterproof to 100 m (10 bar)
A Reliable Companion on Mount Everest
The Explorer got its name after Sir Edmund Hillary
and Tenzing Norgay
were the first to conquer Mount Everest
. The watch has belonged to the Rolex
portfolio since 1953 and was born out of the Oyster Perpetual Chronometer, which had been used by climbers for scaling high peaks since the 1930s.
The members of the first Himalayan expeditions appreciated the robustness and precision of Rolex timepieces. Both the climbers and their watches had to brave icy winds and extreme temperatures as low as -50°C (-58°F). Hillary and Norgay were members of the 1953 British expedition to Mount Everest led by Colonel John Hunt. Rolex equipped the team with their watches, and Norgay supposedly wore a precursor to the Rolex Explorer when he reached the highest point on Earth. The "Explorer" inscription on the dial only appears on versions which were produced a few months after the expedition. The models from this period have reference number 6350 and are worth five-figures.
Buying Advice for the Rolex Explorer
If you're looking for a subtle Rolex that's not necessarily recognizable as such at first glance, then the Explorer is for you. Models with reference numbers 6610, 1016, 14270, and 114270 are suitable for thinner wrists, as their diameter is only 36 mm.
The newer version 214270 is medium-sized at 39 mm in diameter. Therefore, the Explorer is somewhat of an understated Rolex. It's a sporty watch that has proven its dependability during expeditions in harsh conditions. It's not just a sports watch though, as you can't deny it has a certain elegance; it would go just as well with a nice suit.
The older 36-mm Explorers cost around 3,000 - 4,000 euros, depending on their condition. Collector's versions from the 1960s are much more expensive and cost more than a new Explorer, which runs around 6,000 euros.
There aren't many alternatives
to the Explorer from other brands if you're using strict criteria. The closest is the 40-mm Grand Seiko
. It has a similar simple design
, is easy to read, waterproof to 100 m (10 bar), and has a comparable price.
- Vintage watches starting around 3,000 euros
- New watches starting around 5,000 euros
- Collector's pieces worth over 10,000 euros
- Pre-2010: 36-mm diameter case (reference number 1016)
- Since 2010: 39-mm diameter case
Twinlock Crown and Easy-to-Read Seconds
The Explorer's design benefited from the watch's first-hand experiences in the mountains. It was equipped with a fully stainless steel bracelet and the characteristic Rolex Twinlock crown. Some versions of the 6350 models already had the distinctive hour hand with a large circle towards the tip. Rolex still uses this design in countless models. The luminescent circle is divided into three parts to ensure readability when the minute hand overlaps the hour hand, and to provide a secure frame for the lume. Rolex hasn't confirmed the meaning behind the design, but the hands are referred to as Mercedes hands, as they resemble the car company's three-point star logo.
One characteristic mark of the early Explorer that remains the same to this day is the large Arabic numerals at three, six, and nine. The rest of the hour markers are line indices, except for the down-facing triangle at 12 o'clock.
The bright white of the indices and numerals makes for a stark contrast against the black dial. It's easy to tell the time right away with one look at the dial. The hands, numerals, and indices contain the luminous material Chromalight, making it possible to read the watch easily even in the dark. Rolex is unique in their use of Chromalight, which glows blue, as most manufacturers use Superluminova, which glows green. Rolex used tritium until the late 1990s, and Superluminova from 2000 to 2008, when they replaced it with Chromalight.
The Authentic James Bond Watch
The Explorer has only undergone a few changes over the years. A notable change occurred in 2010, when the case size was increased from 36 to 39 mm. The case is made of 904L stainless steel, a type which has proven itself as especially scratch and corrosion resistant. Water can't do much damage to the watch either, thanks to its screw-down case back and Twinlock crown with a double waterproofness system. The Twinlock crown can be found on all Oyster collection models. Thanks to it, you can take the watch swimming and snorkeling, as it's waterproof to 100 m (10 bar).
In 1989, Rolex modified the dial, shape of the case, and indices. These watches, with reference number 14270, still have the smaller case size of 36 mm. The indices are made of 18-karat white gold to prevent tarnishing. Before this change, the Swiss manufacturer had produced the Explorer with reference number 1016 for a quarter century. If you're searching for a vintage Explorer, a 1016 model is a good choice, as there's a large selection available at moderate prices.
Furthermore, this Explorer is the most authentic James Bond watch
of all: Bond author Ian Fleming owned an Explorer
with reference number 1016
. And while his hero has worn various brands in films, from Rolex to Seiko
, he's always worn an Explorer in the novels. In the 1963 novel On Her Majesty's Secret Service
, Fleming describes how Bond reads the large, luminescent dial numbers on a black watch from the Oyster Perpetual family
. The description fits Fleming's Explorer perfectly.
The predecessor to the 1016, the Explorer with reference number 6610 from the late 1950s, is even rarer. Therefore, it usually sells in the five-figure range.
- Precise: runs -2/+2 seconds a day
- Certified by the Official Swiss Chronometer Testing Institute (COSC)
- Twinlock crown protects against water and dust
- Non-magnetic Parachrom hairspring (newer models)
Special, Non-Magnetic Hairspring
The new Rolex Explorers produced after 2010 bear reference number 214270. They're easy to spot due to their larger cases, which house the in-house caliber 3132
. According to Rolex, the movement deviates from the reference time by a maximum of two seconds a day
. It easily fulfilled the requirements set forth by the Official Swiss Chronometer Testing Institute (COSC) and received the official COSC certificate
. The movement's balance spring is made of Parachrom
, a special alloy, which is unaffected by magnetic fields
. The Milgauss
from Rolex offers even more protection against magnetic fields, as its movement is protected by a shield made of ferromagnetic alloys. The designs of the Milgauss and the Explorer resemble each other
, but the Milgauss is also available with a white or blue dial. Additionally, the Milgauss is slightly larger with a case diameter of 40 mm.
The Paraflex shock protection system, developed by Rolex, protects the 3132 caliber against shocks. The automatic movement ticks away at 28,800 alternations per hour and has a 48-hour power reserve.