HANDS ON: Is the Rolex Explorer II enough of a value proposition to be the Crown’s ultimate tool watch?Thor Svaboe
You’ll notice I wrote “tool watch” in the headline and will undoubtedly be challenged on this on two counts, so I’ll address them before the temperature rises. Because the Rolex Professional range does indeed consist of archetypal tool watches, no matter their value and luxurious status. We all know the other two greats, but both the Submariner and Sea-Dweller’s impressive tool-stats are often forgotten due to the brand’s high-end standing. The fact that they also fit very well under a suit jacket doesn’t help, but they are still rugged tool watches at heart, believe me.
The Explorer II on the other hand, is refreshingly simple and a tad more casual. With it’s brushed case and no nonsense steel bezel, it’s unashamed of its purpose, and that is one of Exploration. If you don’t know Rolex that well you might be a little surprised by its no-nonsense austere look, detailed instrument-like dial, and very un-premium white tool hand set. And, of course, my favourite detail, that massive orange arrow the size of a racket.
What’s behind that gigantic GMT arrow? It’s there because the original Explorer II, released in 1971, was aimed specifically for speleologists or cave divers, so maybe it should have been named the Subterranean. A quiet yet tough companion with that innate Rolex quality only with less of the bling – let’s see if we fall for its understated charm.
First Impressions of the ref.216570 Explorer II
First things first, this is nothing but a Rolex on the wrist. The white dial here is intensely legible while balanced in size to what many people consider is the perfect medium case diameter of 42mm across. As befits the Crown, the Oyster bracelet feels unfeasibly silky for a solid steel bracelet, while the ergonomics are, well, superb – trying to find faults will make you lose many fruitless hours in your pursuit. Unless you have a very slim wrist, the fresh Explorer II will feel at home on the wrist with disconcerting speed.
While any Explorer II is a study in evolution and the sum of many parts so honed that you’ll have trouble to single out one, there’s a lot to say about the much copied dial. There’s something about the perfect whiteness of the dial surface, which, with its chunky indices framed in black works so well with the black Mercedes hands. It might all have been a bit too perfect and monochrome had it not been for the simple yet genial move of colouring the EXPLORER II lettering and GMT hand in that bright orange. The details are as intricate as the juxtaposition to the black and white is sharp.
The Explorer II will most likely be found on page 1 of the ABC of legibility such is its balance, while the sunray-brushed steel bezel is an unapologetic part of a tool and also grabs my attention. The final Rolex touch is the classic cyclops in the crystal, an idiosyncratic and slightly unnecessary detail that we wouldn’t want to omit. Keep it on at night and the blue Chromalight lume will light up like a lantern, completing the look of the unique maxi-dial. The quick hour adjust works like a charm and the date can be advanced forward using this feature.
Case and Bracelet
The Oyster bracelet is not the most groundbreaking design, but like the chunky case is a perfect blend of solidity and near perfect comfort – you’ll be hard pressed to make it exhibit even the slightest amount of flex over time. Thankfully for what is not a small watch, the bracelet ergonomically tapers from 21mm at the lug to a svelte 17mm at the clasp. The Oyster lock is as solid a clicking feature as you’ll encounter, easily making it some kind of meditative tool as you open-close-open-close to calm down after that stressful meeting (or during the meeting, chanting silently should you wish). The 5mm leeway with the quick Easylink makes adjustments on a hot day a doozy and, well, let’s just name it one of the top three steel bracelets of all time.
The same goes for the case, and while I’d personally love it to be 38-40mm and slimmer, it befits its purpose, and is as annoyingly perfect as the bracelet. You know when your child finally puts on that warm coat after you’ve told her off for not wearing it and then enjoys the warmth? That’s the same feeling I get here realising that I don’t mind 42mm of perfection, in fact it’s just right, from the chunky lugs to the familiar smooth crown guards. No detail here is left to chance.
The Explorer II is part of many a speculative article these days, including our own here, because we do think it will be changed in 2021, but for what? Guesses range from a gold-cased edition to ceramic black bezels, but for now this particular model is pleasantly understated and up for the job. The movement might be slightly long in the tooth, but the 3187 caliber remains as accurate as its chronometer specs. Meanwhile the Paraflex system makes it resistant to shocks and underlines its tool-watch credentials.
Claim: The Explorer II is the perfect entry to the Rolex Professional range.
Well, I’ll be honest, I’ve had a vintage Rolex that I probably shouldn’t have sold, and this is good enough to make me reconsider entering the hallowed halls of the Crown again. It is hard to ignore the superb value the brushed, fresh look of the Explorer II brings to its wrist-game. I might be torn between this and the black reference, as I usually prefer darker dials, but this polar white seriously pops with the orange touch, and is seriously tempting indeed.
It will definitely keep you happy in the knowledge that you have Evolution made metal present on your wrist, and while changes to the line-up might come this spring, this watch is a lot more than the sum of its parts, while also being the lesser seen Rolex, and all the better for it. For me, the ultimate non-diver Rolex is probably the vintage 1655 Explorer II also known as the Freccione (big arrow in Italian), in its slim 39mm case. But left with rare vintage frailty at close to three times the cost of an Explorer II, I wouldn’t hesitate to snap up a 42mm polar white tool watch. Try it on and you might be sold.
Rolex Explorer II pricing & availability:
The Rolex Explorer II is available for inquires at authorised dealers worldwide. Alternatively, Bob’s Watches has you got you covered with one of the world’s biggest selections of new, used and pre-owned Rolex watches. Check out their range here.
This story is part of a partnership with Bob’s Watches. However, the opinions expressed in this article are our own in accordance with our Editorial Policy.