Posted by JP From Finland on March 29, 2020
Rolex Explorer II was originally designed specifically for cave exploring. It has a date function, a stationary bezel with 24-markings, a 100 meters depth rating, and a large, brightly colored 24-hour hand. The idea behind these features was to provide a watch for speleologists, who Rolex claimed, “soon lose all notion of time: morning, afternoon, day, or night.”
The following paragraph is directly from WatchWiki:
“The initial Explorer II, Ref. 1655, was produced from 1971 to 1984. It featured a Cal. 1575 GMT, like the similar Rolex GMT-Master, and a 39 mm case. The orange-tipped 24-hour hand is the signature feature; although later models had a red hand, these too faded to orange over time. This model is also sometimes called the “Freccione” (“Arrow” in Italian) or “Steve McQueen”, even though there is no evidence that the actor wore this model”.
After the 1655 there was a transitional model 16550. This model already had an independent hour hand to track a second timezone. Rolex only produced the 16550 from 1985 to 1989 and it was followed by the model in this review, 16570 (which was produced up until 2011 when it was replaced by the 216570 with the maxi case.
I doubt anyone is buying the Explorer II for cave-dwelling purposes today. In many ways, these “tool watch” features sound a bit pretentious.
I briefly owned a Rolex Explorer II 16570 back in 2007 but I sold it because it felt a bit small on the wrist and I needed the money to purchase a two-tone Submariner 16613 “Bluesy”. That was a trade I later regretted and now – just recently – I acquired this classic watch again.
You can read more about my general thoughts about the “Bluesy” and the other 5-digit models here:
I was actually in two minds between the new 216570, which I consider the nicest 6-digit Rolex design (because I actually like the increased size) but at the end of the day, I decided to play it safe. I prefer the old design so much more and I’m not too keen on the new, large orange 24h hand, either.
The biggest draw on the “polar” version for me has always been the strong contrast between the pure, white dial, the bright red 24h-hand, and black marker surroundings. The dial is a beauty. There is nothing wrong with the black version, either. It’s a beautiful watch but if you already own a GMT Master II (or other black dial Rolex watches) white offers more variation.
Some people have complained about the small twin lock crown, but I never found it difficult to use.
The pre-owned prices start as low as from 4K. That makes it a great addition to anyone’s Rolex collection. Explorer II 16570 is functionally just a 16710 GMT Master II without rotating bezel – for a fraction of the GMT price. 16570 is still (relatively) affordable.
The smaller size (or smaller wrist presence due to smooth bezel) is probably the main reason why it’s cheaper as the contemporary designs have all been towards bigger and bigger watches. On paper, Explorer II has the same 40mm diameter as Submariner and the GMT Master, but in reality, it wears quite a lot smaller.
Here you can see how it compares to my 16610 Submariner. Edged bezel and the triplock crown increase the wrist presence of the Sub tremendously. It’s actually surprising how dramatic the difference is.
The movement inside the 16570 is the 3185 (or later 3186) movement as in the GMT Master II 16710. It’s a well known solid performer and a “workhorse”.
Explorer II is virtually a GMT watch. When you leave home and start travelling, set the time from the red GMT hand pointer to match your home time on the 24-hour bezel, and it’s accurate, corresponding hour marker. And when you travel through different time zones, simply pull the crown to position two and roll the hour hand forward or backward as the time zones change. All this is done without having to stop the movement or reset the home time.
The downside of this movement is that it doesn’t have a standard quick-set date adjustment. The local hour hand has to go through a full 24-hour cycle to change the date. I find this to be a slight annoyance, although it’s still much faster than a traditional non-quickset movement, as the hand jumps six hours for every turn of the crown (or 8 h/turn in the 3186), and the date can be adjusted either forward or backward.
The old, hollow-link Oyster bracelets and their sheet metal clasps have been subject to criticism — often by those who haven’t actually worn them — as long as I can remember. The 16710 and 16570 use the shorter Oysterlock clasp without Submariner’s diving extension, which makes it slimmer and somewhat lighter.
Personally, I like the old Rolex Oyster bracelets, and while I admit they don’t suit modern sensibilities for what’s expected on an expensive watch, they’re strong, serve their purpose well, and are extremely comfortable to wear. They also have a certain silky, smooth feeling that none of the “homage” watches has managed to capture.
For me, the classic Polar Explorer II is a collector’s item. I never buy watches as “investments” but as stated previously how it’s a relative bargain among Rolex sports models. Just keep in mind how overlooked the initial “Steve McQueen orange hand”-model originally was.
Most of us Rolex collectors are banging our heads against the wall in frustration because we didn’t buy the 4-digits when the prices were still reasonable. I’m sure the same will be said about the 5-digits in 10 years.
So… if people are outraged by the price of your Rolex watch you can always tell them that buying these is like putting money into the bank (but with the interest).
Personally, I’m really glad I have the white 16570 in my collection again. Selling it was a mistake that won’t happen again.
Thank you to JP from Finland for the original article. You can find it here.
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