The Rolex Explorer II sports watch is a bold and modern update to the original Explorer of the 1950s, inspired by the timepiece that accompanied Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay in their first ascent to the top of Mt. Everest.
Making its debut in 1971, the Explorer II added the date and an additional orange, arrow-tipped 24-hour hand with hour markers on a fixed bezel.
This Explorer II Rolex review discusses the finer points of the wristwatch and how it has changed over time.
Choosing a Rolex Explorer II reflects a desire to own a classic timepiece that projects confidence, style, and rugged endurance.
It looks handsome in the boardroom, at a cafe, or exploring the wilderness.
The design of the Explorer II increases visibility in extreme conditions.
The original had a time-only display and simple design.
The Explorer II was larger than the original, and the dial optimized for viewing in dark conditions, allowing the wearer to distinguish day from night in places like the polar regions or inside a cave where the customary cues of night and day are difficult to observe.
The luminescent hands and markers at 2.5-minute intervals allow you to read your watch in the dark.
You can distinguish night from day using the 24-hour hand.
The original Explorer II with the arrow-tipped 24-hour hand is known as the “Freccione” from the Italian freccia, meaning arrow.
These features were characteristic of reference 1655, making it a classic for the brand.
The Explorer II used the same movement as the GMT-Master, but the fixed bezel prevented showing a second time zone.
Reference 1655 was not favored with good sales during its 14-year run, despite its advanced features.
The next significant advance for the Explorer II was in 1985.
Reference 16550 added some significant, signature changes to the model:
The updated movement allowed for independent adjustment of the 24-hour hand for GMT timekeeping.
The 16550 also added the option for both a white and black dial (black was the only option on the 1655).
Later editions of the 16550 added black surrounds to the markers and hands for contrast and better visibility against the white dial.
The dial on the 16550 was simplified, replacing the busier 1655 dial.
One characteristic of the 16550-white dial was its tendency to change to a cream color over time due to a flaw in the paint.
This “defect” made the 16550 popular with collectors.
It was a transitional model that evolved to become the Rolex 16570.
Changes to the 16550 over time consolidated in reference 16570, introduced in 1989.
These included the white “Polar” dial and the black surrounds on the hands and markers.
Rolex updated the motion to calibre 3185 and 3186 in later editions.
It also supported dual time zone display.
The 16570 remained in production for 22 years until it was replaced by the current reference 216570.
The Explorer II turned 40 in 2011. Rolex introduced reference 216570 to celebrate.
Using the 1655 as inspiration, the 216570 enlarged the Oyster steel case to 42mm and increased the dial size, markers, and hands.
The expanded size allows for larger lume sizes and improved legibility.
As an homage to the 1655, Rolex restored the 24-hour hand to orange along with the “Explorer II” text on the dial.
The 216570 supports dual time display and has a caliber 3187 self-winding movement that features a Parachrom hairspring and Paraflex shock absorption.
The movement has a Superlative Chronometer classification, accurate to -2/+2 seconds per day.
Let’s look at some of the similarities and differences between the 16570 and 216570.
The 216570 utilizes the Maxi Case, replacing the 16570 40mm case. The Maxi Case is also 40mm but has an enhanced bezel, lugs, and crown guards. Later iterations of the 216750 come with a 42mm case and the caliber 3187 movement.
Rolex introduced the 216570 on the Explorer II’s 40th anniversary. The orange 24-hour hand was initially introduced with the inaugural 1655 and revived for the 216570. The 24-hour hand on the 16570 is thinner and red. Also, the Explorer II text is black on the Polar 16570 and orange like the 24-hour hand on the 216570.
Both the 16570 and 216570 have Oystersteel bracelets. However, the 216570 bracelet is slightly wider to match the expanded lugs. Also, the 216570 was the first to come with the Easylink Comfort Extension, which extends the bracelet up to 5mm. This capability helps when the wearer’s wrist expands or contracts with temperature changes.
The 16570 originally came with the caliber 3185, and then the caliber 3186 later in its life cycle. The caliber 3185 was the first movement allowing independent adjustments for the 24-hour hand, separate from the hour, minute, and second hands.
The caliber 3186 updated internals included the Parachrom hairspring and Paraflex shock absorption, making it resistant to magnetism and providing more shock protection.
The 216570 is outfitted with the caliber 3187 movement, a slightly enlarged version of caliber 3186 to fit the 42mm case.
The Rolex Explorer II is an excellent value for your money. The model has sold well historically for Rolex but has not gained the status or popularity of their other utility watches. This outcome is due in part to the narrow target market and the distinctive aesthetic of the Explorer II. If you’re willing to purchase from the secondary market, there are some great deals to be found, but you may have to do some research. Other steel sports models in the product line can’t make that claim.
As an entry-level Rolex, the Explorer II is among the less costly models, in part due to the Oystersteel construction. Other higher-priced timepieces (Rolex and other brands) use precious metals like gold and platinum. However, the lack of precious metal doesn't detract from the Explorer II’s good looks. The white and the black dial are both distinctive against the Oystersteel case.
Choosing between a new Rolex Explorer II and a used one depends on several factors, not the least of which is personal preference. Acquiring a used or vintage Rolex requires much more of your time researching, vetting sellers, and selecting from prospective watches. What you get from a used or vintage Rolex that a new one doesn’t have is that aura of history. A vintage watch has witnessed times and places you could never know, and something is inspiring about that.
On the other hand, fraud is rampant in the used Rolex market, so finding a seller you trust takes some time and investigation. Anyone proclaiming to have an “exclusive” model may not be altogether trustworthy since most Rolex models—the Explorer II included—are not really exclusive at all. Even vintage editions. Also, while aesthetics may be a significant driver in your purchasing decision, ensuring the watch is mechanically sound upfront can save on unexpected repair costs later.
While some collectors may not have a favorable opinion, buying a new Rolex has its advantages. You’re buying the latest technology and design, including the caliber 3187 movement and the 42mm Oystersteel case. All incremental updates to the Explorer II since the 216570 are available when you purchase new.
Ultimately, whichever way you decide, purchasing a Rolex watch is an investment that will retain most of its value—if not increase in value, especially over time. There are advantages from a purely investment point of view to owning a used Rolex, but it can be a significant investment. New Rolex Explorer II watches often have a lower entry point. If upfront cost is a factor, then reference 16570 or reference 216570 may be an excellent place to start.
Your questions answered:
The Explorer II list price is $8,100, but there are usually cheaper offers available on Amazon. A new Explorer II will have all the latest features (see 216570 above) and includes a manufacturer’s warranty. You will have the comfort and knowledge of knowing you are dealing with an authorized Rolex dealer and retailer, along with the accompanying warranty and post-purchase support.
Prices on the secondary market depend on several factors. Older references typically go for $6,500 to $7,500. Well-preserved vintage references or specimens with rare dials can fetch much higher prices.
Try not to lead with your emotions when looking for a luxury, vintage watch. Make sure you are buying from a reputable seller and double-check the refund policy to make sure you are comfortable with the terms.
Yes. Beginning with reference 16550 in 1985 running the caliber 3085 movement, the Rolex Explorer II became a fully functional GMT timepiece by allowing independent adjustment of the 24-hour hand. Reference 216570 continues to offer a second time zone function.
The Explorer II reference 16550 up through 216570 is 12.5mm thick. The 1655 was 13.5 mm thick.
Yes, the Rolex Explorer II features the classic Oyster case, waterproof to 330 feet (100 meters). The watch is also equipped with Rolex’s trademark twin-lock double-waterproof crown, making it a decent diving watch in shallow depths.
The Rolex Explorer II has a storied place in Rolex brand history. Its numerous changes over the years have made this adventuresome timepiece a classic among horology enthusiasts. Reference 16550 and those following placed the chronometer in the company of Rolex’s other GMT-capable watches. The shock resistance and antimagnetic hairspring of the caliber 3187 movement make the Explorer II a dependable choice in sports watches.
The Explorer II’s classic styling, highly readable dial, date, and second time zone support make it an excellent watch for travel, business, or casual wear. All the finer points, such as the Oystersteel bracelet with the trademark Oysterlock folding clasp and Easylink Comfort Extension, make wearing the Explorer II comfortable under any conditions. The stainless-steel bracelet can be adjusted by removing links, too.
You may not be in the market for a Freccione, but there are plenty of older, even vintage, Explorer II’s on the secondary market. Whether you decide to buy a new Explorer II from an authorized Rolex dealer or pursue a deal on the secondary market, the Explorer II is a worthwhile timepiece investment.
The new models retain most of their original value and have little depreciation, while vintage models—depending on condition and unique attributes like dial color—can fetch many times their original price. Whether you choose to buy new or used an Explorer II depends on your budget and personal tastes. Every Rolex tells a story, and a used or vintage one has more of a story to tell.
The Rolex Explorer II is a great travel, business, and casual wear timepiece. The Explorer II’s classic styling, useful complications, and bold looks are sure to complement your lifestyle. Its value as an investment, like all Rolex watches, depends on several factors but is ordinarily worthwhile for the horology enthusiast.