Proven In Time: Rolex Explorer II


The Explorer II is an iconic watch produced by Rolex. It is a part of the professional series and is only offered in stainless steel; over the years, the Explorer II has become a staple of the Rolex collection.

The current production model of the Explorer II, the reference 216570 with a white dial, is the watch that is being covered by this review. There is also a black dial variant that is, in essence, identical to the white dial variant with only a slight difference to the hands and indices.

A Brief History:

The Rolex Explorer II was first released in 1971 and was designed specifically for spelunking (or cave exploring). The watch featured larger case dimensions than the original Explorer (at 39mm in diameter versus the Explorer’s 36mm) as well as a fixed 24 hour graduated bezel and a 24 hour hand. The reason for this is it allows spelunkers and polar explorers to tell day from night while in perpetually dark caves or light days.

The Explorer II has been in continuous production since its introduction and there have been four distinct variants of the watch. The original Explorer II was the reference 1655 which was produced from 1971 to 1985. Much of the Explorer II’s design language can be derived from this specific watch. This reference introduced the signature 24 hour bezel and orange second time zone hand. The transitional reference 16550 followed and began production in 1985; it featured an increased case diameter of 40mm, a new movement, updated handset/bezel features, and applied markers filled with lume. This was also the first reference to feature a white “polar” dial. The 16550 polar dial Explorer II is unique because the dial developed a rich creamy patina as a result of a paint defect. The 16550 was only produced for four years until it was replaced by the reference 16570 in 1989. There weren’t too many changes in the new 16570 except a few cosmetic changes and new movement. The 16570 remained in production for 22 years and over that time, incremental changes were made such as with the lume materials, minor printing details, interior bezel engraving (to protect against counterfeiting), and a minor update to the movement hair spring and date wheel. In 2011, to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the watch, Rolex released a new Explorer II, the reference 216570. The new watch featured an updated case with a size increase to 42mm in diameter, a new movement (yet again), new lume materials, and a few minor balancing changes to the dial.

The Finer Points:

From a technical perspective, the Explorer II is well spec’d. The movement powering the Explorer II is the in-house exclusive Caliber 3187. The movement is a certified superlative chronometer (COSC + Rolex certification) to +2/-2 seconds per day. It features a modern beat rate of 4 Hz or 28,800 bph (beats per hour). The movement is designed with practicality and robustness in mind. The architecture of the movement is exceptional and it allows for manual winding, quickset local hour/date, adjustable second time zone, and hacking seconds. In daily wear, the refinement of the movement is evident. The winding mechanism of the rotor is extremely smooth and quiet, which is reassuring of the quality of the piece. The movement features 48 hours of power reserve which is solid, but most watches at this level feature movements with superior power reserves. Overall, the movement is very good and a strong point of the watch.

The watch features a 42mm case with a lug to lug distance of just over 50mm. The height is a rather slim 12.5mm and it features a very tall side profile. The lug width of 21mm is unconventional, which limits options for aftermarket straps. The watch wears true to its 42mm diameter as a result of its curved bracelet links. The dial is a white lacquered dial with black printed script and applied markers filled with Chromalight (which is basically SuperLuminova). Sharp orange accents, that really help the dial pop, can be found on the GMT hand and “Explorer II” print.

The case material and bracelet material is 904L stainless steel, which Rolex pioneered in the industry (although it isn’t commonly used by other watchmakers). Compared to the standard 316L stainless steel, 904L steel features increased corrosion resistance at the cost hardness. The crystal is scratch resistant sapphire with a cyclops glass over the date window. The Explorer II features heavy applications of Rolex’s proprietary Chromalight which is essentially SuperLuminova with a blue hue and arguably longer luminescent life. The watch boasts a healthy 100 meters (or 330 feet) of water resistance as a result of its screw-down crown and it can handle normal exposure to water without much issue.

My Own Experience:

The first thing that you notice about the Explorer II is just how solid the watch feels, I honestly think I could throw it at a wall and it would be fine. The next thing you notice is how great it looks; the DNA of the original Explorer II is still present, and I really admire that. The watch still feels like it can do what it was designed to do, accompany explorers in unforgiving environments such as caves, the arctic tundra, or office buildings. The watch is quite legible, considering the fact that it is a dual timezone piece. Even with function being the first priority of the Explorer II’s design, the watch really is quite attractive. It might not be the most elegant watch out there, but it really is pretty in it’s own way. The design of the watch really is special and it, quite simply, works.

On the wrist, the Explorer II wears quite nicely. To be frank, I was initially put off by the size of this watch on paper, but in the flesh, it does wear well. That said, the watch does wear a bit large due its over 50mm lug to lug distance. Overall, it is an exceptionally comfortable watch on the wrist. Personally, I do think the watch would be better proportioned at 40mm in diameter, but it still works at its current size. The bracelet is certainly a strong point for this watch and it is just phenomenal. The fit and finish of the bracelet is superb, and it compliments the ruggedness of the watch well. I really like how the top of the links are all brushed and how the side of the links are finished to a nice polish as it adds a bit more detail to a relatively bland bracelet. Speaking of function, the Easylink adjustment system (which allows for up to 5mm of on the go adjustment) is effortless to use and the safety clasp is so well engineered and machined it’s ridiculous.

The thing I really admire about the Explorer II is it is perhaps the most un-Rolex watch that Rolex makes. What I mean by that is Rolex, as a company, has become something different from what it used to be. Rolex used to focus on making watches for professionals, and they absolutely still do this, but the brand itself has become synonymous with wealth, power, and prestige; these attributes don’t necessarily reflect the personal qualities of the end user. Many Rolex watches command the attention of others, but the Explorer II, in particular, is a watch that really flies under the radar. It doesn’t scream Rolex, rather it quietly and humbly serves its owner. The Explorer II is a tool to tell the time, not a status symbol.

A Practical Viewpoint:

The Explorer II is truthfully an excellent choice for a luxury watch that can do it all. Think about it, you get an automatic winding, quickset GMT/date, truly water resistant watch made of Swiss steel all in one package. The GMT/alternate timezone function is really quite practical for frequent travelers, pilots, mariners, soldiers, businessmen, and others for various reasons. Even if you don’t have a particular use for a GMT complication, the date feature is convenient and is well executed, it does not spoil the look of the watch even with the cyclops lens. There really isn’t anything that the Explorer II can’t do and for that reason, it is an extremely practical watch.


The Rolex Explorer II is a well regarded and admired watch for many reasons, but above all, it has remained true to its purpose. It is a no-nonsense option of a watch that is ready to handle all of life’s adventures.

Technical Specs:

-Key Characteristics

-Manufacturer: Rolex

-Reference Number: 216570

-Case Materials: 904L stainless steel

-Strap: Oyster bracelet with Oysterlock safety clasp and Easylink rapid extension

-Crystal: Sapphire

-Bezel: fixed, 24 hour scale

-Luminescents: Rolex Chromalight

-Water Resistance: 100 meters (330 feet)

-Crown: Screw-down

-Caseback: Solid screw-down

-Country of Origin: Switzerland

-Price: 8,350 USD


-Diameter: 42mm

-Lug Distance: 50.1mm

-Lug Width: 21mm

-Height: 12.5mm


-Name: Rolex Caliber 3187

-Type: Automatic winding

-Certifications: Chronometer certified, Rolex in-house superlative certification

-Power Reserve: Approximately 48 hours

-Frequency: 4 Hz or 28,800 bph

-Complications: Central hours, minutes, seconds, and GMT hands, quick set time and

date, hacking seconds, manual winding