The Rolex Explorer II, reference 216570, along with the Submariner, GMT Master, and the Datejust, constitute Rolex’s most popular watches. While the Explorer model, like the others, is a child of the late 1950s; unlike the others, it has two current models, both popular, but also quite different. The first model, the Rolex Explorer, is 39mm and is closest to the original version, while the Explorer II is 42mm and more adapted to modern tastes. In this post, I review the latter model. And while any of the Rolex Explorer models make for a solid tool watch, in this review, I am not taking it to some mountain trekking odyssey, but instead I am doing modern day exploration. My account is based on taking it for a month long journey to Asia, exploring a distant land, an ancient people, and a fascinating culture: China.
First off, the Rolex Explorer was one of the first wristwatches to be designed for exploration, in particular, exploring new lands and varied terrains. While today, a Casio ProTrek or similar solar-powered multifunction watch will serve you well on a distant trek, in the 1950s and early 1960s when real exploration of the poles and the high peaks of the world was taking place, no quartz watch existed. And even today, if you were to attempt to explore the earth’s pole or climb Mt. Everest, the Rolex Explorer might still be a better choice than a quartz device, since these suffer when exposed to high and low temperatures and depend on an external source of power. However, the Rolex Explorer II is guaranteed to work as well as it does day to day even under extreme temperature gradients and with no source of power, except wearing it daily and moving a bit (or winding the crown).
So while in my own “expedition” with the Rolex Explorer II, I was not taking it to extreme conditions, I did take it to what is a somewhat typical modern day traveling journey, including airports, business meetings, business outings, the gym, and also visiting the outdoors in a distant land. In all cases, what was great was the Rolex Explorer II never felt out of place.
At the airport, the first step was to set the local and home time to PDT. As the plane took off and we got an indication of the time in Beijing, using the quick set feature on the hour hand, I simply pulled the crown and moved it forward about 8 timezones for the time in China. Interestingly, unlike many large countries, China has one timezone! It does not matter if you are in the east or western part of China, there is just one. Makes it easy for doing business, I suppose, though I imagine Chinese get a very different experience of time over the year depending on what side of the country they live on.
A great thing about Rolex sports watches, especially modern versions, is that they tend to be multipurpose. That is, they fit well into both business and casual situations as well as the more sporty settings for which they were specifically designed. So during my month long visit, and with various meetings at all levels of the organization, I never had to use any other watch, really. The Rolex Explorer II fit in great.
Its imposing 42mm all-brushed stainless steel case (water resistant to 100 meters) could be a minor issue if you needed to button up for a formal event, as it sits 12mm high on the wrist. However, that was never the case for me, and it fit great under all of my shirts, even when wearing a sports jacket in the cold grey late winter evenings of Beijing.
Besides casual usages while visiting the vast city of Beijing, the occasion I had which most suited the Rolex Explorer II’s origin was when I took a half day trip to the Great Wall of China. First off, the Great Wall is nothing short of extraordinary, spanning miles and miles. The people of this great land constructed a 20-foot wide wall that serpentines the high mountains of northern China, helping separate it from centuries of Mongol invasions. It is commonly considered as one of the seven wonders of the world and for long the only man-made structure visible from outer space.
Getting to the section of the Great Wall our visit meant taking a roller coaster-like small car that took us hundreds of feet into the mountain and into the Wall proper. Of course, once there, comes the fun part. Depending on your fitness level and the time before dawn, you can easily walk and climb this amazing structure for miles and miles. I challenged myself to at least get to four towers, which round trip would be about a hilly 10k. Heck, I had just completed a full Ironman less than a year ago, how bad could this be?
Of course, the Rolex Explorer II was never the issue during my Wall trek, but rather my knees and my feet walking and climbing this amazing structure. Of course, I was also carrying my DSLR camera and made sure to stop, take a breathe, and take some pictures of the vast landscape. The weather was clear, so the view went on for miles. The white face of the Rolex Explorer II was never out of place. And I was very happy to use the 5mm easy link extension to relieve my wrist after a hard day hiking under the sun.
Like many of the modern Rolex sports watches, the Rolex Explorer II comes with the modern Oyster bracelet fully brushed (just like the Submariner), and it is just plain comfortable and screams high quality. The Rolex bracelets are, just like any genuinely well engineered bracelet, adjustable with screws where one can remove full links or half links. Also, the bracelet tapers from 21mm at the lugs to 17mm at the oyster clasp, thereby resulting in a highly wearable 42mm watch. The clasp includes the protective Rolex Oyster lock, but unlike the Submariner, there are no quick adjustments except for the 5mm oyster link which I mentioned makes it easy to extend or reduce the bracelet by 5mm during the day as your wrist expands and contracts.
The Rolex Explorer II comes fitted with the Rolex 3187 caliber which I found to be super accurate (as it is COSC chronometer certified, like all Rolex calibers) and easy to use. It also contains Rolex’s Paraflex system which helps improve the watch’s resistance to shocks, as well as the brand’s Parachrom anti-magnetic hairspring so as to render the movement more resistant to magnetic fields. The quick hour adjust works like a charm, and the date can be advanced forward using this feature. The large orange GMT hand is easily visible and points brilliantly to the black 24-hour markers on the bezel.
The Rolex “Mercedes” hour hand (originally designed to appear totally different to the minute hand for easy legibility) and the minutes hand are larger, bolder than their counterparts on the Submariner or GMT Master II. Also, here they are outlined in black paint and filled with blue Chromalight, whereas on other Rolex models, they tend to be done in 18k white gold. The look is pretty unique to the Rolex Explorer II in Rolex’s line up and has acquired the moniker of “maxi-hands” from collectors. The rest of the dial is in the iconic white “polar” color with cardinal markers and hour markers (round), also with a black painted outline, completing the unique – and uniquely legible – maxi-dial.
While clearly remaining a Rolex with the classic oyster case, the cyclops on the crystal, and the famous Rolex dial, this model is less common than the Submariner and GMT Master II, easily making it the more interesting Rolex if you want a solid sports watch from the famous brand – and hence it is one that you will more rarely see anyone else wearing during the day. As a matter of fact, during my entire time traveling to China, I only spotted one other person wearing a Rolex Explorer II (black dial), though I spotted countless other Rolex sports watches.
So while the Rolex Explorer II 216570 is not necessarily my absolute favorite Rolex stainless steel sports watch, its imposing size, easy wearability, and lack of popularity make it one that I often go to when I need a modern multi-purpose watch that I can wear for business, casual, or for sporty occasions – and yet that is not a common one. For this exact reason, the Rolex Explorer II was a great companion for my travels, exploring the great land of China and earned a special place in my permanent collection. Price for the Rolex Explorer II 216570 is $8,100. rolex.com
>Model: Explorer II reference 216570
>Size: 42mm wide (45mm with crown) and 12.5mm high and 49mm lug to lug
>Weight: 150g with a few links removed to fit my 6.25-inch wrist
>Would reviewer personally wear it: Yes
>Friend we’d recommend it to first: Anyone who is looking to buy his first Rolex but hates the fact that the brand is so popular and commonly seen.
>Worst characteristic of watch: There is really not much wrong with this watch. If I had to nit pick, I’d say that the maxi-hands can appear to be too large, however, it grew on me quickly and is now one of my favorite characteristics of the watch.
>Best characteristic of watch: The dial: iconic, legible, and visible from far.