Things have changed a lot in the past 70 years since Rolex and Tudor released their first exploration watches—the Explorer 1 and Ranger. These two watches were the most advanced tool watches of their time when they were first released, and both brands have continued to improve upon their heritage. They did so by way of using new materials, increasing the size of the watches, and developing better movements. When Rolex, however, released the first Explorer 2 model, reference 1655 in 1971, it changed the ball game. The current model, reference 226570 launched in 2021, could very well be the ultimate tool watch. Let’s find out why.
The Three Tenets of Adventure Watches
Over the past two years, I’ve come up with a list of three features a true tool watch must have. I call them the three tenets of adventure watches. The first one is water resistance and it must be at least 100 meters. This guarantees that the watch can be submerged in water while swimming or that it can withstand a downpour while hiking. Preferably, the crown would be of the screw-down type, same for the case back. Having a screw-down crown—although not having one doesn’t prevent a watch from being water resistant—gives an extra peace of mind knowing dust won’t get inside the case.
The second tenet is resistance to shock. This is important because hiking or doing any kind of sport with a watch means exposing it to some kind of shock. Even minor shocks will impact how well the watch keeps time. Most off-the-shelves movements (ETA, Sellita, Miyota) come with one of two types of shock protection: Incabloc or Diashock. Either system protects the balance wheel but not the rest of the movement. This is enough protection against daily wear (you know, whenever you knock your watch on a door frame) but it isn’t nearly enough for taking the watch into the wild.
The third tenet is resistance to magnetism. We live surrounded by gadgets and appliances that emit electromagnetic fields. A laptop produces 16,000 A/M (amperes/meter) while most movements are protected for up to 4,800 A/M only. Even COSC-certified movements are sensitive to magnetism and I’ve found myself with a couple of $1,500 watches that would start running haywire. Back when Rolex’ Milgauss and IWC’s Ingenieur came out, movements were protected by iron cages. Nowadays, a few select Swiss brands produce movements with silicon hairsprings that resist magnetism.
In other words, a true adventure watch should be water resistant to at least 100 meters, and resistant to shocks and magnetism. Let’s see how the Explorer 2 ref. 226570 fairs.
The Rolex Explorer 2 ref. 226570
This Explorer is the latest and current model of the famous model that first came out in the 1970s. The Explorer 2 was, from the get-go, Rolex’s most robust tool watch. It was designed for cave explorers which means it had to be particularly resistant to shocks, humidity, whilst keeping good time. The addition of the GMT hand was to help cave explorers know whether it was night or day, a useful feature since they would spend days in total darkness. Although I won’t give you the history of how the Explorer 2 line evolved over the years, rest assured Rolex put a better movement in each iteration.
One of the key elements that makes the current Explorer 2 a true adventure watch is the movement. The caliber 3285 is a true work of art. Rolex registered 10 patents while developing it. This means the brand went above and beyond to build a tank that is both elegant and ultra-performing. One of the key components of caliber 3285 is its Parachrom hairspring which is said to be paramagnetic, in other words, immune to magnetism. The 3285 is also equipped with Rolex’s proprietary Paraflex anti-shock system which is said to be 50% more effective than the competition.
More than the movement, however, it is the stringent series of tests Rolex puts its watches through that leaves me speechless. I couldn’t tell exactly how it works but it goes something like this: they submit watches to 20 drop tests to make sure a Rolex can take a fall; the Oyster bracelet also goes through 26 drop tests and extreme use tests where they close and open the Oysterlock thousands of times in a tank full of salt water, chlorine, and sand. There’s more to it, for example the way in which they test for actual waterproofness of their Oyster cases. The Explorer 2, just like any Rolex watch, goes through all of these tests in addition to being equipped with a state-of-the-art movement.
Clearly, the Explorer 2 is a beast. In pure Rolex form, it’s a watch that has been developed for professionals by professionals. I always admired the fact that the Coronet brand engineered watches for different professions—pilots, engineers, divers—and that each time, they went above and beyond to create the best version of it. What’s more is that they continue to improve their watches and the Explorer 2 ref. 226570 is a good example of that. Not only it has a great movement, it went through actual tests that guarantee its durability and reliability. Add on top of that the fact that it looks like a true tool watch: legible handset and markers, a broad GMT hand, sapphire crystal, and contrasty dials.
I think that makes for a pretty true adventure watch. Don't forget to get the right strap for your previous reference Explorer 2 here.
Featured image: www.hodinkee.com