A while back we talked about the Rolex Explorer 2 (LINK) and what made it special, especially looking at the current reference. In this article we’re going to take a step back in the past and focus more on the history of this collection and key features that make it unique. Rolex is no short of constantly innovating, as we saw in this article relating to the cyclops or that one discussing the features of the Submariner. The Explorer 2 is not different and its history is quite fascinating. It was designed for cave explorers who wouldn’t see the light of day for days on end and needed a 24-hour scale and fourth hand to indicate whether it was day or night.
The First Explorer 2: Reference 1655
The very first Explorer 2 was launched in 1971 and had the reference number 1655. It was quite a sight to be seen as it came with a unique dial design never seen before. In particular, the hour markers on the dial that match the ones on the fixed bezel were arranged on two scales, making reading the GMT time easier. The 1655 came in a reasonable case diameter of 39mm and was powered by the caliber 1575 which could also be found in the GMT Master reference 1675. Being made for speleologists whose survival depended on their ability to track 24-hour cycles, the GMT hand was particularly enormous and constituted another key visual element of the first Explorer 2 reference.
Another Iconic Model: the 16550
Launched in 1986, the 16550 is probably the most iconic of all Rolex Explorer 2 models and the one most coveted by collectors, alongside the subsequent reference 16570. The 16550 had a brand new design that looked more classic and that was more in line with other Rolex offerings at the time. The circular applied markers are reminiscent of the Submariner while the GMT hand of the GMT Master 2. The 16550 was also equipped with the caliber 3085 which had an independently adjustable local hour hand. (Like a GMT Master 2.) This means the 16550 was a more versatile watch and could be used as a traveler’s watch in addition to remaining a watch for cave explorers.
The Current Reference: the 226570
The current reference of the Rolex Explorer 2, just like the previous one (the 216570,) has a beefier aspect as it comes with what is known as the maxi case. (The case diameter being 42mm and the lug-to-lug distance of 50mm, it’s better suited for those who were lucky to be born with larger wrists.) This reference, however, has the perfect combination of utilitarianism in the use of a matte dial instead of the glossy one on the previous version, and of refinement in the fact that the case is exceptionally well finished and better proportioned, again compared to the previous version. It is equipped with the caliber 3285 that comes with 70 hours of power reserve and is chronometer certified.
Key Features of the Rolex Explorer 2
Overall, the Explorer 2 has become, over five decades of evolution, a versatile tool watch. In good Rolex fashion, the Explorer 2—regardless of its reference number—has always been a robust watch that was built to the highest quality standards. And it has always come with certain features that made it easily distinguishable from other Rolex models (and later, other GMT watches.) For example, the fixed stainless steel bezel and 24-hour scale, its depth rating of 100 meters (for the current version at least,) and robust movements (all have been chronometer certified.) And as we know, since 1986, the Explorer 2 comes with an independently adjustable local hour hand that has made this model become a robust globe-trotter watch.
As you may have noticed, I love robust exploration watches. And I especially love what Rolex has been releasing for the past 70 years and the fact that the Swiss brand created models for professionals of different professions. If you are a pilot, a diver, an engineer, or a speleologist, Rolex has a watch for you. And perhaps what’s most interesting to me is the fact that each model has evolved overtime to become more versatile, more robust, and more elegant. Lastly, if you own an Explorer 2 pre-2011, be sure to get the right strap for it from the wide selection of leather and rubber straps from Everest Bands.Featured image: www.bobswatches.com