The Story Behind the Rolex Explorer

The Story Behind the Rolex Explorer

Rolex is known for making tool watches that can survive extreme conditions, and the Explorer is no different. The Explorer has a very unique story. With its distinct appearance, it has remained true to its original model.

Rolex had been testing watches on Himalayan expeditions since the 1930s. The watches had to keep perfect time at -50 degrees Fahrenheit and with 70% less oxygen than at sea level. These Rolex watches were modified Oyster Perpetuals - which could explain the resemblance in simplicity. We explore Oyster Perpetual models more here. While these timepieces did not bear the name Explorer, there is a reason they now proudly display the name on their dials.

As the popular story goes, In 1953, Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay successfully reached the summit of Mount Everest wearing one of the above modified Rolexes. In reality, this specific team was wearing watches from an English company called Smiths. However several Rolex Oyster Perpetuals were provided to explorers on that trip (and other trips) and their accuracy and functionality was noted as exceptional. In short, Rolex was an integral part of the expedition, but not exactly the watches worn at the summit. 

Grasping at the excellent marketing opportunity, Rolex then launched its first line of Explorer models with the reference number 6298 that year. As you can see below, the 6298 didn't actually have "Explorer" written on the dial.

story of the rolex explorer

The reference 6350 was the first model to note “Explorer” on the dial, making it the first “real” Explorer. All references before the 6350 are often considered “pre-Explorer.” Reference 6350 and 6150 were released with a 3-6-9 dial similar to the 6298. 

However, the Explorer line didn’t really differentiate itself from the Oyster Perpetual line until 1959 with the release of the 6610. With a short production line, these references are rare to find. The model replaces the 6150 with a 36mm case. It still boasts the 3-6-9 black dial, but there is red text on the dial noting its waterproof capability.

rolex explorer story

In 1963, Rolex released the 1016 which is the more commonly known vintage Explorer model as it was in production from 1963 - 1989. A new movement, the calibre 1560, was used which featured a hacking seconds hand (the Calibre 1570 replaced the 1560 in the mid 1970s.)

Noted on the dial under the 6 is T Swiss T or Swiss T<25, which means the luminescent material used was tritium and not radium. We discuss more about knowing what luminescent material is used based on the text on a Rolex dial here

history of rolex explorer

The Rolex Explorer 14270 debuted at the end of the 1980s. Some of the major changes include that this model sported a sapphire crystal and a lacquered dial rather than a matte one. Additionally, it was a bit more modern in appearance. It housed a new calibre 3000, but the calibre was replaced in 2001 with the 3130 for the reference 114270.

rolex explorer

The Rolex Explorer Ref. 214270 (which our watch bands fit here) was unveiled in 2010. While paying tribute to its predecessor, this model did receive some updates. It houses a calibre 3132, and the dial also changed. The 3, 6, and 9 are not luminescent, and the “Explorer” text now sits above the six o'clock, not below the 12 o'clock.

Rolex received negative feedback on a short minute hand for the larger case size which is 39mm verses 36mm., so in 2016, they changed the hands - using the same reference number. With a 39mm case, our watch bands connect perfectly.  

story of rolex explorer

The Rolex Explorer is a very distinct model with a fascinating history and evolution. As we continue to explore multiple Rolex models, this model in particular holds importance with Everest Bands because it is this adventure story that inspired our name.

The name, Everest, was chosen to honor Rolex’s long history with innovative solutions. Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzig Norgay were the first to conquer the highest peak in the world - Mount Everest. These explorers reached their destination with the help of a Rolex designed to withstand the highest of heights. Climb higher with Everest.

rolex explorer


  • Md.Sayful Islam

    I am interested in Rolex Watch. I live in Saudi Arabia(Riyadh). within 3 months I will buy this watch.

  • Joseph White

    To make the record clear, only Norway wire a Rolex. Hillary wore a Smiths (who continue to make quality watch for the British MOD). The explorer is one of my favorite Rolex because of its simplicity, clarity of the dial, and relation to James Bond – oops, I meant Ian Fleming.

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.