To understand the significance of the Rolex Explorer II (Ref. 16550 & 16570), you have to understand the history of the Explorer line as a whole. Rolex’s Explorer and Explorer II models are rooted in the same philosophy: adventure.
Released in 1953, the Rolex Explorer is designed with adventure in mind. A pre-explorer variant (Ref. 6098) accompanied Sir Edmund Hillary, Brig. Gen. Sir John Hunt, and Sherpa Tensing, G.M to the top of Mt. Everest. While any number of modern watches could do this expedition today, this was not the case in 1953. Rolex equipped the ref. 6098 (and subsequent Explorer models) with an incredibly strong case, a caliber A.296 specially lubricated to withstand extreme changes in temperature, and a hyper-legible dial. This watch was purpose-built for mountaineering, and it held up against perhaps the most demanding real-world test: Mt. Everest.
Most modern Rolex watches are products of slow and steady evolution: decades of small changes resulting in a nearly perfect tool. The Rolex Explorer is no different. The first few Explorers (Ref. 6150 & 6350) have many of the same elements as the modern Explorer (Ref. 124270): arabic numerals at 3, 6, and 9, a 36mm Oyster case without crown guards, triangular hour index at 12, etc. The DNA of the Explorer has remained. One of the first major changes came with the Explorer (Ref. 1016). The Rolex Explorer 1016 was in production from 1963 to 1989, making it one of the longest running references in Rolex history. This perfectly encapsulates Rolex’s design philosophy: “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. That’s not to say the 1060 didn’t receive any amendments. In the early 1970’s, the movement within the 1016 – the Rolex caliber 1570 – received hacking capabilities. This is a larger change than you might think. Hacking, the ability to stop a watch’s seconds hand by pulling the crown out, enables very accurate timekeeping: an important feature for a Superlative Chronometer certified watch.
Around this time in 1971, Rolex released the first Explorer II (Ref. 1655). The Explorer II is geared less toward mountaineering and more toward spelunking, featuring a 24-hour hand indicating day or night. This 24-hour hand is accompanied by a fixed 24-hour bezel: a defining characteristic of the Explorer II to this day. It also has a date window – a feature that no Explorer I has ever had. The Explorer II is larger than all Explorer I models to this point, coming in at 39mm. In 1985, Rolex released a transitional reference for the Explorer II line: the 16550. This new reference increased the size to 40mm, upgraded to a sapphire crystal, and came with a new movement: the Rolex caliber 3085. The 16550 is the blueprint for the modern Explorer II.
In 1989, Rolex released the Explorer (Ref. 14270). Like the Explorer II 16550, the Explorer I 14270 was a monumental reference for the collection. It introduced sapphire crystal, Super Luminova, and applied indices: all of which remain on the Rolex Explorer to this day. It is the blueprint of the modern Explorer, but doesn’t sacrifice anything that made the outgoing models so special.
So what’s the deal with the Rolex Explorer II (Ref. 16550 & 16570)? As previously mentioned, the 16550 was a monumental reference for the Explorer II. With the introduction of sapphire crystal, an upgraded movement, and 40mm diameter, these references (16550 & 16570) have all the modern specs you need with the vintage feel you want. Everest’s Curved End rubber, leather, and nylon straps are tailor fit to the dimensions of the Rolex Explorer II (Ref. 16550 & 16570), seamlessly hugging the case and lugs. Dress it up with leather, dress it down with rubber or nylon, or reduce the weight with either of the three – Everest has you covered. If you’re looking for a strap for your Rolex Explorer II (Ref. 16550 & 16570), Everest bands are your best bet.