Rolex Explorer: The Elegant Outdoor Watch
It's always easy to tell the time on a Rolex Explorer thanks to its tidy dial. The stainless steel Oyster case protects the Explorer from the elements. Its sporty yet elegant design makes this watch the perfect companion for the office or on the go.
A Functional Sports Watch Icon
Watch enthusiasts celebrate the Rolex Explorer for its robustness, reliability, and clean design. A black dial and large Arabic numerals at 3, 6, and 9 o'clock have been defining features of this timepiece since its debut. Luminous material fills each hour marker, as well as the prominent inverted triangle at 12 o'clock.
Rolex constructs the Explorer's stainless steel case using the proven Oyster design. Prior to 2010, each model measured 36 mm in diameter. These older timepieces make fantastic unisex watches. Since then, every Explorer has had a 39-mm case. Both versions exude a sporty character but are still simple and elegant enough to pair with a suit and tie.
In-house, chronometer-certified calibers provide these watches with their outstanding accuracy, while stainless steel Oyster bracelets keep them securely on the wrist. You'll also find Explorers on leather or NATO straps on the pre-owned market.
In the early 1970s, Rolex introduced a new member of the Explorer family: the Explorer II. The Explorer II diverges from its sister model in many ways. Perhaps the most notable differences are the 24-hour scale on its stainless steel bezel and its orange arrow hand. Its dial also lacks the Explorer's characteristic numerals. Instead, the Explorer II has a date display at 3 o'clock and is available in larger sizes. Depending on the year of production, case sizes range from 39 to 42 mm in diameter. The Genevan manufacturer still produces both the Explorer and Explorer II to this day.
Reasons to Buy an Explorer
- Simple, functional design
- Oyster case water-resistant to 100 m (10 bar, 328 ft)
- Vintage models coveted among collectors
- 36 or 39 mm in diameter
- In-house, chronometer-certified calibers
Prices at a Glance: Rolex Explorer
|Reference number||Price (approx.)||Size/Caliber|
|1016||23,500 USD||36 mm; 1560 or 1570|
|6610||22,000 USD||36 mm; 1030|
|14270||8,900 USD||36 mm; 3000|
|114270||8,700 USD||36 mm; 3130|
|214270||8,600 USD||39 mm; 3132|
How much does a Rolex Explorer cost?
The Explorer long lived in the shadow of other Rolex collections. However, recent years have seen this robust timepiece become something of an insider's tip among Rolex enthusiasts; a fact reflected in its prices. For example, the 39-mm ref. 214270, which debuted in 2010, currently costs around 8,600 USD. Five years ago, the same timepiece demanded only 5,400 USD.
Prices for models produced between 1988 and 2009 have followed a similar trajectory. Watches like the 36-mm refs. 114270 and 14270 sell for between 8,600 and 9,000 USD – that's an increase of roughly 3,600 USD in only five years.
Vintage watches from the 1950s, 60s, and 70s have found a growing audience among collectors over the last decade. The original Explorer (ref. 6610) changes hands for about 22,000 USD on Chrono24. Depending on its condition, you can also find the ref. 1016 pre-owned for anywhere between 21,000 and 23,500 USD.
Prices for the Explorer II
Be sure to have about 10,500 USD on hand for a 42-mm Explorer II ref. 216570 in mint condition. Its predecessor, the ref. 16570, measures 40 mm in diameter and demands similar prices. You can save an average of 2,400 USD by purchasing either model pre-owned. The "Steve McQueen Explorer" (ref. 1655) has also emerged as a popular collector's item in recent years. Prices for this timepiece sit around 25,000 USD.
About the Rolex Explorer
The first Rolex officially known as the "Explorer" debuted in 1953 under the reference number 6610. Its stainless steel Oyster case is 36 mm in diameter and water-resistant to 50 m (5 bar, 164 ft). Inside the case, you'll find the caliber 1030. This original model boasts many of the design elements that have since come to define the collection: a black dial; Arabic numerals at 3, 6, and 9 o'clock; and a large triangle at 12. These watches also feature radioactive radium, a luminous material that was commonly used in the watch industry at the time.
The ref. 1016 followed ten years later. Aesthetically, there is very little that differentiates this timepiece from its predecessor. However, it uses the caliber 1560 or 1570 and has an improved water resistance of 100 m (10 bar, 328 ft) thanks to its Oyster case and Twinlock crown. Rolex also replaced radium with tritium to illuminate the dial. This model remained largely unchanged throughout the entirety of its 26-year production run, making the ref. 1016 one of the longest-lived timepieces in Rolex's history.
Sapphire crystal made its first appearance in the Explorer collection with the ref. 14270 in 1989. Rolex simultaneously rolled out their COSC-certified chronometer caliber 3000, refreshing the design of the dial. The three numerals now had a more modern style and were applied in the same manner as the indices. Rolex crafted both the numerals and indices out of 18-karat white gold, as this material doesn't tarnish over time. In 2001, Rolex brought the ref. 114270 to market. To date, it remains the last Explorer with a 36-mm diameter. This model also received some major changes to its interior, including the use of the caliber 3130. On the outside, the watch remained nearly identical to previous Explorers except for its bracelet's massive end links and Fliplock clasp. It also featured a different luminous material: SuperLumiNova.
The 39-mm Explorer
The Explorer with the reference number 214270 premiered in 2010. The main difference between it and previous models is its size: Its case is 39 mm in diameter, as opposed to 36. What's more, Rolex outfits this watch with the caliber 3132, which includes the Paraflex shock protection system and a blue Parachrom hairspring. Both components contribute to this watch's extraordinary resistance to temperature fluctuations, magnetic fields, and shocks. Like most Rolexes, this movement is a certified "Superlative Chronometer," meaning it has a maximum daily deviation of only +/- 2 seconds from the reference time. It ticks at a frequency of 28,800 vibrations per hour (vph) and has a 48-hour power reserve.
Rolex also switched from SuperLumiNova to blue Chromalight for the luminous material. Under normal lighting conditions, this material appears white and, thus, contrasts beautifully with the black dial. While the indices and hands have always had a glow-in-the-dark coating, the numerals 3, 6, and 9 first got this treatment in 2016. Furthermore, Rolex extended the length of the hands, which is most obvious on the minute hand.
History and Famous Wearers
The Rolex Explorer first saw the light of day in 1953. Its name and debut year are no coincidence: Only a few months prior, Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay had made history as the first individuals to summit Mount Everest. Rolex had outfitted the two adventurers with the Rolex Oyster Perpetual for test purposes. Based on their findings, Rolex's engineers quickly developed the Explorer.
The Explorer is also popular among celebrities. Tom Hanks, Brad Pitt, and Matt Damon are just a few examples of stars who appreciate this simple sports watch. Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond, was also a fan of this timepiece. Fleming himself owned an Explorer with the reference number 1016. Although Bond has worn various watch brands in films – from Rolex and Seiko to Omega – he always wears an Explorer in the books. In the 1963 novel "On Her Majesty's Secret Service," Fleming describes how Bond reads the large, luminescent numerals on the dial of a heavy watch with a metal bracelet from the Oyster Perpetual family. The description fits Fleming's Explorer perfectly.