A few weeks after the likely release of the new Rolex Explorer, we retrace the story of this legendary watch-instrument so loved by explorers, speleologists and many people who prefer to wear it even in decidedly less demanding situations. In this article we will focus on the first born of the Rolex house, and then focus on the next episode on Explorer II.

The Rolex Explorer was unveiled in 1953 after the first historic and successful rise of Everest, which Rolex was one of the official sponsors, by Sir Edmund Hillary is Tenzing Norgay, which faced the feat equipped with Oyster Perpetual chronometers. Officially Rolex provided thirteen watches to the members of the expedition led by Colonel Sir John Hunt, six delivered to the mountaineers of the previous Cho Oyu expedition and seven to the members of the expedition that took home that historic milestone.

All models supplied by Rolex, including those worn by Sir Edmund Hillary is Tenzing Norgay, were not configured with the iconic Arabic numerals dial famous for its great readability, but with a white dial with applied indices and an "extra long" strap. The case of these Oysters was of the type "Bubbleback" , in Italian "Ovettone", because of the particularly rounded caseback.

Just the watch used by Sir Edmund Hillary is kept at the "Beyer watch & clock Museum" of Zurich accompanied by a small leaflet in which the New Zealand emery sent the watch back to Rolex. It was not exactly the usual gift from the sponsor, but a watch that would later be analyzed by the same manufacturer of Geneva.


The first Rolex "Explorer"

In the face of this success Rolex launched the reference 6298 , a model that does not yet have the words "Explorer" on the dial, which will appear with the rreferences 6150 and 6350. What distinguished these two references? The dial of the 6150 bore the inscription "Precision", while that of 6350 the indication "Officially Certified Chronometer", in addition to the wording "Explorer". However, the graphics were not yet final, with the result that many of the dials were still characterized by indices and not plough numbers at 3.6 and 9.

Rolex ref. 6150 e ref. 6350

Beyond some very rare references with Explorer dial and date window, like the 5504 and the 5507, the first reference to be characterized by the famous "Explorer" dial, with hands "Mercedes" is 36mm case, so more like the Explorer we all know, is the 6610. Introduced in 1955, this is a very rare model, produced for only 4 years, and equipped with the 1030 caliber.


Reference 1016, "the" Rolex Explorer

In 1963 Rolex presented the first real Explorer with the reference 1016, and in production until 1989. 36mm steel case, new automatic caliber 1560 equipped with "stop lever" of the seconds and adjustment of the gear through screws "micro star" positioned on the barbell. From 1967 onwards 1016 was equipped with the new caliber 1570, going from 18,000 to 19,800 alternations / hour.

Maybe I'm on the side, since it's one of my favorite watches, but I don't think I'm exaggerating by saying that it was the Explorer 1016 with its versatility and reliability that made this model famous, worn – among others – by the legendary author of the James Bond books, Ian Fleming in everyday life.

British writer Ian Fleming, on the set of the film"From Russia, with Love" Istanbul June 23, 1963.

During its 27 years of life, this reference has undergone few changes. The main ones concern the dial, its various Marks and the gilt graphics obtained thanks to a galvanic process that gives a glossy effect to the dial. A rarity is represented by the rare Space Dweller, produced for the Japanese market to commemorate Nasa's "Project Mercury" expedition in 1963. The dial was identitco to any other 1016 with gilt graphics, but with Space- Dweller printed instead of Explorer.

The birth of the modern Rolex Explorer

For the 1989 edition of Baselworld Rolex, he introduced a new model of Explorer. reference 14270, redesigned and updated with a new glass, no longer in exhaled but in sapphire, it's a new dial with applied indexes in white gold, filled with tritium luminescent material, as well as Arabic numerals 3, 6, and 9. the case maintains the same diameter of 36mm, perforated at the lugs, with a slightly higher thickness to accommodate the new the automatic movement caliber 3000, COSC certificate despite a flat spiral and not of type "Breguet". The guaranteed waterproofness is equal to 100 meters.

Rolex 14270 'only swiss'

The 14270 has been confirmed as the 'tool watch' par excellence of the Rolex house, which has kept it almost identical for 11 years. During this period the changes mainly concerned two elements: dial and bracelet.

Famous is the "blackout" dial, produced for only 2 years, from 1989 to 1991, a real rarity. How does it differ from the common Explorer dial? As the term "blackout" suggests, arabic numbers 3,6,9 are covered not with luminescent material, but with black paint. It should be noted that the dials from 1991 to 1997 had tritium as a luminescent material, with the name T-Swiss – T < 25″ posta a ore 6, mentre nell’anno di transizione dal trizio (con una bassa percentuale di radioattività) al LumiNova (non radioattivo) troviamo solo la scritta “Swiss” a ore 6 che contraddistingue tutti i seriali U fino ad alcuni modelli del seriale A.

Rolex Explorer dial "Blackout"

I bracelets provided for reference 14270 are all of the Oyster type with a satin finish, but differ mainly in the type of closure. From 1989 to 1996, the bracelet 78360 with simple rectangular clasp, while since 1996, the 78790 with closure equipped with a safety lever. During the transition between these two bracelets, it may seem strange but the bracelet planned then for the Submariner 16610/14060, or the 93150 equipped with extension for wetsuit.

Bracelets 78360 (top), 78790 (center) and 93150 (bottom)

In 2002 Rolex presented the new Explorer reference, the 114270 making few changes to the previous reference. The first innovation concerns the caliber with which it is equipped, namely the 3130 which differs from cal. 3000 mainly for: Breguet spiral, balance bridge with double support (better stability) and a different charging system of the automatic bridge inverters.

cal. 3000 vs cal. 3130

The case no longer has the holes at the loop and the new bracelet, ref. 78690, presents the so-called "SEL" (solid end links) or the case-bracelet bindings integrated into the bracelet. The clasp is almost identical to the ref bracelet. 78790, mounted on the 14270.


The evolution of the Rolex Explorer, the reference 214270

The 114270 was produced until 2010, to make way for the modern Explorer of the present day or the reference 214270. Introduced in 2010, this model represents a further step in the long evolution of this 'tool watch'. The case went from 36mm to 39mm, while the glossy dial went opaque with two different Marks.

The Mark I version with the numbers applied 3,6,9 without luminescent material and equipped with shorter hands than the small, very similar to those of the reference 14270. While the dial currently in production (Mark II) has reintroduced luminescent material on all indices of the dial, including typical Arabic numerals. The luminescent material used for these dials is no longer the Super Luminova but the Cromalight: material that emits a blue chlorine light in low light conditions.

Mark I vs Mark II

The movement has been replaced by the automatic caliber 3132, with rolex-patented spiral in magnetic field-insensitive blue Parachrom, more resistant to temperature changes and 10 times more precise than normal spirals in case of shocks also thanks to the new Paraflex shock absorbers. Reference 214270 is also equipped with a new Oyster bracelet ref. 77200, with full 904L steel meshes with Oysterlock safety closure that prevents accidental opening. It features Rolex's ingenious Easylink rapid extension system that allows the wearer to easily increase the length of the bracelet by about 5mm.

What will the new Explorer look like?

In this article I tried to summarize the story of a model that I particularly love, that I have always considered – and I am not the only one – the Rolex par excellence. Simple and functional in design, robust and precise in mechanics. For about 40 years, as you may have read, it has remained almost faithful to its original size, with small but important improvements. The reference 214270, with its 39mm case, is in my opinion "ungainly" – at least for slender wrists like mine – but it is probably the Explorer with better readability of the hour, even in dark conditions (thanks to the Cromalight).

As anticipated, the rumors of a new model of Explorer and Explorer II chase each other. The possibility is more real since these are still among the few professional Rolexes equipped with the 'old' 31xx calibers. If on the technical side, therefore, we can already guess that the next Explorer will mount the caliber 3230 mounted on the new Rolex Submariner 124060, with a new Chronergy escapement, who knows what surprises the crowned house will reserve for us in design. Will the size remain unchanged? Or will it go to a 41mm with oyster crates from modern Datejust?

UPDATE 2021 – The new Oyster steel and gold explorers ref. 124273 and steel ref. 124270

At Watches & Wonders 2021 Rolex introduced two new Explorer models, finally back in the traditional 36mm case. The real novelty is the Explorer steel Oyster steel and gold ref. 124273, the first version with precious materials of the watch tool par excellence. Tile this unpublished version of the Explorer in steel ref. 124270.

The next generation Explorer is available in yellow Rolesor version (oystersteel steel pairing and 18 ct yellow gold). The black dial is lacquered and exhibits the characteristic indices and numbers 3, 6 and 9 that identify this watch synonymous with spirit of adventure, perseverance and exploits. The Next Generation Explorer's Chromalight view is particularly effective. When the watch is in a dark environment, the blue glow emitted by the indices and hands maintains its intensity for longer thanks to the innovative and exclusive luminescent substance with which they are filled or coated. In daylight, the white color of these display elements is more alive.

Next-generation Explorers share the new caliber 3230, a state-of-the-art movement of watchmaking technology, presented by Rolex in 2020. The caliber 3230 includes rolex-patented Chronergy exhaust that simultaneously guarantees high energy efficiency and extreme operating safety. Made of a nickel-phosphorus alloy, this escapement is insensitive to magnetic fields. The movement also includes an optimized version of the blue Parachrom spiral, produced by the Brand in a paramagnetic alloy that makes it up to ten times more precise than a traditional spiral in the event of a collision. The blue Parachrom spiral is also equipped with a Rolex terminal curve that ensures regularity of travel in each position. The regulator is mounted on rolex's high-performance Paraflex shock-proof device, which guarantees movement greater impact resistance.

The caliber 3230 is powered by an automatic charging module with Perpetual rotor. Thanks to the architecture of the barrel and the superior performance of its escapement, the caliber boasts a power reserve of about 70 hours. The sale price is 6,100 Euros.