A few weeks after the probable release of the new Rolex Explorer, we retrace the history of this legendary watch-tool so loved by explorers, cavers 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 installment on the Explorer II.

Il Rolex Explorer was unveiled in 1953 after the first historic and successful ascent of Everest, which Rolex was one of the official sponsors, by Sir Edmund Hillary e Tenzing norgay, who faced this feat equipped with Oyster Perpetual chronometers. Rolex officially supplied thirteen watches to the members of the expedition led by Colonel Sir John Hunt, six delivered to the climbers of the previous Cho Oyu expedition and seven to the members of the expedition that brought home that historic milestone.

All models supplied by Rolex, including those worn by Sir Edmund Hillary e Tenzing norgay, they were not configured with the iconic dial with Arabic numerals famous for its great legibility, but with a white dial with applied indexes and an “extra long” strap. The case of these Oysters was of the "Bubbleback" type, in Italian "Ovettone", due to the particularly rounded back.

The very clock used by Sir Edmund Hillary is kept at the "Beyer watch & clock Museum”In Zurich accompanied by a small piece of paper in which the New Zealand exporter returned the watch to Rolex. It wasn't 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"

Given this success, Rolex launched the reference 6298 , model in which the writing “Explorer” was not yet present on the dial, which will appear with the rreferences 6150 and 6350. What distinguished these two references? The 6150 dial bore the inscription "Precision", While that of 6350 the indication"Officially Certified Chronometer", In addition to the words"Explore". However, the graphics were not yet final, with the result that many of the dials were still characterized by the indices and not by the Arabic numerals at 3,6 and 9.

Rolex ref. 6150 and ref. 6350

Beyond some very rare references with Explorer dial and date window, such as the 5504 and 5507, the first reference to be characterized by the famous "Explorer" dial, with "Mercedes" hands e 36mm case, therefore more similar to 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 caliber 1030.


The reference 1016, or “the” Rolex Explorer

In 1963 Rolex presented the first real one Explore with the reference 1016, and in production until 1989. 36mm steel case, new automatic caliber 1560 equipped with "stop lever" for seconds and gear adjustment by means of screws "micro star”Positioned on the barbell. From 1967 onwards the 1016 was newly equipped caliber 1570, going from 18.000 to 19 vibrations / hour.

Maybe I'm biased, 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.

The 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 shiny effect to the dial. A rarity is represented by the rare Space Dweller, produced for the Japanese market to commemorate the NASA “Project Mercury” expedition of 1963. The dial was identical to any other 1016 with gilt graphics, but with Space-Dweller print instead of Explorer.

The birth of the modern Rolex Explorer

For the 1989 edition of Baselworld Rolex presented a new Explorer model, reference 14270, redesigned and updated with a new glass, no longer in esalite but in sapphire, it's a new dial with applied indexes in white gold, filled with tritium luminescent material, as well as the Arabic numerals 3, 6 and 9. La 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 certified despite a flat and not “Breguet” spiral. Guaranteed waterproofness is 100 meters.

Rolex 14270 'only swiss'

The 14270 has confirmed itself as the Rolex 'tool watch' par excellence, 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, the Arabic numerals 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 words T-Swiss - T <25 ″ placed at 6 o'clock, while in the year of transition from tritium (with a low percentage of radioactivity) to LumiNova (not radioactive) we only find the word "Swiss" at 6 o'clock which distinguishes all the U serials up to some models of the A serial.

Rolex Explorer "Blackout" dial

I bracelets provided for the reference 14270 are all of the Oyster type with a satin finish, but they differ mainly in the type of closure. From 1989 to 1996 the bracelet 78360 with simple rectangular clasp, while since 1996, the 78790 with safety lever closure. During the transition between these two bracelets, it may seem strange but the bracelet provided at the time for the Submariner 16610/14060, that is 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 change concerns the caliber with which it is equipped, namely the 3130 which differs from the cal. 3000 mainly for: Breguet hairspring, balance bridge with double support (better stability) and a different winding system of the automatic bridge inverters.

cal. 3000 vs cal. 3130

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


The evolution of the Rolex Explorer, the reference 214270

The 114270 was produced until 2010, to make room for the modern Explorer of today or the reference 214270. Introduced in 2010, this model represents a further step in the long evolution of this 'tool watch'. The case has gone from 36mm to 39mm, while the polished dial has become opaque with two different Marks.

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

Mark I vs Mark II

The movement was replaced by the automatic caliber 3132, with a Rolex-patented blue Parachrom hairspring that is insensitive to magnetic fields, more resistant to temperature variations and 10 times more precise than normal spirals in the event of impacts, also thanks to the new Paraflex shock absorbers. Reference 214270 is also equipped with a new Oyster bracelet ref. 77200, with full links in 904L steel with Oysterlock safety closure that prevents accidental opening. It features Rolex's ingenious Easylink quick extension system which allows the wearer to easily increase the length of the bracelet by approximately 5mm.

What will the new Explorer look like?

In this article I have tried to summarize the story of a model that I particularly love, which 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. Reference 214270, with its 39mm case, is in my opinion "clumsy" - at least for slender wrists like mine - but it is probably the Explorer with better readability of the time, 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 from 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 the new Chronergy escapement, who knows what surprises the crowned house in terms of design will reserve for us. Will the dimensions remain the same? Or will we upgrade to a 41mm with the Oyster cases of the modern Datejust?

UPDATE 2021 - The new Explorer steel Oyster steel and gold ref. 124273 and steel ref. 124270

On the occasion of 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 tool watch par excellence. Alongside this new version, the Explorer in steel ref. 124270.

The new generation Explorer is available in a yellow Rolesor version (a combination of Oystersteel and 18 ct yellow gold). The black dial is lacquered and exhibits the indices and the characteristic numbers 3, 6 and 9 that identify this watch synonymous with the spirit of adventure, perseverance and exploit. The Chromalight view of the new generation Explorer is particularly effective. When the watch is in a dark environment, the blue glow emitted by the indexes and hands maintains its intensity for longer thanks to the innovative and unique luminescent substance with which they are filled or which covers them. In daylight, the white color of these display elements is more vivid.

The new generation Explorers share the new caliber 3230, a movement at the forefront of watchmaking technology, presented by Rolex in 2020. The caliber 3230 includes the Rolex patented Chronergy escapement which simultaneously guarantees high energy efficiency and extreme operational 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 hairspring, produced by the brand in a paramagnetic alloy that makes it up to ten times more precise than a traditional hairspring in the event of a collision. The blue Parachrom hairspring is also equipped with a Rolex terminal curve that guarantees smooth running in every position. The regulating organ is mounted on the high-performance Paraflex shockproof device, developed and patented by Rolex, which guarantees the movement greater resistance to shocks.

Caliber 3230 is powered by an automatic winding module with a Perpetual rotor. Thanks to the barrel architecture and the superior efficiency of its escapement, the caliber boasts a power reserve of approximately 70 hours. The selling price is 6'100 Euros.