The Story of the Explorer II
The origins of the Explorer begin in 1953, as a prototype designed for professional use. Typically thought of as the most durable of the Oyster family, the Rolex Explorer has always been closely associated with the rigours of extreme adventure and exploration. Famously tested during the Himalayan expeditions, there aren’t many mechanical timepieces more deserving of the reputation.
The Explorer II was produced alongside the original Explorer line, with the former providing additional functionality aimed at speleologists. For those unaware, speleology is the scientific study of caves and other karst features, such as their structure and physical properties. A perfect combination of science and adventure. Much like Rolex, some could argue. On top of its rugged and functional design, the orange 24-hour hand of the Explorer II was meant to be used by speleologists during their exploration of dark caves, as a way to distinguish day from night. As a Rolex advertisement from the period puts it,
“The scientists involved in observing volcanoes need completely reliable watches to record the changing temperature of gases and the magma flung by volcanic action. The figures they collect help them to understand the whys and hows of this basic phenomenon: the Earth’s volcanism.”
As with any Rolex
sports model, the ref. 1655’s ties to sporting endeavour and prominent ownership only enhance the enduring appeal of the reference.
The orange-hand Explorer
was often photographed on the wrist of renowned cave-explorer Jean-François Pernette, which featured prominently in a French Rolex
advertisement for the watch during the late 1970s. The Explorer II
was also famously worn by legendary Italian mountaineer Reinhold Messner, who’s achievements typify the lasting significance of Rolex
associations. Despite these relationships, the Rolex Explorer II
was relatively unsuccessful commercially, only adding to its rarity.
The ref. 1655 offered here has a Mark II dial. It is very well preserved, with a matte black finish, alternating square and baton tritium markers and classic ‘ROLEX’ and ‘OYSTER PERPETUAL DATE’ - ‘EXPLORER II’ references on it. Like the fully preserved hour markers, the tritium lume on the hands has aged to a golden yellow patina, matching the indexes perfectly. The watch also features the correct Mark I bezel and straight seconds hand.
The steel Oyster case fully retains its original shape, with minimal signs of polishing. The brushed finish on the lugs is clearly visible, while the polished sides are in very good condition. The watch also comes with a service replacement Oyster bracelet (stamped 78360) and matching end-links (stamped 580). The bracelet is unworn since it was replaced by Rolex in 2011.
Inside the watch, it houses Rolex’s calibre 1575 bi-directional, self-winding movement, also found in the Rolex GMT-Master ref. 1675. The mechanism features a lever escapement, 26 jewels, mono-metallic balance and a KIF shock-absorber, beating at a rate of 19,800 A/h, with a power-reserve of 42 hours.
This watch is accompanied by its original Rolex inner box, punched guarantee booklet (dated April 1973), punched chronometer certification, Rolex paperwork holder and Explorer card. It also comes with a service guarantee from Rolex UK, from 2011.
Whilst the Rolex Explorer II ref. 1655 may not conjure images of the the golden age of aviation, 24 Hours of Daytona or deep-sea exploration, the trademark orange hand (from which it takes its “Freccione” monicker), makes it stand out among the other members of the Rolex family.