Who Wears Rolex Explorer II?

Rolex Explorer II ref 216570

Rolex has a long history of creating watches for those who brave the extremes. When the Rolex Explorer II was launched in 1971, it was aimed at spelunkers, who explore the depths of caves.

Fifty years on, the appeal of the Rolex Explorer II has gone beyond the sport. From its beginning as a tool watch, it is now widely enjoyed as a robust and versatile everyday watch.

Let’s take a look at the Rolex Explorer II’s evolution, as seen on the wrists of the famous:


Rolex Explorer II Steve Mcqueen Vintage Steel Mens Watch 1655


Rolex Explorer II ref 1655 (1971)

Rolex unveiled the Explorer II as a larger sibling to the original Rolex Explorer. The inaugural model, ref 1655, established many of the key features of the Explorer II.The Explorer II has always been a steel watch, with the 1655 measuring 39mm. Its most distinguishing features are the 24-hour bezel and the extra 24-hour hand, which work in tandem to help the wearer tell daytime from nighttime hours.



The 1655 was also heavy on the lume details, from the five minute tritium markers to the bright orange 24-hour hand. These glow in the dark features ensured optimal legibility even in the dark. It is widely known in watch circles as the “Freccione”, Italian for arrow, because of its famous arrow-tipped hand.

Today, the ref 1655 is a sought-after vintage tool watch among Rolex collectors. Anthony Kiedis, Jason Statham, and Orlando Bloom all wear the 1655. Photo from Jason Statham on Instagram



Rolex Explorer II Transitional Stainless Steel Mens Watch 16550


Rolex Explorer II Transitional ref 16550 (1985)

The modern era of the Explorer II began in 1985, when the design shifted closer to the model that we know today.

The case size increased from 39 to 40mm, a wider bezel increased its wrist presence, and it was given a Mercedes hand, sapphire crystal and a thinner red GMT hand. Its new movement, the Caliber 3086, also meant that the 24-hour hand was independently adjustable, and could display a second timezone.



Also notable was the new white dial version, which gave the 16550 an intriguing feature: due to a paint defect, some of the white dial versions turn cream or ivory over time. In true vintage Rolex fashion, these are actually sought after by collectors and command a premium price.

Celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay, who loves vintage Rolex watches wears a Rolex Explorer 16550 with a creamy dial patina. Photo from Gordon Ramsay’s Fish and Chips on Twitter



Rolex Explorer II 40mm White Polar Dial Steel Mens Watch 16570


Rolex Explorer II Parachrom Hairspring ref 16570 (1989)

In 1989, Rolex made several upgrades to the Explorer II with the reference 16570. It received a new movement, the Caliber 3185, and later the 3186 – both in-house Rolex movements with independent hour hands.



On the white dial version of the 16570, the hour markers were changed from the previous white gold to contrasting black surrounds, further enhancing the dial’s legibility. The lume used for the 16570 also evolved over its 22-year production run – from tritium, then LumiNova, and finally the Super LumiNova.

Tennis legend Roger Federer, American explorer Ed Viesturs, and actor Aaron Paul all sport the Explorer 16570. Photo from Ed Viesturs on Instagram



Rolex Explorer II 42 White Polar Dial Orange Hand Steel Mens Watch 216570


Rolex Explorer II Orange Hand ref 216570 (2011)

To celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Explorer II, Rolex introduced the 216570 in 2011. It featured an increased size of 42mm, a Maxi Dial with larger hour markers and hands and lume using Rolex’s own Chromalight material. The minty blue glow of the Chromalight lasts up to eight hours – twice that of standard luminescent material.



It also paid tribute to the inaugural Explorer II, by bringing back the iconic bright orange 24-hour hand. Prince Harry, and actors John Cena and Tom Hardy, all wear the Polar white dial model. Photo from Men’s Journal on Instagram



Rolex Explorer II 42 Black Dial Orange Hand Steel Mens Watch 226570


Rolex Explorer II Orange Hand ref 226570 (2021)

For the Explorer II’s 50th anniversary this year, Rolex stuck to its winning formula and gave it subtle but significant upgrades.

Thinner lugs and a slightly bigger bracelet give it a more balanced look. Anti-reflective coating on the crystal and optimized Chromalight display provide even better legibility. It also comes with the new generation Caliber 3285, which boasts 70 hours of power reserve.

Roger Federer is the face of the newest Explorer II; and we can’t wait to see who else will get their hands on it! Photo from Rolex on Instagram



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