Rolex Explorer 39mm: Boldly Going Where Few Have Gone

ExplorerIn the stable of iconic wristwatches, Rolex has certainly earned its place at the table, especially with models such as the Submariner, which is just about as iconic as a wristwatch can get. Equally iconic to those who know wristwatches, especially those that bear the Rolex coronet, is the Rolex Explorer, which like the Submariner was introduced to the public in 1953.

In that year, Sir Edmund Hillary had made headlines around the world when he became the first man to scale Mount Everest, arriving at the summit on May 29th. He and members of his team wore Rolex wristwatches and these watches were made all the more famous by their ability to withstand the rugged terrain and conditions that could be found in the Himalayas.

Rolex decided to capitalize on this newfound fame by offering a watch that paid tribute to Hillary and to those who chose to explore the world in all its most extreme environments and remote locations and thus, the Rolex Explorer was born. More Rolex Explorer watches have probably been deeper in the earth and higher on the land than any other watch made.

Much of the engineering work that went into the creation of the original Rolex Explorer benefited from technical knowledge gained during the Himalayan expeditions over the decades, all of which conspired to make it the most rugged of all oyster perpetual models. It is for this reason that the Explorer, as well as watches in the Submariner line, are designated by Rolex as part of their “Professional” line of wristwatches, serious tools for those that explore deep in the ocean and earth or high in the mountainous altitudes. Constantly put to the test, these watches kept accurate time, maintained their water resistance, were unharmed by extreme temperature changes, snow, ice or dust in short, they passed pretty much every test that could be thrown at them in realistic environments.

Since being introduced in 1953, the Rolex Explorer has been updated regularly, taking advantage of technical innovation from Rolex while maintaining its original look and form as closely as possible. This includes a stainless steel oyster case and bracelet, a black dial with luminescent indexes and easy-to-read Arabic numerals, a flat, smooth bezel and curving, tapered lugs. There really isn’t much else that is needed on this particular watch and its minimalistic design and pure function is very appealing to many of the people who choose to wear one.

I myself was not in the market for an Explorer. I had seen them many times but had passed them by in favor of other Rolex branded wristwatches such as the Submariner. They were always just a bit too small for my taste and so were never really on my radar. Recently, however, I was in the market for a DateJust and while looking at a variety of those models, I noticed the new Explorer sitting in the jewelers case and on a whim I asked to look at it.

He handed me the watch and the first thing I noticed about it was that it was larger and also that it had a very substantial feel to it. The enlarged case, now at 39 mm, placed it squarely between the classic DateJust and the Submariner in size. Adding to the heft of the watch was a much-improved oyster bracelet that included a complete redesign of the old Rolex clasp, long considered to be a design element whose quality was not in keeping with or on par with the watches that they graced.

The redesign of the Rolex Explorer actually took place in 2010. The most noticeable change that people will see is the enlarged case which grows from 36 mm to 39 mm, giving it a more substantial profile and increased visibility. It retains a screwed down case back and twinlock crown, guaranteeing water resistance to a depth of 100 m or 330 feet, although it is likely that this watch can withstand greater pressure than what is indicated on the dial.

Speaking of the dial, it too is larger and is rendered in a matte black finish that helps to increase visibility. This is made all the more important because the scratch proof sapphire crystal does not have any type of antireflective coating, either on the inside or on the surface. It is surrounded by a smooth flat bezel that is retained from Rolex Explorers if the past-simple, elegant and clean. The rehaut or inner band of steel that surrounds the dial is engraved with Rolex continuously circling the dial and the serial number of the watch at the 6 position.

The dial states “Rolex” beneath the coronet on the top side of the dial with the words “Oyster Perpetual” beneath it. The font appears to be somewhat larger and more visible than in the past. On the lower side of the dial, the word “Explorer” is moved from above to here and underneath it, the well-known statement “Superlative Chronometer” and “Officially Certified”.

Rhodium plated white gold Arabic numerals are featured at the three, six, and nine positions with rectangular markers, also rendered in rhodium plated white gold at the other positions. The ubiquitous triangular marker pointing down towards the coronet is featured solely at the 12 o’clock position. All non-numerical markers on the dial are filled with Rolex’s proprietary Chromalight luminous material, which emits a strong blue luminescence after being exposed to light. In my experience with this watch, the new luminous material glows very brightly upon being exposed to light and then dims down somewhat retaining its glow for the remainder of the night.

The hands of the watch are part of what identifies the Rolex Explorer as part of the professional series of watches offered by Rolex. The hour hand features the same Mercedes style hand that can be found on the Rolex Submariner and the minute and second-hand are also from the same line. To an experienced eye, the hands of this watch will prevent anyone from confusing it with a basic Oyster Perpetual line model. These too are filled with Chromalight material to provide excellent readability in dark conditions.

I personally find the combination of the matte finished dial, bold markers, and professional series hands to be a very pleasing combination that expresses simplicity and function over form. The new Explorer does an excellent job at doing its job-it provides you the time without any embellishment or flourish that would detract from its purpose.

Beating inside the new Rolex Explorer is a new movement, the caliber 3132 and it is invested with all the latest technology that Rolex has to offer. This includes the reliable new blue Parachrom hairspring, which remains unaffected by magnetic fields and temperature variations, as well as adding 10 times the shock resistance of an ordinary hairspring. In addition to the hairspring, this particular caliber is equipped with Paraflex shock absorbers which further increase the Explorer’s reliability in rough conditions by increasing shock resistance by up to 50%. These two features alone give the Rolex Explorer the ability to stand up to the most extreme conditions, at least those that a human being can stand up to and probably a lot more. Of course, the Rolex oyster perpetual self-winding system is a part of the movement, capturing human motion and converting that motion into energy which is stored in the mainspring, providing power to the movement.

Rounding out the Rolex explorer is a new oyster bracelet. This new bracelet has much of the same appearance and function as the oyster bracelet found on the Rolex Submariner but without a diving extension. It instead relies on another Rolex innovation, the EasyLink extension, which allows the wearer to easily adjust the size of the bracelet by as much as 5 mm in either direction. This helps to keep the watch comfortable on the wrist despite occasional swelling or contracting of the wrist due to temperature changes. It also includes a fliplock to make sure that the bracelet remains securely on the wrist of the wearer. The construction of the entire bracelet, clasp and fliplock is light-years ahead of the one that it replaced.

The new bracelet, as well as the entire case of the new Rolex Explorer, is crafted from solid 904L grade stainless steel. 904L stainless steel is known for its exceptional anti-corrosive properties and Rolex is probably the only watch company that uses this high-grade of stainless steel in the construction of its watches. It is much harder and more difficult to work with than conventional stainless steel and when polished gives the watch a beautiful luster that separates it from ordinary steel watches.

In my wearing experience, the new Rolex Explorer is as accurate as it’s chronometer rating would indicate. It has not deviated more than a gain of two seconds per day, remarkable for an automatic wristwatch. It is very comfortable on the arm and has enough weight so that you feel it’s substance without feeling like you are wearing a block of heavy metal. Unlike some of the more recently redesigned watches in the Rolex portfolio, the designers have done an excellent job of improving the Explorer in every measurable sense without detracting in any way from its mission or its design DNA.

Although this watch is certainly not an inexpensive purchase, it is not as pricey as the other watches in the Rolex professional series. Anyone looking for a pure-design, mission-oriented and straightforward wristwatch from Rolex will be very pleased with the new 39 mm Rolex Explorer. Although the watch does not have a date indicator on the dial, this is something that I can live without. I do believe that such an aperture would detract from the simplicity of the dial and the perfect balance it achieves. Given the quality of the construction that has gone into this watch, as well as the technical innovations that it now possesses, I feel that on the Rolex price scale, the watch is an excellent buy.

I hope that this review will be helpful to the reader and provide you with some insight into this truly purposeful timepiece. If you have been like me and have overlooked this watch on previous occasions, I strongly believe that it merits a second look. I don’t think you will be disappointed with what you find.



Tudor Heritage Black Bay Submariner: History on the Wrist

BlackBayWhen the Tudor watch brand was pulled from distribution in the United States nearly 17 years ago, few people seemed to mourn its passing. Having endeavored to live in the considerable shadow of its parent company’s star brand and to make its way mainly with hand-me-down syles and secondhand technology, Tudor didn’t have a lot going for it in the years the brand sold here. Many dealers were actually glad to see it go so they could focus on the favorite child. Fast forward to 2012 and all that has changed.

Tudor, the younger and less glamorous sibling of watch world giant Rolex has given birth to the new Tudor Heritage Black Bay Submariner, first shown at Baselworld in early 2012. From the moment of its lanch, it has caused a great deal of buzz in the circles of watch lovers and merits its own time in the spotlight. Those in the know are familiar with the history of the Tudor brand and they also know that it is a secondary brand of powerhouse watch manufacturer Rolex and from its conception, was designed to be a watch that could boast many of the attributes of Rolex without carrying the heavy price tag of one.

Rolex has a considerable R & D department that has broken new ground in developing and evolving the watches within its line and Tudor has often been the direct beneficiary of many Rolex advances, albeit usually a step or two removed from the most cutting edge advances of the parent brand. For many years, some of the Tudor models shared nearly identical design attributes with a number of the more famous models in the Rolex catalog; the famous Submariner diving watch is a prime example of such sharing and the Tudor version even carried that venerated name on its dial for most of its run.

The Tudor Submariner had more than just the name in its DNA though. The case back, noticeably blank on a Rolex Submariner, proudly proclaimed its roots as an “Original Oyster Case by Rolex Geneva” and the famous Rolex coronet graced the screw down crown as well. While Rolex Submariners, equipped with an in-house movement, gained advances such as sapphire crystals and higher water resistancy, the Tudor Submariners soldiered on with acrylic crystals, 200 meter water resistancy and a movement made by ETA of Switzerland, albeit decorated and improved upon by Rolex. The Rolex Oyster bracelets were of a bit higher quality (though still sub par in many people’s opinion) than those found on the Tudor Sub while the Tudor Submariners were allowed to take more liberty with the design than their Rolex counterparts were, including the inclusion of blue dials and bezels, snowflake hands and even a mini Sub in a size more suitable to ladies. An assortment of Tudor Date and Date-Day models also mirrored the DateJust and the Day-Date models found upstairs in the Rolex department during this period.

In the 1990’s, Tudor design began to deviate from that of Rolex, eventually abandoning the parent designs and following their own path. Subsequently, Rolex stopped selling Tudor in the US, although the company has continued to enjoy success in nearly every other market. In recent years, a succession of new Tudor watches has drawn attention from the world back to Tudor and none more than that of the Heritage line of Tudor watches, of which the Black Bay “Submariner” is proud member. Drawing inspiration from their past designs, the new Heritage Tudors have found not only a new following of people proud to own a watch that has Rolex’s fingerprints all over it but they also have drawn attention from longtime fans who continue to care for and baby their vintage and near-vintage Tudor Submariners. These watches have led to an outcry from both new and old Tudor fans for Rolex to bring their younger and slightly more rebellious sibling back to US points of sale once again. Like most younger siblings, they sometimes have to find themselves and determine their own path and as Tudor has matured, that independence has asserted itself.

The new Tudor Heritage Black Bay both is and is not a Submariner. You won’t find that name anywhere on the dial or any other part of the watch; in fact, you won’t find the name Rolex inscribed anywhere on the outside of the case or on the bracelet. In reality, it doesn’t need the model designation of Submariner nor does it require the Rolex name to give it credibility. The watch, like other Tudors released in recent years, stands on its own merit. It is enough for most people to know that it is a product of Rolex and that Tudor is a strong name in its own right with or without a birth certificate of origin.

TudorBlackDuoFrom this point, I will refer to the watch as the Black Bay and when I speak of the Submariner, I will be referring to the modern Rolex of that model in comparison unless otherwise noted. The Black Bay draws its design inspiration not so much from the Submariners of today as it does those of the past, both Rolex and Tudor. It exudes a certain vintage appeal that is somewhat lacking in today’s resized, ceramic-bezeled Subs of the Rolex name and that appeal is what seems to be drawing admirers to it and creating very happy customers from those that own one. The case is just a bit larger than the standard sized Submariner, measuring at 41mm rather than 40 but it keeps the narrower, tapering lugs of the past and elongates them a bit more. Noticeably absent are the crown guards, which didn’t appear on the Submariner until later on its evolution. The purest expression of a Rolex or Tudor Submariner is the original with its simple case, tapering lugs and lack of crown guards.

Speaking of the crown, the one on the Black Bay is pretty large, even in comparsion to the Subs of today. It stands alone, unguarded and oversized, lacking the widely spaced serations of a typical Submariner crown and favoring more of a coin-edged grip. It is easy to grasp, unscrew and set the watch due to the size of the crown and the lack of guards to interfere with the operation. It rests atop a flange that is visible even when screwed completely down and the flange is the same deep burgudy red color as that of the aluminum bezel. The crown is flat on the end and features another nod at vintage Tudor watches, bearing an engraved Tudor Rose. The engraving seems to be filled with black enamel or paint that makes it stand out more prominently. It easily unscrews and like so many other hidden Rolex attributes, has a superior quality feel when unscrewing it or winding the watch with it.

blackbay2Moving on to the dial, it is arguably the most vintage aspect of this watch, displaying in a matte black that appears in some light to be a very dark chocolate-brown. Whether your eye finds it to be black or dark brown, it will no doubt find the dial to be appealing and possessing a unique character that most other watches lack. The Black Bay is not available with a date, which might trouble some people who depend on having one but since the original Submariner watches lacked a date as well, this omission is in keeping with the vintage look of the watch. It also means the dial has complete symmetry all the way around. The hour markers for 3, 6 and 9 are rectangles, 12 is an inverted triangle and the rest are marked with large round markers, all in keeping with original Submariner design.

Where it deviates from the vintage design is that all markers have metal borders surrounding the luminous material like modern Submariners all have but in this case, the metal is rose gold rather than white gold as would typically be found in a stainless steel model. A vintage Tudor Rose emblem makes a reappearance on the dial, replacing the more modern Tudor shield design that has been in use for several decades now. Beneath the rose emblem, the word “Tudor” appears in all capital letters, with the word “Geneve” underneath it in smaller letters. The lower portion of the dial adds the words “200m/660ft” with “Rotor” spelled out beneath it. Just below that, “Self-Winding” appears in an arc that mirrors the lower curve of the dial. This is in keeping with Tudors of the past but omits the word “Submariner” altogether.  A minute track surrounds the other edge of the dial and each minute hash mark is connected by an outer circle, also a nod to the Submariners of the past. All wording, the minute track and the hands are rendered in rose gold as well, the effect of which suggests the old Submariners that featured gilded hands and markers even on stainless watches.

Lets talk about the hands just a moment. All Rolex Submariners that I have ever seen and many of the Tudor Submariners as well have what is known as a Mercedes hour hand and a long sword shaped minute hand, along with a second-hand that featured a round counterpoint and a round luminous marker near the tip of the hand. Some Tudor Submariners differed from this design, going with what is known as “snowflake” hands to watch collectors. The Black Bay brings back the snowflake hour hand and also echos that design on the second-hand as well, helping to solidify that the watch is indeed of the House of Tudor. It is my understanding that future Tudor diving watches will all carry this style of hand and this has already been seen on the Tudor Pelagos watch as well.

The luminous material found in the hour markers, on the hands and at the 12 position on the bezel is not the Rolex Chromalight that was developed for use in recent Rolex watches but rather it is SuperLuminova, another example of Rolex maintaining its distance as the leader in technologies over Tudor but one should not be dismayed at this. The SuperLuminova on the Black Bay glows brightly and strongly at first exposure and makes reading the dial very easy in the dark; after some time, it tones down to a nice soft glow that last for hours. I can easily see mine in the dark when I first wake up. The lume is tinted to appear cream-colored rather than white, which, when combined with the rose gold markers and hands, gives the watch some of the appeal that old Submariners have when their hands and lume have developed a patina over many years. All in all, the dial, hands, lettering and lume combine to form one very striking package and since this is what people see the most, it is a very welcome look.

The bezel of the Black Bay is what clearly communicates that this is a diving watch, not just in looks but in substance. The bezel does not follow the Submariner’s 360 degrees of carved-in notches but instead relies on the same coin-edge found on the crown and this is the right look for this watch. The bezel ring, broken down into 1-minute increments the first quarter of the dial and 5 minute increments the rest of the way around, is rendered in a deep burgundy red identical to the flange on the crown. No pictures I have seen can quite display the exact color of burgundy one sees in person but let me just say, it is a not flashy or bright and I would use the words subdued and deep to describe the color. It works beautifully with the dial and gives the watch much of the appeal that differentiates it from Submariners. The bezel mechanism is different as well, clicking 60 times as opposed to 120, and features a unique attribute I’ve not seen before. It is a bit harder to turn than a Submariner and when aligned in the normal position (arrow at the 12 position), it seems to lock into place, requiring more force to move it one click than the other 59 clicks. This should prevent inadvertant moving of the bezel.

The crystal is saphire, curved and raised, much like vintage Submariners with acrylic crystals but not raised as high, nor as vulnerable. It has just enough height above the bezel to stand out and give it the appearance of the old acrylic crystals without the drawbacks of actually having one. The dial, which I mentioned was matte finished, is easy to read through this crystal, despite the lack of any antireflective coatings. The case back is probably the part of the watch most like a Rolex Submariner, screwing into the case and featuring a finely serated edge that requires a special tool to open. It is engraved with only three words: Tudor, Suisse and Geneve, plus the modern Tudor shield logo between each of the three words. The case back is completely brushed, as are the tops of the lugs. The sides of the case are polished and a chamfered edge separates the top of the lugs from the side of the case. This little touch of quality really speaks to the manufacturing excellence that has gone into this watch.

Beating inside the case, completely hidden from view, is an ETA 2824-2 “top” grade automatic movement rather than a Rolex in-house movement. The 2824-2 comes in four variations from ETA, with the “top” grade being the highest non-chronometer grade of this variant. It is in the movement where much of the price difference between a Rolex and a Tudor comes from, while the rest comes from certain Rolex innovations that are not present on Tudor models (plus a bit of name prestige and advertising budget probably falls into the Rolex price as well). Nevertheless, the movement is established, well-known and robust and has a reputation in its own right for quality. Rolex improves upon this by adding a fine degree of finishing to the movement not usually seen on a 2824 and going an extra step to regulate and refine it. The Incabloc shock system is replaced by Tudor and they remove the Etachron regulating system and replace it with one of their own choosing. The result is a watch which, during my ownership of it, has not gained more than 5 seconds per day, which is well within chronometer standards. These results are from about 16 hours a day on the wrist and 8 hours on the nightstand. That is excellent as far as I’m concerned.

All in all, the Tudor Heritage Black Bay is a substantial, superbly crafted wristwatch that recalls Submariners of both Rolex and Tudor branding from the 1950’s when they first made their debut but which has enough design differences to stand distinctly apart from those. The standards of quality employed in its manufacturing actually exceed those of the Submariners made in the past up until probably the last decade and probably matched those until the new ceramic Submariners in steel appeared a couple of years ago. If you take away the in-house movement, the ceramic bezel and the 904L grade of steel used in a modern Submariner, you would be hard pressed to find the Black Bay lacking in anything worthy of Rolex other than name recognition. To some, this was never a problem as some people who could easily afford a Rolex Submariner chose a Tudor Submariner instead just because of that recognition. Tudor flew under the radar, allowing the wearer to own something conceived and executed by Rolex but without the burden of the Rolex name and having to explain to the uninitiated why they would spend so much money on a watch.

TudorFlipProbably the largest leap in quality found on a Tudor today and especially on the subject of this article, is the quality that goes into the bracelets now. The Black Bay still has an Oyster style bracelet but it is wider than a Submariner bracelet at 22 mm, tapering to 20 mm at the clasp. The links and end pieces are milled of solid steel and the removable links are screwed links, just like a Submariner has, requiring a tiny flathead screwdriver to perform  the removal of links. The clasp, always a weak point in Submariners, especially those carrying the Tudor logo, is probably 80% as substantial now as a current Submariner clasp. It has a fliplock function and both the inner and outer clasp clamps together and stays closed by means of ceramic ball bearings as opposed to springbars. This attribute is something new that Tudor is actually pioneering instead of Rolex, which may indicate a reversal in trends. Perhaps Tudors will be the proving grounds for certain new technologies in watch manufacturing to ensure the design is viable before passing it on to the higher brand that must not suffer a design flaw. Only time will tell.

If metal is not your thing, the watch is offered for sale with a high quality distressed leather strap, complete with deployant clasp and either version comes with a nylon strap should you choose to wear it with such. The watch comes packaged in a beautiful, ebony black wooden box that reminds me of the finish on a fine grand piano. The extra strap is sealed in a plastic bag and mine will likely remain sealed. Warranty books and included materials are comparable to Rolex materials.

Obtaining one in the US is a bit more complicated than just going down the road to your neighborhood Rolex dealer but not impossible. Mine was secured from a certified Tudor dealer outside of the US. It was bought for me and brought back. Those who live near Canada have the option to travel there and obtain one and occasionally, they show up on Ebay and other sources. My advice would be to make absolutely sure of your source. Word has it that in the near future, Rolex will bring Tudor back to the US. Again, only time will tell as Rolex never talks about its future plans until it is ready to. Ever. I do hope this rumor is right though as I see myself becoming a serious Tudor fan in the future. Pricewise, they tend to run about $3000.00, sometimes more or less and well under half the cost of a new Submariner, depending on where your source is.

Thanks for reading and I hope this will help some of you who are thinking about taking the plunge to dive right in and get yours.

Note: Since this article was published, Rolex has since brought the Tudor brand back to the United States. Check their website at to find an authorized dealer.