In 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.