History of the Rolex Explorer

Originally appeared on Beckertime, updated for Tao of Luxe

Like many Rolexes, certain models are inextricably linked with adventures and personal stories, and the Explorer and Explorer II are no different.


The Explorer was introduced in 1953 and has had a single look throughout its life: a black dial with luminescent Arabic numbers at 3, 6 and 9, no date, smooth bezel, and a luminescent triangular marker at the 12 o’clock. Oyster bracelet, and a stainless steel 36mm case. Except for the updates that all Rolex watches have received, it remained essentially the same watch.

In 1952, before the Explorer was widely available, there were prototypes produced: the Bubbleback models 6098 and 6150, which originally had white dials and leaf-shaped hands. Upon the release of the Explorer, the references were 6298 and 6350 displaying the now famous Arabic numbers at 3, 6 and 9. Only after Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay’s successful Everest expedition was the word ‘Explorer’ applied on the dial of the 6350. Most of the early 6350 dials are also unusual in the fact that they are honeycomb-textured and are signed “OFFICIALLY CERTIFIED CHRONOMETER”.

Produced till 1959, the 6150 was then replaced by the 6610, which looks exactly the same but has a flatter case back due to the new calibre 1030. The dial of the 6610 is signed “CHRONOMETER”.

The next iteration of the Rolex Explorer, the 1016, was the longest-running, remaining in production from 1963 until 1989, and available with the 1560 or the 1570 calibres. The bracelet was upgraded from folded steel links to solid steel, which added to the feel of quality.

The new Explorer, designated 14270, sported a new case, dial, movement and crystal glass. The hands and the name are the only thing carried over from the 1016. Under this new crystal the dial featured white gold skeleton markers with luminous tritium fillings that replaced the previously painted markers. Under the dial was the very latest calibre 3000. These modifications brought the Explorer in line with all the other Rolex models of the time and, because the cosmetics of the new watch differed so much from that of the old one, the price in the collectors market for the old one spiralled.

In autumn 2010, Rolex replaced their 14270 classic 36mm with the larger 39mm 214270, which houses a unique Rolex 3132 calibre. All the usual updates to 904L steel, parachrom spring are present in this newest edition.


1952 Prototype Bubbleback Explorer 6098 and 6150.
1953 Explorer 1 is officially introduced, showing the now distinctive Explorer Arabic Dial on the 6350.
1959 Reference 6610 replaces the 6150 – flatter caseback is the big giveaway.
1963 Evolution again sees the 1016 take shape with the new calibre 1560 at its heart.
1989 End of an era as the 1016 comes to an end. Six months later the new revised Explorer is revealed. Reference 14270, sporting a new case, dial, movement and sapphire crystal.
2010 Introduction of the use of 904L and also Paraflex in the calibre 3132 fitted to the new 39mm 214270.



1 thought on “History of the Rolex Explorer

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *