History of the Rolex Explorer II

The Explorer II was introduced in early 1971 and was never widely distributed or popular until 1991. The original model was produced until the next generation model was released in 1985. The engraved steel bezel is stationary and was originally designed for speleologists (cave explorers) who can have a hard time determining whether it’s am or pm. The movement inside the Explorer II was identical to the movement used in the GMT-Master models, also featuring a 24-hour hand. Calibre 1570 and 1575 movements were used for the entire line-up of 1655 Explorer II watches.

Rolex introduced a new Explorer II – the 16550 – in 1985. Changes included the sapphire crystal, a calibre 3085 movement – with a double bridge – and a white dial alongside the black-dial model. The shape of the hands changed drastically, too, especially the 24-hour indicator, which changed from a small red-orange arrow-shaped hand to a long, sleek and red 24-hour hand with a white arrow at the end.

This model, in combination with its white dial, had some issues with the paint. The hue went from a white to a creamy color. The black models encountered problems as well, showing cracks in the gloss finish. Some owners thought this was a major problem and therefore had this faulty dial replaced by Rolex. Those who did not, however, are now proud owners of the highly sought-after cream-dial Explorers or – in case of the black dial models – spider dial Explorers.

The reference 16550 is also occasionally called a transitional model, as the new reference 16570 was introduced in 1989. For Rolex in particular, 4-5 years is a very short production run.

The Explorer II reference 16570 featured a newer type of movement: the calibre 3185 and later the 3186. It also only had one obvious visual change from its predecessor: the use of black hour marker rings and hands on the white-dial version. The cream-dial model had white gold hour markers and hands, just like the Submariner and GMT-Master for example. It is said that beneath the black paint, the hour markers and hands are still white gold.

The 40mm 16570 was replaced by a new 42mm version with an orange hour hand (216570), which was introduced at Baselworld in March 2011, and released to the public later that fall. This time equipped with the new 3187 caliber.

1971 The not-so-popular first Explorer II, the 1655, is released.
1985 16550 is introduced including a whole raft of updates, new sapphire crystal, calibre 3085 movement, and an additional white-dial option alongside the original black. Original small red-orange hand changed to a long, sleek, red one.
1989 16570 released, with the 3185 and later 3186 calibre. Later editions of the 16570 had the 3186 fitted in conjunction with a ‘Rolex’ rehaut. First use of black outline hour markers.
1991 The Rolex Explorer II becomes popular!
2011 Baselworld 2011 sees the end of the five-digit Rolex Explorer and the ushering in of the new 216570 with the new 3187 powering it all.


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