The Rolex Explorer, with its three-hand minimalism and quietly wearing size, is one of the Crown’s sports watches that come closest to straddling the border between the tool watch and the dress watch. It’s also a watch of Rolex that was designed to be readable under pressure and in the rain.
The Explorer, a submersible designed for use on the high Himalayas, made its debut in 1953 alongside the Submariner as well as the Turn-O-Graph. It is an understatement to suggest that this was a watershed year for Rolex and the watch industry. Rolex, the sports watch market, and the hierarchy of watch collectors is all products of this era.
The Explorer has become the symbol of the perfect “one decent watch” for many people. Because of its timeless style and straightforward construction, it may be taken anywhere, not just to remote high peaks. This is especially true of reference 1016, manufactured for an astounding 29 years, from 1960 to 1989. The anti-hype Rolex, with its understated 36mm in size, no-date minimalism, and sharp black dial (whether gilded or matte), is the perfect sport Rolex that just doesn’t attract attention. The one Rolex that, if you know, you know.
Good copies of the Rolex Explorer sell for significant sums at auction, though not on par with rarer models like the Submariners and Daytonas. A web search for auctions of Explorer records will likely find many Submariners with Explorer dials that display the numbers 3-6-9. Considering it was first introduced by Rolex 69 years ago as a professional model, the Explorer is surprisingly simple in design. Still, it was the Rolex Fleming wore himself, and it’s the one he probably had in mind when he chose a watch for Bond to wear.
Although it was formerly a staple in Rolex’s sport watch collection, the Explorer now stands out from the rest. Its diminutive proportions have stayed true to the original mid-century design, with only minor adjustments made here and there (such as the temporary increase to 39mm during 2010 with reference 214270). Since then, the Explorer has gone back to its original size of 36 millimeters, albeit it has thrown another curveball at collectors in the form of the choice of a two-tone case and bracelet. We don’t anticipate the Rolex Explorer, the tiniest, most basic, and most reliable of the Rolex professional wristwatches, to do anything out of the ordinary.