Rolex Explorer vs. Rolex Submariner

Rolex Explorer vs. Rolex Submariner

1953 was an important year for Rolex and two of its most iconic tool watches. That year, the brand introduced both the Submariner and the Explorer. With each model, Rolex focused on both form and function. However, over the years, each watch has evolved in its own unique way.

Initial Models Put to the Test

When the Explorer and Submariner debuted in 1953, their capabilities were immediately put to the test. Rolex sponsored an expedition to Mount Everest, sending Sir Edmund Hilary and Tenzing Norgay to the summit with an Oyster Perpetual. Although the watch didn’t bear the Explorer name at the time, it was one of the first watches to reach Everest’s peak and served as inspiration for the Explorer collection. Rolex also sent the Submariner to the deepest depths of the ocean along with Auguste Piccard. He attached the watch to his submarine’s hull and descended 3100 meters into the sea. When he resurfaced, the Submariner was still in working condition.

The Charm of Timeless Design

The Explorer and Submariner quickly secured their places as superior tool watches. However, much of their charm is also in their design. The Explorer underwent several design iterations during its first decade, but, in 1963, Rolex released the Ref. 1016. This notable variation of the Explorer remained in production for an impressive 26 years. The Submariner has remained largely unchanged since its initial release. However, like the Explorer, the Submariner received one of its trademark aesthetic updates several years after it first launched. In 1959, Rolex debuted the Ref. 5512, which standardized the model’s oversized crown and crown guards.

Evolution of the Models

The late 1960’s and early 1970’s marked a period of change for both of the models, especially the Explorer. In the late 1960’s, Rolex introduced the Submariner Ref. 1680, which solidified the model as much more than a diver’s tool with the addition of a date function and Cyclops magnifier. The early 1970’s brought about a new era for the Explorer. In 1971, Rolex unveiled the first Explorer II with the Ref. 1655. This was a bold move. At first, many fans of the model felt it was an extreme departure from the original and missed the sportier look and feel of the Explorer.

Steve McQueen’s Influence

In the 1970’s, Steve McQueen had been a fan of the Submariner Ref. 5512. Later, McQueen helped to popularize the polarizing Explorer II. The famous actor, race car driver, and avid watch aficionado was rumored to have worn the Ref. 1655, giving the model its nickname as the Steve McQueen Explorer. 

The Models Today

Today, the Explorer II and the Submariner continue to be two of Rolex’s most instantly recognizable models. Both models combine the durability and functionality of a tool watch with the timeless design Rolex is known for, making them seamlessly transition from an adventure to a night out on the town. Each has been time-tested through strenuous conditions and everyday wear. When a watch is backed by the iconic Rolex name, it’s hard to choose a favorite.

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