What to Know Before Buying a Rolex Explorer

Video Transcription

The Rolex Explorer is often overlooked when compared to its flashier siblings like the Submariner and the Daytona, but it’s every bit of a Rolex sport watch. So, let’s take a look at the Explorer history, talk through some of the prominent references, and explain why we think the Explorer may be the best Rolex sport model.

The Beginning

The history goes that Rolex was testing modified Oyster Perpetuals in the Himalayas to see how well they performed at extreme temperatures and with limited oxygen. The watch earned its name as the Explorer when the early prototypes being tested were on the wrists of Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay as they became the first to summit Everest in 1953. That same year Rolex released the first Explorer in the reference of 6298, however it wasn’t until later in 1953 when the reference 6350 was released that the Explorer name was on the dial.

The Explorer 1016

Rolex Explorer

Fast forward a decade later in 1963 when the reference 1016 was released, and we have THE Explorer. This watch and everything we’ve come to know and love in the Explorer. The 36-millimeter case, the black dial with the Arabic 3, 6, and 9 numerals, and the explorer name on the dial. It was a sleek, utilitarian watch that was just as comfortable on the wrist of a mountaineer as it was on a businessman.

The Explorer 14270

Rolex Explorer

Then in 1989 Rolex released the 14270 and ushered in what we’ll refer to as the modern Explorer. The 14270 saw the introduction of the gloss black dial with white gold surrounds on the indices. This was a pretty controversial move because it created a stark separation between the matte dial tool watch heritage of the 1016, and the new direction of the Rolex brand. Other updates to the 14270 were the caliber 3000 and a sapphire crystal. In the late 90s we saw the tritium replaced with Luminova and then in the early 2000s Luminova was replaced with SuperLuminova.

The Explorer 114270

Rolex Explorer

In 2001 the 114270 was released. This was the last of the 36-millimeter Explorer. The 114270 had another new movement in the caliber 3130. This movement introduced a new balance bridge, a Breguet Overcoil, and new reverser mechanism in the automatic oscillating weight. In layman’s terms, a more robust and efficient movement. More noticeable than the new movement was the addition of solid end links on the bracelet and, on the later models, the engraved chapter ring.

The Explorer 214270

Rolex Explorer

Then in 2010 the Explorer grew up. Now called the 214270, the watch’s size grew to 39 millimeters. The watch was met with mixed appeal because of the vast departure from a decades-old design. Leaving the traditional 36-millimeter case size was a big change, but the bigger issues seemed to come from the dial. The Arabic 3, 6, and 9 were now polished white gold, creating a much dressier watch while also reducing legibility. Even worse than that was the fact that the hands seemed to be the same hands from the previous 36-millimeter design. This reference has since been referred to as the “t-rex” thanks to its unusually short hands. It wasn’t all bad for the 214270 though, the watch gained a new movement in the caliber 3132 and a completely redesigned bracelet with solid links and a milled clasp.

The Explorer 214270 Mark II

Rolex Explorer

In 2016 Rolex updated the 214270 referring to the new watch as the Mark II. Rolex essentially just fixed the dial. The hands were now longer and thicker and appropriately proportioned to the larger size, and also the 3, 6, and 9 Arabic numerals were lumed for the first time since the 1016. This change definitely makes the Explorer feel sportier and harkens back to its roots. So there’s a quick overview of some of the more notable explorer references.

Pro Tips to Purchasing a Rolex Explorer

Two Rolex Explorer Side by Side

Our pro tip: If you want the vintage styling of the 36 millimeter go with the reference 114270. You get the traditional case size and nostalgia without the premium price of the 1016. Granted you lose the matte dial with painted indices, but the solid end link
bracelet and the caliber 3130 are nice modern touches. And if you like the larger case size then make sure you go with the 214270 Mark II. The correct proportions and lumed 3, 6, and 9 are welcomed updates.

The Best Rolex Sport Model: The Explorer?

So, here’s our argument for the Rolex explorer as the best sports model. It tells time, and it does it with great legibility. It has a sleek case that remains one of the only Rolex sport models to not receive the super case treatment, and a robust movement that can take a beating; nothing superfluous. To me, it is the epitome of what a Rolex watch should be. It has exactly what you need and nothing more. Let us know your thoughts on the Explorer, and which Rolex sport model you think is best, and as always thanks for watching.


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Latest comments
  • I have a 6298 manufactured in Q3/53 that has the “Old” look Dial of a 6098 but with Explorer written on the dial. Of all I’ve read, this is not mentioned anywhere. How rare could this be?

  • To clarify, only norgay wore a Rolex. Hillary wore a smith’s watch. SmiTh at this time was providing watches to the British military and one of those watches was worn by HillaRy.

    Still, EXCELLENT article and an enjoyable read.