An interesting emotion comes with wearing certain watches. While it can be difficult to put into words, something changes when an Explorer II hugs your wrist. A sense of adventure ensues. You’re no longer sitting at your desk in a sea of cubicles – you’re ready to travel to the actual sea. Visions of alpine expeditions and multi-time zone journeys flood in like something straight out of an Ian Fleming novel. Some simply see a plain homologation between a GMT and dive watch design. However, I see something so much more – a gateway to a different way of living.
Ok, that may have been a little dramatic, but the Explorer II holds such a special place in my heart. It was the watch that introduced me to the world of Rolex. The memories associated with this watch range from snowy evenings trekking through New York City to warm afternoons spent in wineries on the countryside. The Explorer II isn’t just a watch – it’s a companion. The design variations that differentiate it from the GMT-Master II or Submariner give it a more distinctly rugged look. The brushed steel bezel seems like it could double as a flint if you found yourself stranded in the woods and needed to start a fire (seriously, don’t do this). Let’s get into why I can’t get enough of one of the most underrated watches in the current Rolex collection.
At 42mm, the Explorer II is noticeably larger than Rolex’s 40mm sport watches. To me, this simply adds to the overall robust tool watch feel. To complement the size, the brushed steel 24-hour bezel frames in the black dial. While the white-dial variant of the Explorer II is currently more popular, I prefer the black dial. It adds better legibility by contrasting against the white hands. On the subject of the hands, for this version of the watch, Rolex created the base of the hands in black to match the dial and added a phantom effect. As a result, the hands, at first glance, look rather stubby, but over time, the look grows on you.
To add contrast to the black dial, a bold orange arrow-shaped GMT hand helps you measure a second time zone. And, to make things easier, this hand is controlled by its own rapid time set function on the crown. This allows the user to switch the hours in mere seconds. Following more traditional design cues, the date function sits at three-o’clock under a magnifying Cyclops window. Hugging all of this to your wrist is the bracelet that is synonymous with most of their watches – the Oyster. Finished in brushed steel, the bracelet feels tough as nails while not compromising comfort. I wish it had the Glidelock clasp. However, it does feature the Easylink system that allows you to quickly expand the bracelet by about half a link. This comes in handy when switching from cold to hot climates or as your wrist swells throughout the day.
How to Wear:
There is a downside to the steel bezel I’ve been raving about. It makes the Explorer II a more casual watch than its ceramic bezel counterparts. I’m always of the opinion that you should wear whatever makes you feel best. However, to me, the Explorer II shines best in business-casual and informal settings. I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t paired it with a suit, but generally speaking, this isn’t a great move. The larger case and brushed finishes lend it more toward nice denim and flannel than anything else.
In daily use, the larger case size quickly dissipated from my perspective. With the majority of watches, I think size comes down to preference. You can get used to just about anything after a few days. I never found the Explorer II to be uncomfortable or too large for my 6.8” wrist. That said, I did notice the case wasn’t as flush on the wrist as a 40mm Rolex. I just equate that to being a sportier look.
This certainly isn’t an original thought, but for guys, a watch is really the only piece of jewelry we get to wear on a daily basis. The characteristics that make this watch different from the more traditional Submariner or GMT-Master add more character to the wearer. It shows you really know what you’re wearing as opposed to simply checking a box on the Rolex list. There’s a depth to the Explorer II that really makes you feel special when looking down at your wrist. Even if you aren’t going on a journey, you’ll always be ready when adventure calls. The Explorer II is the watch that will carry those memories forever.