Hands-On Review Of The Rolex Explorer II – Going On A Adventure With The Spelunkers Watch

It’s funny to think that Rolex produces most of their watches like the Datejust for a broad audience, yet some Rolex models were made for a niche group of people.

The submariner was made for divers, the GMT-Master for pilots, and the Explorer was produced for spelunkers.

These were adventurers who explored caves, and they needed a tool watch which would help them in these dark unexplored lands.

To be clear, in the 1900s, tool watches were not made to look good on your wrist; they were vital safety tools that saved lives.

Today I will guide you through these unexplored places and tell you everything you need to know about this Rolex Explorer II reference 16570.

Table Of Contents

Going Underground With The Rolex Explorer

Before we dive into the watch itself, I would like to go back to the origins of the Rolex Explorer.

Like other tool watches from the Rolex brand, this model was made with the intention of being a real tool.

The Rolex Explorer II was introduced in 1971 but didn’t receive a great reception like other tool watches such as the Rolex GMT-Master.

To many people, it was glaring, and the dial was too busy. So it became a slow seller for the brand.

One of the reasons for that slow-selling was due to the fact that it had a 24-hour hand and a 24-hour bezel, but the bezel was fixed in place, so it wasn’t a GMT function since you could not follow two time zones.

But it was a tool watch, and to understand this timepiece, we must go underground like the spelunkers that used these pieces.

Now you might be thinking, why the heck would you apply a 24-hour hand and a fixed 24-hour bezel if you cannot read two timezones?

Let me explain that; when the speleologists went underground, they would be there for multiple hours and even days.

After being underground, without any sunlight, it gets hard to tell AM and PM time apart.

So the 24-hour illuminated hand would be used to tell apart day and night time.

This would also come in handy for explorers that spent their time on continents where there would be a constant person of day or night time.

In 1985 Rolex fitted the Explorer II with a new movement; the calibre 3085 made it possible to adjust the 24-hour hand separately from the main time.

This means you could set up a dual time zone, which made it a genuine GMT watch, although the bezel was still fixed and is today.

This change made the Explorer II a better seller for Rolex; the introduction of the white dial did the same; this white dial went by the name “Polar Explorer”.

Specifications Of The Rolex Explorer II

The Rolex Explorer II with reference 16570 has the following specifications. The watch is made out of stainless steel.

The 40mm stainless steel case houses a Rolex manufactured calibre 3915, an automatic movement with a 46 hours power reserve.

You could get the watch with a black or white dial. On this dial, we find a date function and GMT hand.

The dial is protected by a sapphire crystal with a cyclops which magnifies the date.

The watch is water resistant up to 100m (10bar), so taking it for any exploration, including getting wet, is no problem.

These are all the specifications of this Rolex Explorer II.

  • Price; $6.000 – $18.000 (as of September 2022)
  • Case Size; 40mm
  • Lug Width; 20mm
  • Movement; Rolex Calibre 3185
  • Power Reserve; 46 hours
  • Jewels; 31
  • Case/Bracelet; Stainless steel
  • Crystal; Sapphire
  • Dial; White
  • Water Resistance; 100m (10bar)
  • Features; Adjustable 24-hour hand (GMT), Date function, Luminous

The Non-Rotating Bezel

On top of the Rolex Explorer II case is a non-rotating GMT bezel made out of stainless steel with black 24-hour numerals.

This bezel is a trademark of the Explorer II, and it’s different from the GMT-Master II in its bezel.

As you know from my review of the GMT-Master II, the GMT bezel on these models from Rolex poses bi-directional rotating bezels with inserts; these inserts make it easy to turn the bezel.

Since you cannot rotate the bezel on the Rolex Explorer II, there is no way to set up three time zones like on a GMT-Master II. But this doesn’t mean it’s useless.

This watch will be perfect for you if you frequently travel between two time zones.

The Polar Dial

If you ask me, this is the best thing about this watch, the stunning white dial, also called the “Polar dial”.

Some people will suggest that this dial looks a bit like a piece of plastic, but I disagree with those people.

The dial is in this bright white colour which really reflects the sunlight.

When taking it into less sunny places, you can still see the white colour now with the illuminated hour markers and hands.

All the hour markers, watch hands and the date function with the cyclops contrast beautifully against the white background.

The red GMT hand gives the whole an unexpected bit of colour, which is nowhere else on this watch.

Due to its long production run, this watch dial has transitioned from Tritium to Super Luminova luminous fills for its hour-markers and watch hands. (Click here to learn more about luminous watches)

The luminous hour markers and watch hands

The Oyster Bracelet

The well-known Oyster bracelet from Rolex, this Rolex Explorer II, has the Rolex 78790 Oyster bracelet.

It’s a 3-link stainless steel bracelet. The links on the bracelet are finished in satin on the top and bottom and in high polish on the sides; this gives it a really cool contrast.

This bracelet is very comfortable; even on an older model, this wears brand new. I think this bracelet adds up to the vintage feeling of the watch.

And it will help the Explorer II attain its classic looks.

The Oyster bracelet

The Rolex Explorer II On My Wrist

Even on my small wrist, I felt comfortable wearing this 40mm timepiece.

The Oyster bracelet made it an excellent watch to wear daily, although I can imagine this one being put on a brown leather or suede strap. (That would look really cool)

The Rolex Explorer II on my wrist

The Rolex Explorer II is not one of the glamorous or popular models like the Submariner or Datejust.

But it ticks many boxes for those who dare to step outside that hyped circle and want to try something else.

Maybe another thing these daredevils love about this Rolex model is its story.

This is the thing that attracts me to particular watch models. It is their stories.

The story for this model is about all the expeditions and explorations the watch has seen, like an expedition to the Antarctic where Chris Furse set foot on Brabant Island in 1984 with his team.

They picked their equipment with care, just like the watch they wore on the expedition, which was a Rolex Explorer II.

With the Rolex Explorer II on my wrist, I had a real conversation starter on me at all times.

People are curious about the brand, but when you tell the story behind the watch, they tend to get interested even more.

Like every other Rolex model, this watch is made without any mistake, while you might like or dislike its looks.

There is nothing wrong with it.

I would say this is one watch you can wear daily and use all its features.

It looks very cool; you can use two time zones to see if your long-distance friend is asleep or not.

With the automatic movement, you also don’t need to worry about winding up the watch unless you leave it off your wrist for more than two days.

Original advertisement for the Rolex Explorer II

My Overall Experience With The Rolex Explorer II

What is my overall experience with this Rolex Explorer II, reference number 16570? I love it.

I might be one of the fewer people who share this opinion, but I love it. The white dial just stole my heart.

The vintage look and the GMT function made this one a go-to daily watch for me.

I love how the watch shines in the sun and changes character when going into darker places.

As I said, I would only need to try this watch out with a brown leather strap; I think that would make it even more vintage.

Also, I love that this is not one of the overhyped models from Rolex.

Like other sports watches from the brand, which sell for enormous prices nowadays.

The Rolex Explorer II prices didn’t spike, so you’re getting yourself a better deal with this one than a Submariner.

After wearing this watch for around two weeks, I am safe to say that I found a new favourite Rolex model.

And I can suggest you try this one out for sure.


The guy who loves to chat about watches.

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