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The Insider - Tested: Rolex Explorer II

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Tested: Rolex Explorer II

written by A.Morgan - 21st Nov 2011

Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3; Take That’s reunion; Star Wars Episode 1 – all these things have one thing in common; lots and lots of hype.

Some lived up to the massive expectations stacked up against them, and some failed miserably to deliver, but they all sold in numbers that would make your eyes bulge thanks to the colossal marketing machines that powered them through to their eagerly-anticipated releases.

The problem with hype is that it has the power to take a good product and turn it bad before anyone has even seen it, even if it isn’t bad at all. The gloss of marketing and the sheen of expectation can build a decent product up to such god-like levels that the punch of reality when the genuine article sits in your hands (usually after having been relieved of a not insubstantial amount of cash) can come swiftly and without mercy. Sometimes a few years might even pass by before people begin to realise that, yeah, it is actually quite good.

So here we have the product of two years of speculation and wonderment – the new Rolex Explorer II. After a sneaky peak in a video broadcast before Baselworld 2010 and a smattering of low-light, slightly blurry press shots from Baselworld 2011, it is finally here, in the metal, exposed to the world. The biggest news is that the case has been upsized by two millimetres – perhaps a trial by Rolex to measure the feel of the market before rolling out the same case on their other models.

The other big news is the return of the orange twenty-four hour hand. When the Explorer II was first released (as the ref. 1655), it was genuinely considered that Rolex had made a complete hash of it, and the bold and somewhat irregular dial design was dropped in favour of what we still see on this newest rendition, the 216570. Well, the famous 1655 orange hand (which became a red hand similar to the GMT-Master’s) is back, and is bigger and brighter than ever. Even on the white-dialled version, the orange hand dominates the dial – it’s such a bright colour that you can even see it through the lume on the minute hand as it passes overhead (and I’m not even joking!).

That’s not the only attention the minute hand is going to get, because despite being quite discreet in colour (black on the white dial, polished white gold on the black dial) it is a strong contender after the orange hand for being the boldest feature of the watch. Twice as wide as the outgoing minute hand, its thick border and vast span of luminous paint leave you in no doubt that telling the time at a glance will be extremely easy.

To balance the hands out, the markers have also increased in size, and so everything is pretty much as you would expect itself proportionally, except two distinct areas; the crown and the bracelet. The crown remains a twin-lock version, which is skinnier than would be found on the most recent GMT-Master II or Submariner, and looks a little overpowered by the chunky crown guards that sit astride it. The bracelet is plagued by a similar complaint; having only increased in width by a millimetre, it’s beginning to look a little skinny compared to the larger case.

A definite positive is the inclusion of the fantastic updated clasp. From the solid click as it snaps shut to the sprung ball bearings on the Rolex-badged thumb clip, it is a work of solid and precise engineering. The no-tools-required micro adjustment will prove very welcome when the sun makes its next appearance and wrists begin to swell up with heat up again.

As you would expect with any Rolex, the fit and finish is top notch, the wearability is spot-on, and the balance is just right. It sits, despite its extra width, very well on an average-sized wrist, although it does somehow manage to look a fair bit larger than its quite modest 42mm would suggest. This might perhaps be the crux of the issue for many current Rolex owners looking to upgrade – the old 40mm case measured in at just the right size, and adjusting to the new size will take time. After all, it took Rolex over fifty years to pluck up the courage to do it, so it’s no small matter.

Overall, this isn’t a half bad watch. It’s no ground-breaker, and really I don’t think anyone expected it to be, even despite the colossal hype surrounding it. Perhaps – like the Sea-Dweller Deepsea that was launched a few years ago to tepid reception – it’s going to be a slow-burner that people only begin to warm to after the buzz of anticipation has worn off, and the veil of two years’ worth of pent-up excitement is lifted. Maybe we might even see history repeat itself and have Rolex consign it to the ‘bad ideas’ bin like they did with the 1655 (which is now massively sought-after), making the purchase a very tempting prospect.

Think about it – you either like, so buy one; you don’t like it, but it’s likely to grow on you, so buy it; or it’ll probably be worth a considerable amount more in a year or so which offers a lucrative get out clause. You may think Rolex have lost the plot with this watch, but believe me, they know exactly what they’re doing.

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  • Bone

    You’ve forgotten to mention the movement.
    It’s a 3187, sounds similar , and it is, on the going side. The only change made to it is the use of their new shock system, thank God. The industry generally uses incabloc, fine, but not for Rolex. Its been an annoyance of mine for years. A day date has the same shock resist as an Oris!! Not good enough. So, dial side. The 3085 and 3185 have a bi-directional wheel that runs the hour hand. this doesn’t, as far as I’ve seen. I had to do a dial change on one, and it’s different under there. I didn’t take the plate off to have a squint, not enough time.
    So, the watch looks different, but the independent hand mechanism is different. And if its been designed by Rolex it will be an almost perfect piece of engineering, immaculately executed. Much like myself. Notwithstanding all of that, not sure if I like it, wouldn’t buy one.

    4 years ago