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Venturing to the Outer Limits

The Oyster Perpetual Explorer and Oyster Perpetual Explorer II evolved from Rolex’s deep involvement with exploration.

Rolex Explorer in Oystersteel and Yellow Gold
They go where few people venture. The brand was able to test these watches in real life by equipping polar, mountaineering and caving expeditions over many years. Some of the world’s most intrepid explorers, mountaineers and scientists took these watches to places that tested their reliability in the toughest conditions.

The illustrious history of the Rolex Explorer begins nearly 25 years before its official launch in 1953. During this time, Oyster Perpetual watches were tested in the field to develop what is now known as the Rolex Professional Watch category.

In the early 1950s, a group of the world's top explorers were on the cusp of conquering Everest, the highest point on Earth. Until that time, many unsuccessful attempts had been made, but the British mountaineers, along with Tibetan sherpas, were ultimately the men that would conquer the mountain.

This mountain was successfully summited in 1953 by Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, outfitted with Rolex Oyster watches. These watches were what collectors nowadays call Pre-Explorers, early prototypes of the eventual Explorer.

Mechanical advancements were made with subsequent expeditions, and now for almost 75 years, the Rolex Explorer continues its evolution – yet the essential DNA remains intact. Design elements have stayed consistent, from the glossy black dials to the distinctive 3, 6, and 9 numerals to subtle, ever-present marking and stamping. A brand-new two-tone model made of Oystersteel and yellow gold was added to the Explorer collection in 2021.

The practical design and size – the 36mm case has essentially remained the same since the earliest models – make the Explorer one of Rolex's more utilitarian timepieces, yet the nuanced evolution continues. Materials improved, strengthening the case and crystal, while mechanical innovations allowed for slimmer movements and enhanced reliability.

From the 1930s, Rolex began to equip numerous expeditions with Oyster Perpetual watches. The feedback received was used to develop what became known as the Professional category: watches that serve as tools, such as the Explorer and Explorer II. Rolex watches have taken part in some of humanity’s greatest adventures. One such occasion was the 1953 expedition to Everest, led by Sir John Hunt, on which Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay become the first to summit the world’s highest mountain.
Polar expedition and detail of a Rolex Explorer watch being manufactured

The Explorer, launched in 1953, sets itself apart with a simple design and a highly legible black dial with large hour markers and characteristic 3, 6 and 9 numerals. It is a tool watch, created to tell time accurately, whatever the circumstances. Even in the dark, the dial is easy to read, thanks to the Chromalight display. Today, the Explorer is available in the same 36mm size as the original model.

The Explorer II was introduced in 1971 and, in the same spirit as the Explorer, perpetuates the privileged relationship Rolex enjoys with exploration. Thanks to its 24-hour display comprising an additional, orange hour hand and an engraved bezel, the Explorer II allows the wearer to clearly distinguish daytime from night-time hours – a practical option in places where distinguishing day from night is difficult, such as at the poles at certain times of the year, and in caves – or to read the time in a second time zone.


Watches in the Explorer range have constantly evolved to meet explorers’ needs, each time becoming more robust and reliable. The Explorer is available in Oystersteel or in a yellow Rolesor version (combining Oystersteel and yellow gold), and the Explorer II is made exclusively in Oystersteel. Specially developed for Rolex, Oystersteel is a unique alloy with excellent anti-corrosion properties.

Both models are fitted with an Oyster bracelet, a three-piece link bracelet known for its robustness. Featuring the Rolex-designed and patented Oysterlock folding safety clasp, which prevents accidental opening, it is also equipped with the Easylink comfort extension link; developed by the brand, this allows the wearer to easily adjust the bracelet length by approximately 5 mm.

The Explorer is equipped with calibre 3230 while the Explorer II features calibre 3285. Both are self-winding mechanical movements entirely developed and manufactured by Rolex. They offer a power reserve of about 70 hours.
Vintage Rolex Explorer

Like all Rolex watches, the Explorer and Explorer II are covered by the Superlative Chronometer certification. This designation testifies that every watch leaving the brand’s workshops has successfully undergone a series of tests conducted by Rolex in its own laboratories, according to its own crite¬ria. The Superlative Chronometer status is symbolized by the green seal that comes with every Rolex watch and is coupled with an international five-year guarantee.

The Rolex Explorer will always be known as one of the most essential sports watches that changed the world. Worn by some of the world's greatest mountaineers, climbers, scientists, and environmentalists, this robust timepiece's romantic spirit still captures the imagination.

While Everest has been climbed more than 9,000 times by over 4,000 mountaineers, most of the mountain remains a mystery. There is still an enormous world to explore, and whether it’s aspirations or accomplishments, the Rolex Explorer is ready to go when you are, prepared to handle any task under the most strenuous circumstances.
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