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Why the only other current Rolex worth buying is the mighty Explorer II

By on 27 April 2010 in Watches

Why the only other current Rolex worth buying is the mighty Explorer II
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So there it is: The Rolex Explorer is the only model in the entire current Rolex line-up we’d slap our hard earned cash (um, make that credit) for.

Except it isn’t. There is another and what a surprise that it turns out to be its younger brother: the Explorer II.

There’s never been a better pair of siblings in the history of watches, we believe. While one carries the great heritage and history of having scaled the highest peaks, the other can lay claim to being the best-looking 40mm sports piece Rolex still makes. And much of that is down to that fantastic stainless bezel and its pairing with the GMT function/dial. And the choice of black or white dials…

You see, the black bezels of the Submariner and Sea Dweller are ubiquitous. You’d recognise them from a mile away as you sought a more interesting place to rest your eyes. Now, the  Coke/Pepsi-coloured bezels of the former GMT Master II were playful, noticeable and equally anchored in history. More discerning enthusiasts would give a wink and a nod and you would then decide if they were hitting on you, or admiring your timepiece.

But the Explorer II dropped all that colour nonsense and simply said: stainless does it better. And by God do we agree. The contrast of the dark numerals against the brushed elegant bezel has us quivering while the single splash of red courtesy of the 24-hour hand provides all the contrast we could ever ask for. Once again, it’s all about these subtle tensions that the club-wielding Rolex designers of today just don’t get. Less is more.

The icing on the cake is the choice of a broody, evening black dial, or the bright effervescence of a do-it-all white dial. True, the cream-dialed Explorer IIs are the one to really go for (and I intend to have mine before the year is out), but we’ve rarely seen a white-faced sports watch burn so brightly, and so rightly.

Some of you may be aware that a Rolex publicity film was recently seen on the Internet (just before Basel) featuring a glimpse of the “new” Rolex Explorer II with orange hands, in a nod to the Steve McQueen 1655 model of the past. We understand this was eventually pulled, leaving us guessing that the current Explorer II is about to be bastardized like every model in the line-up in order to celebrate the 40 anniversary of the Explorer II in 2011. Observing the Maxi hands and dial and the rather silly looking 24-hour hand we already shed a tear for the current model.

Buy the Explorer and Explorer II while you can, folks. It’s impossible to tell when such a tremendous, classic pairing of watches will ever appear on the market again.

23 September 2011 – UPDATE – Turns out someone has delivered the new Explorer II we always wanted: HTE. Find out more here.

30 March 2010 – UPDATE – So, as we expected, Rolex released the new Explorer II at Baselworld 2011. What do we make of it? Head on over here to find out.


Why the only other current Rolex worth buying is the mighty Explorer II

We recently wrote that the Rolex Explorer is the only model in the entire current Rolex line-up we’d slap our hard earned cash for. Except it isn’t. There is another and what a surprise that it turns out to be its younger brother: the Explorer II. There’s never been a better pair of siblings in the history of watches, we believe.

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Straight-Six had a proper job as a journalist for Dow Jones before lowering himself gently into the warm, forgiving waters of The Guide. He’s our resident fanatic: he relished detailing his BMW M3 for two full days at a time before crashing it at Eau Rouge in the wet; he spends insane amounts on his home-cinema system and has thrown tens of thousands of euros at vintage Rolex sports watches. The little fool simply does not understand the concept of restraint or the meaning of excess. He also – following a legendary "heavy" lunch – once nibbled (yes, like little dogs do) a dear lady friend of ours.

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  • The Prodigal Fool

    After the Explorer I, the Explorer II is the only other watch I would consider buying from the current line-up. But you know what would stop me? I already own a previous generation GMT-Master II. The Explorer II is too similar.

    For anyone wanting a new Rolex today though, the conclusion of my post yesterday and yours today is simple and one that I endorse: you have only two choices and they are both Explorers.

    I do hope Rolex start toning down the bling soon and return to making classic, timeless pieces. I won’t be holding my breath though…

    • Straight-Six

      Neither will I, old friend.

      I’ve been coming across some dissent in the online watch forums about our strong and categorical statement about the Explorer boys being the only watches worth buying. So, maybe they’d care to comment….?

      The floor is yours, folks.

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  • Straight-Six


    In the spirit of openness and dialogue we posted a blend of the two Explorer posts on in their Rolex – Modern forum:

    It generated a rather large number of responses which we have in turn responded to. This said, doesn’t permit posts which link to external websites – much to our disbelief.

    But we here at The Prodigal Guide believe that a full conversation is an open one into which all are welcome, hence the link.

    But if you don’t try really, really hard to guide them back to The Prodigal Guide, well, we’re gonna come looking for you..:))

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  • darwen

    Thanks for this review. Guess what – I’ve just bought my new explorer II and love it to bits and agree completely with what you said.

    I promised myself that after buying 1 rolex air king (white face, roman numeral digits, plain bezel) 3 years ago and then a (blue) omega seamaster chonograph 3 months ago, and then a black faced omega seamaster planet ocean 2 months ago I wasn’t going to buy any more watches.

    This assumption was based on the fact that, like you, I didn’t particularly like the current rolex lineup (prefering the look of the omegas). I already have the air king which might be smaller than the explorer but not different enough to warrant purchasing an explorer.

    Until I walked passed a rolex dealer’s window once and saw a white faced explorer II. Oh dear, here goes another wedge of cash from my bank account.

    Anyway thanks again for this blog post and I’m off now to stare dreamily into the face of my new explorer II.

    • The Prodigal Fool

      Thanks for stopping by Darwen and congratulations on your Explorer II – a truly great choice. Me? I’m waiting for the new Explorer I.

      Wear yours in good health.

    • Straight-Six


      Like your style. As fate would have it, my wife owns the same Air King as you, courtesy of muggins here…:)

      That white-faced Explorer II is indeed a peach, though I have my heart set on a Cream Dial vintage number, if I can find one that hasn’t been fiddled with!

      Enjoy it, my friend and as the Fool said, thanks so much for stopping by.

      • Watche Buyer

        Nice taste you have, i love the style :)

    • WatchFreek

      You buy omegas … say no more

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  • Hanna Bayoud

    After reading this blog I went frantically to a rolex dealer and bought two white face explorer ii. One for me and one for my sister. My wife decided for a date just. I have to say that I totally agree with the author of this article. Looking at my watch everyday makes me a very happy man as I captured the last of classic sports rolexes. So thank you. Just the idea of missing this opportunity would have killed me :)

    • Straight-Six


      We’re touched by what you wrote and a little bit humbled that the opinions we post are taken to heart! God knows our significant others stopped listening to us eons ago…:)

      It’s genuinely a pleasure to hear you made the move and took the decision. You won’t regret it and hey! You’re so very welcome…:)



  • Laguna

    I whole heartedly agree! When I first bought my Submariner many many years ago I didn’t like that it had the bubble over the date. I wished that I had one without the bubble or even a date but after a year of wearing it I felt that everything was right with the watch… until I discovered the Explorer. I can’t tell you how many times I almost dumped the Sub for that model. And you’re right, the Rolex designers are heavy-handed with their creations. They border on gaudy.

    I’m still stunned by the content in this site/blog. It’s literally a compendium of all the things that reflect my personal taste. Visiting your pages is a delightful experience. Good show!

    • Straight-Six


      You made our week. Literally. With full time jobs, families and a penchant for overdoing it on a regular basis, the Fool and I regularly struggle to keep all this going. Comments like yours remind us why we do.

      Thank you…

  • Chris

    Was strongly considering a Submariner until I read this post and saw some pictures of the white Explorer II (the official Rolex site does not do it justice). Needless to say, I pulled the trigger.

    • The Prodigal Fool

      Well done. Chris. Great choice.

    • Straight-Six


      I’ve told another Prodigal fan that he was the man for buying a storming Cadillac CTS-V. I’ll do the same for you given you’ve purchased the Explorer II: you da man!

      Well done and enjoy…

      • Chris

        Thanks guys. Picked it up for a song at a duty-free while in Korea… really, the price was too good to pass up especially after seeing it up close and in person.

  • Chris I

    I want to love the ExII…I really do. I have tabs open at TRF looking into the sales section right now at ExII. But…it wears too small, even for me, an averageish size guy. I have tried it on a couple of times at ADs hoping I would think it was right for me – but it’s not.

    I love the design, I love the GMT complication, I just don’t like the way it wears on me.

    Sucks for me…it’s an outstanding design…for those who wear it and love it…I am jealous.

    Chris I

    • Jack

      I’m with you Chris, the Exp2 looks great on everybody’s arm but mine.

      I miss the old ‘Pepsi’ GMT tremendously…. the new GMT II just leaves me cold too.

      Now the Deepsea… that is a watch that suits my gigantoid frame…


  • Boris


    For once I might disagree: from what has leaked of the new Explorer II, it retains the “thin” lugs and case of the previous version, and the bracelet looks like it’s fully brushed. So it looks like the only alteration are the orange hand (a throwback to the 1655 model) and the “maxi” indexes and minutes hand (welcome additions, if you ask me, as they improve legibility at night). I assume they would also have improved the bracelet clasp like on the new Explorer. So altogether, this might not be bad at all. Let’s wait and see when it comes out in 2011.

    Having said that, I am toying with the idea of acquiring a 16550. Not a “cream” or a “rail” dial (these models are the most tampered with in the collecting world), but just a simple, regular black or white 16550 in good condition with a tritium dial. These models are awesome (the case is a bit thicker than the current 16570, and the numerals on the bezel are bolder), and still quite affordable. It’s in the balance with a Sea-Dweller 16660 (gloss dial / white gold indexes), as I find myself quite attracted to the transitional models these days. I think they represent fantastic value for money, without the hassle of trying to service them as can be the case with older vintage models.

  • cdduplication12

    Omega Seamaster watches have ALWAYS been awesome. This blog is so fun and includes so many fun reviews of such an array of products while concentrating on one of the most talented companies in the world. If you are looking for Omega watches, then I have the solution for you.

  • John

    I rewarded myself for getting all A’s this past semester. I pulled the ripcord and purchased an Exp II. I love it. I love looking at the snow-white enameled dial and the brushed stainless steel bezel. It does not call attention to itself, yet it makes a strong subtle statement.

    I had my eight year old with me when I purchased it. He is already looking forward to the day that it becomes his.

    • The Prodigal Fool

      Congratulations on the new watch, John. Great choice. Wear it in good health.

    • Straight-Six

      Smart eight year-old, and he does indeed have something to look forward to. Well done, John!

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  • Phil R

    I bought an Explorer II in 1987. It is a “cream/rail” dial and I’m considering sending it to Rolex in Dallas to have it cleaned with strict instructions to refurbish replacing the bezel and crystal, leaving the original dial and hands. I’ve worn the watch since I purchased, therefore the crystal has some chips around the edges, the bezel is scratched and the black markings have been gone for years.

    I was in New York recently, window shopping on 47th when I was stopped and informed that I was wearing an extremely desirable watch. I thought the guy was nuts, but when I got back to Kansas City I googled the watch and discovered that it is somewhat of an anomaly.

    Presently it runs fast and I have not been able to find anyone local to clean and adjust the watch to the accuracy that it once had.

    I read that others have sent their watch to Rolex for service and have had them returned completely refurbished replacing only the pieces that Rolex still had available from the date of original manufacturing, respecting the owners desire to not replace the face and dials.

    I have no intentions of ever selling the watch, however, I do know from other items I own, especially firearms and optical devices, that changing their patina have significant impact upon their rarity.

    Thank you in advance for your opinions.


    • Straight-Six


      Welcome to the site and thanks for posting your “dilemma”. I have two short replies for you:

      1. Your watch is indeed a rarity and I cannot congratulate you sufficiently on keeping it. Cause God knows, I adore it!
      2. Given you’re in Texas, then I highly recommend the esteemed and venerable Bob Ridley (based in Arlington, Texas) who will service your Explorer II to perfection and who you can be sure will abide by your every request. His website is: And his telephone number is: 817-276-1400. And please let him know we sent you…

      You’re a lucky man, Phil. Just don’t ever lose your optical devices while handling your firearms…:)

      All the best.

  • Mickey®

    Thanks. Great article.

    I am very saddened every time I see a new Rolex. So much Bling and Writing on rings around the dial…Horrible IMHO. Also I am not a fax of the new “clownish” Maxi dials.

    To be fair I do like a bit of orange on the New Explorer II but they had to ruin it and GO TOO BIG.

    I wonder how long it will take for Rolex to once again become “classy”?

  • Boris

    All right then. I pulled the trigger on an Explorer II. Model 16550. Rail dial and all. Probably the most understated model of all the sports models in 40mm.

    • Straight-Six


      That’s stunning. Absolutely stunning. What patina on the lume!

      Congrats, my friend.

    • The Prodigal Fool

      Great choice, Boris. Simply gorgeous.

      • Boris

        Thanks, guys.

        The patina is very nice indeed, but what drew me to a 16550 instead of the more common 16570 is the font of the numbers on the bezel. Notice it is much “fatter” than on the 16570, which in my view makes for a rougher, tool-watch style. Yes, it’s also “rail dial”, but I don’t really give two hoots about this. Value for money is quite outstanding.

        For good measure, I also bought a bottle of Yamazaki Single Malt 12 years. I’m generally partial to the Balvenie or Ardberg, but Yamazaki epitomizes everything I like about Japan, much like a Grand Seiko. Undisputable craft and quality.

  • Mickey®

    Bastardize is the only word for what Rolex is doing to the new models….
    I wish Rolex wouldn’t be so gimmicky lately…all the writing and stuff on the dial of the new “Sports Models? and Blues and Greens??? The MIlgauss with the lightning bolt and green crystal?

    I just went to – did you see that new Yacht-Master??????
    What tha!?

    Just my opinion…

    Having said all that I am sure they are selling thousands and thousands of them so what do I know…

    • The Prodigal Fool

      I couldn’t agree more, Micky. I wrote about it here.

  • steppxxxz

    Terrific post guys. Im buying either an old black faced Ex2 or an Ex … Id like probably a just post 2001 model. I do think quality began to go down after about 2003 or 2004. Its like Mercedes, after 92 the 300 series weren’t the same. I have a 91. Nothing today is as well made. Same with rolex. The old GMTs are great, and despite being rather TOO iconic, i still like them. I even like that anniversary Sub with green bezel…..though Im not sure why. But the explorer’s are the best today. The ex2 is elegant and rugged looking, and sans bling, sans ostentation, but its still a rolex. But the real winner is the Explorer itself. Still, And I find at 36mm is just fine. It wears much bigger for one thing. The bracelet allows it to seem larger. If one goes into a bar or restaurant or meeting and someone has a sub or daytona, it feels a little crass. Not with the explorers. The new 2011 or whenever , ex 2 is a monstrosity. Amazingly ugly, just amazing. The 39mm ex i can live with….sort of. But the new maxi hands didnt totally destroy the sub….the ceramic bezel is very nice….but the new explorer 2 is just a disaster, as are the new daytonas. DISASTERS. They are so awful in fact, that they have a permanent affect on Rolex as a brand. The trend for BIG watches will fade, we hope, and Rolex will eventually return to 40mm or 41. But boy, what a miscalculation that new Ex 2 is.

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  • Time 1814

    Excellent choice on that Explorer 2, The explorer is a good choice for any watch aficionado who is thinking about buying a Submariner. Thee white dial looks classy and yet rugged enough for the outdoor loving, athletic looking, sport loving Alpha male like me who wants the watch that identifies to our persona. The Explorer is the way to go if you wanna be unique and not average by buying the Submariner which is a good looking watch, unfortunately everyone and their mothers have one now days.

    • Straight-Six

      And their fathers! Don’t forget the Submariner-wearing Dads…:)

  • Ian Dixon

    I would argue as well ( well I would, I own one!) that the Air-King is worth buying as well. After all, it is the oldest model in Rolex’s present line up and one can trace design cues all the way back to the first models. It is a great Gentlemans size being 34mm, understated and very accurate and of course being a Rolex Oyster will do pretty much everything the sports watches will do for 99% of owners uses (how many of us dive over 300ft!

  • Nathan

    I’m looking for my first Rolex, and I keep coming back to the Explorer II 16570. It’s just so timeless, and I’m certainly not going to be diving further than 100m anytime soon. Traveling to another time one? That’s routine. Now that I have the opportunity to grab one for less than $4000 (not to mention the income to spend on it) I’m not sure I can keep myself from pulling the trigger. Or that I should even WANT to keep myself from doing so. Sure there are cheaper ways to start your trip into the world of haute horologie, but I love and respect classic Rolex—and I just don’t see a better modern way to celebrate it.

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  • ladd lindholm

    …call me a fool, but I sold my Exp I for a Mark XVI IWC. Flew with the airlines…NWA, for 35 years and have owned a GMT, Accurtron GMT, Glycine airman, Rolex Pres, 18kt Date, two tone Datejust, and Date only.
    I am back to wanting a Rolex Explorer, but this time the old version white or black face. I’m retired now for 11 years, divorced and not pulling down the B747 Capt. pay, am having sticker shock.
    Anybody out there with a suggestion?
    On Orcas island

    • Boris

      Perhaps you should consider a second hand 16570? They tend to not keep their value quite as well as the Submariner of the GMT Master on the resell market. Should not be too difficult to source around the USD 3,000 – 3,500 mark.

    • Boris

      The Rolex worth buying these days is… a Tudor!

      I actually quite like the new Sub no date (114060), but this is no longer a tool watch.

      The only watch that is true to the tool watch ethos is the Tudor Pelagos.


      I can’t say enough good things about this. It’s got everything you’s want on a serious dive watch, the quality of finishing and small details (e.g.beveling of the lugs) are truly amazing. I am extremely pleased, and I’ve owned a fair few watches.

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  • Gisela

    i like the explorer too but there are many other models that are as nice and some may argue even nicer. i like the Presidentials but here is a longer list of all the different models and as you can see not an easy choice


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