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The new Rolex Explorer II done right, courtesy of HTE

By on 23 September 2011 in Watches

The new Rolex Explorer II done right, courtesy of HTE
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The most popular topic on The Prodigal Guide? By a huge margin, the Rolex Explorer II.

Don’t ask us how or why our digital behinds became so closely intertwined with this watch, but it continues to elicit your interest. Ours? Not so much since we declared the new Rolex Explorer II a dodo. Swollen, blunt and a far cry from the every-day beauty and subtlety of its predecessor, we backed away. In no small part aided by the Rolex security staff at Baselworld. Ahem!

Anyways, we’ve also recounted our discovery of the Hillary Tenzing Edition project, headed by the ever-ebullient, chain-smoking Philip Stahl. A crucial element was missing from this 3-piece Everest-themed watch set: the new Explorer II.

You see the other watches in the limited Hillary Tenzing Edition are the HTE 36mm and HTE 39mm, each with their own theme engraved on the caseback. The HTE 36mm is based on the original Rolex Explorer I, and honouring Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay as the first to set foot on the top of Mount Everest, the world’s highest mountain in 1953·

The new Rolex Explorer I has been the inspiration for the HTE 39mm, and is dedicated to the first & second generation to the top as Sir Edmund Hillary and Peter Hillary were the first father/son duo to reach the top of Mount Everest.

And now? The Rolex HTE 42mm is finally here.

Inspired by the original Sir Edmund Hillary Explorer II, a patina has been added along with small, but significant changes to the bezel to recreate the vintage look. Dumping the steel bracelet, which weighed the entire piece down, you can see just how great it looks on…the NATO strap that accompanies the Tudor Monte Carlo re-edition! Yes, yes, lots of cobbling together here. But look at the result. On looks alone, this is the piece Rolex should have delivered, and didn’t. Granted, none of this comes cheap, with the entire set and lots of goodies being provided for, um, EUR29,000.

For sure, many of you will blast this as nothing more than clever marketing and profiteering. Not to mention tampering with a perfectly good new watch. You may be right, but the looks tell us folk outside Rolex are delivering better designs than the parent company.

And that’s the truth, Ruth.

For more information on Hillary Tenzing Edition, click here.


The new Rolex Explorer II done right, courtesy of HTE

HTE deliver the Rolex Explorer II that should have been. We stand by this statement. Read on….

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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

    “A patina has been added”!? Oh please, patina can’t be added, it has to be slowly developed over the years; it has to be earned.

    I really dislike after-market modifications to any watch and this is no exception. Leave the damn thing alone, leave it as the manufacturer intended. If you don’t like it the way it left the factory, buy something else – but don’t go tinkering with the thing.

    And don’t get me started on the absolutely extortionate price…

    • Chris II

      Dirty lume on a new watch is now considered patina. Or perhaps they harvested the lume from vintage Explorer IIs they had collected just for this purpose. Hence the price… Not sure why someone would spring for this when it costs far more than a mint vintage 1655.

      Though I must admit that if this was Rolex’s take on the Exp II at its current price, I might have jumped in on the party.

  • Jack

    This is what I struggle with when I think of Rolex- a great brand, serious history and to my eye very cool style (in the sports ranges anyway).

    Then the price comes out. You can have a very seriously nice vehicle for the price of this tweaked-up watch. Somehow I just can’t get over the idea that I’m being played for a sucker.


  • Bryan

    Maybe I’m a bit boring, but even ignoring the exorbitant pricing of the HTEs, I’ve always preferred the previous generation Explorer II over the new one. To my eye, that seemed simple and subtle enough.

  • Straight-Six

    On the topic of “patina”, haven’t B&R and Panerai used aged-lume looks in their lines to great effect? So, what’s the difference here except it’s an aftermarket modification rather than straight from the brand itself.

    On price, that’s for three watches plus lots of goodies. Still huge money.

    On the looks of the new Explorer II vs. the previous gen., well I’m with Bryan. Maybe that’s why I have a Polar EXP II 16570 waiting for me to pick it up…

  • Straight-Six

    Oh, and I think Chris II hit the nail on the head here: if this design came as is from Rolex at the current EXP II price we’d all be singing a different tune…

    • Chris II

      And I think this reflects the general frustration most Rolex aficionados feel in Rolex’s design direction. We hate that it takes a third party to properly pay homage to the long lineage of great, iconic design.

  • Bryan

    Actually, as you guys mentioned over a year ago, I can’t help but think Rolex has lost the plot a little. Even the 39mm Explorer I that I own doesn’t look as beautifully proportioned as the previous generation. So mechanical and bracelet quality improvements aside, maybe it’s just a design issue with new Rolexes in general.

  • Chris I

    EUR 29,000 for what is essentially a frankenwatch with faux patina?

    Once again gents, I am not prodigal enough…

  • john steppling

    Well, adding patina is a bit like “distressed” blue jeans. Its just un-cool in the extreme. Couple it to that price…..and its double un-cool. Do I think the design is nice, apart from all that.? Sort of. Maybe. The old McQueen explorer has always been over-fetishized too….but it was a pretty good looking watch. The following generation of ex2 were outstanding and the black dialed version is among my favorite rolex. That said……..we run up against the entire Rolex identity here. And certain other style questions are begged as well. The Sub…once it started adding gold and blue dials etc had already lost the thread. What started as a dive watch (sure) became bling. I think the GMT remains (up until the latest incarnation) the very best Rolex. The red and black bezel version is my favorite….its simple, easily identifiable but still elegant. And it served a purpose as a ‘tool’ watch. The newest Rolex line is ugly bling. Just start with the polished center links thing. Ugh. I would seriously hesitate buying any more Rolex to be honest. For half the price you can get a pretty super Omega seamaster, or a various IWC or JLCs. Its possible the cooler brands up and coming now are Sinn and people like Bremont and I guess JLC. Panerai’s are horrid in my opinion, for the very same reason this Rolex after market whatever it is , is horrid. The whole question of vintage is one that deserves real analysis (for watch junkies I guess….but in the whole world of design, too I think). Vintage doesnt make it. Its just dumb. Especially the fetish for aviation vintage (Listening Bell & Ross?). I would say the old GMTs and Ex2 s are about the only thing left of Rolex. Sorry to go on so long, but really………29 thousand Euros?????? And for that matter…..the new 39mm Ex1 is way overpriced as well. Enough!!

    • The Prodigal Fool

      John, I agree with everything you say.

      Just to clarify though – the EUR 29,000 price tag is the cost of all three watches, not just the modified Explorer II.

  • Boris

    The HTE project combines just about everything I hate in the watch business latest trends:

    – the customizing of watches at ridiculous prices
    – the fake legitimacy brought by the descendents of heros / adventurers / celebrities endorsing the watch
    – the auction done for the first set, under the cover of a charity, which is just a cynical way of setting a price as high as possible so that the rest of the production sells easily
    – the fact that the brand itself gave a “no go” to be associated with this project, and threatened to sue if they used the word “Explorer”, hence Hillary Tenzing Explorer had to become Hillary Tenzing Edition
    – the fact that these guys are really not deterred easily when it comes down to make a buck: they tried to do the same with specially customized Sea Dwellers as a “tribute” to the Piccard expedition, which Rolex turned down

    I really pity the suckers who will fall for this, regardless how how the watches look.

    • The Prodigal Fool

      Amen, Boris. Amen.

  • Boris

    I’ve just realized that they haven’t even bothered to give the same kind of patina shade to the hands as they did to the indexes…

    At least this provides some degree of consistency: a stupid looking watch at a stupid price point

  • Frank

    Before we start picking apart the nature of the customisation, we should remember that, despite what Rolex has managed to shoe-horn into our popular consciousness, Sir Edmond Hilary didn’t even wear a Rolex when he and Tenzing climbed Everest. He wore a Smiths.
    Tenzing and some of the others in the party apparently wore Rolex bubble-backs which they were given on a previous expedition. Rolex, it seems, is a true Manufacture, making everything from its movements to its history.

    So we have a set of three watches, buggered up to mark something that never happened for only 29K. Bargain.

    • The Prodigal Fool

      “Rolex, it seems, is a true Manufacture, making everything from its movements to its history.”


      Although, to be fair to Rolex, they’ve never claimed that Hilary or Tenzing wore Explorers during the climb, merely that this model was created to honour their achievement.