The Rolex Explorer, also commonly called the Explorer 1, is Rolex’s take on a field watch. It was developed out of Rolex’s obsession with exploration, hence its appropriate name. A field watch needs to be durable, water resistant, and highly legible—and the Explorer’s 100m water resistance, solid steel case, and rich black dial checks all of these boxes with ease. Interestingly, the dial is the main hallmark of the Explorer collection. As evolutions have come and gone, the 3, 6, 9, and center triangle have been present from the very beginning. Interested in seeing what came after this iconic collection? Browse our assortment of Rolex Explorer II watches to discover a more rugged version that’s recognized for its orange fourth hand and 24-hour bezel.
A History in Exploration
The Rolex Explorer was introduced in 1953, but its history actually goes a few decades back before this launch. Since its inception, Rolex has always been a company interested in pushing the boundaries of what is possible, especially when it comes to water resistance and durability. The Oyster case was a breakthrough in water resistance in the early 1920s. Approximately ten years after this case was developed, Rolex began sending watches on mountain expeditions with the goal of developing the perfect explorer’s watch. The ultimate test run was in 1953 when these early prototypes adorned the wrist of Sir Edmund Hillary atop Mount Everest. It was after this final expedition took place when Rolex was ready to introduce the Rolex Explorer as their ultimate field and expedition watch.
What Makes the Rolex Explorer So Desirable?
So many collectors are after the Explorer collection because it makes a case for itself as a perfect one-watch collection due to its unrivaled versatility. The simple black dial allows the watch to blend seamlessly with a suit, but the three large numerals give the watch a more casual feeling. Despite the high quality and attention to detail that Rolex puts into their bracelets, the Explorer’s clean dial may push you to dress the watch up on a leather strap. Combine the agreeable design with its 100m water resistance and durable movement to get a watch that is perfect for any occasion.
Why Buy a Pre-Owned Rolex Explorer?
With the current state of the hot stainless-steel Rolex sports market, the pre-owned market is the best option to find a Rolex Explorer. If you are in the market, Watchbox’s global inventory is a great place to start your search because there has never been a better time to invest in an Explorer timepiece. As one of the brand’s top-selling collections and first sports watch suite’s, many models like the ref. 14270, 214270, and 16570 continue to rise in demand and value.
Discover Standout Explorer Models
Boasting a rich history, high-demand, and a sweeping array of references, it’s no surprise that prices for pre-owned Explorers vary. Currently, our inventory ranges in cost from $7,450 to $14,950 depending on materials, functions, and other factors. If you’re interested in adding a Rolex Explorer to your collection, learn more about a handful of the top-selling models.
Making its debut in 1956, some argue that this reference is the first true Explorer as it brought some of the largest improvements to the suite. This watch leveraged the new caliber 1030 which was Rolex’s first in-house movement that they built and designed—in fact, this caliber parted ways with its predecessor’s iconic bubble back. Other changes included its glossy black dial, luminous numerals, and an inverted triangle at the 12 o’clock.
Flaunting the longest production run of any Explorer, this reference was produced between 1963 and 1983. During that time, its caliber was upgraded and models can now be found with either the 1560 or 1570 movement. Other upgrades included changes to the bracelet which made it more durable.
Replacing the discontinued ref. 1016 in 1989, Rolex launched the Explorer ref. 14270 which introduced a few modern elements. Its sapphire glass replaced the acrylic crystal and a newer movement was used—the caliber 3000. See one of these pieces up close when you check out this pre-owned model.
In 2001, the popular ref. 14270 was updated to the modern ref. 114270. On its surface, this reference appears the same, but on the inside, it features an updated self-winding caliber 3130. Learn more about this incredible piece when you read this review of the “Hardman’s Watch.”
Throughout the Years: Materials, Calibers & Bracelets
As with any iconic and beloved collection, enthusiasts demand upgrades and evolutions—and Rolex always delivers. Learn more about the changes made to the Explorer’s materials, calibers, and bracelets over time.
One of the key changes in materials took place on the dial. Early references of the Explorer featured “glossy glit dials”with shiny black backgrounds, gold writing, and painted details. Then, in the 1960s, Rolex switched to using matte black dials and white text. Another change then occurred with the type of luminous material they were using. Until 1963, Rolex was using luminous radium paint—soon thereafter, they began using tritium instead due to safety concerns.
Made for adventure-seekers and expeditions-takers, the Rolex Explorer has been adapted over time to maintain accuracy under the most daunting conditions. Levering new technologies along the way, here’s a simple timeline of its biggest caliber changes over a nearly 60-year period:
- 1953: Caliber A296
- 1955: Caliber 1030
- 1959: Caliber 1560
- 1965: Caliber 1570
- 1972: Caliber 1570
- 1989: Caliber 3000
- 2001: Caliber 3130
- 2010: Caliber 3132
A Rolex Explorer is easily identified by its durable three-link Oyster bracelet in stainless steel—and yes, this has also changed over time. Depending on the reference and when it was launched, the Oyster bracelet links may be riveted, folded, or solid. Additionally, end links have also gone from hollow to solid which gives the timepiece more durability. Finally, the Oyster bracelet clasps have been enhanced and today’s models feature a sturdy folding Oysterlock safety clasp.