10 Best Rolex Explorer Models (For The Pioneer Inside You!)
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Best rolex explorer models

10 Best Rolex Explorer Models (For The Pioneer Inside You!)

In the realm of Rolex, few timepieces embody the spirit of adventure quite like the Explorers. With a heritage steeped in exploration and innovation, these iconic wristwatches have become veritable symbols of resilience and precision.

From their early days as tool watches, the Rolex Explorers have evolved and adapted, encapsulating the essence of discovery.

Join us on a captivating voyage as we delve into the fascinating history, compare the legendary Explorer I and Explorer II, and reveal the most notable pieces of this remarkable collection – the 10 best models that have left an indelible mark on the landscape of timekeeping.

Prepare to ignite your passion for horological exploration as we unlock the captivating tales of these timepieces beyond the boundaries of ordinary wristwear.

About the Rolex Explorer

The Rolex Explorer is a renowned collection of professional sports watches that was first introduced in 1953. Designed with the needs of mountaineers and explorers in mind, the Explorer quickly gained popularity among adventurers and outdoor enthusiasts. 

With its simple yet elegant design, robust construction, and accurate timekeeping, the Explorer has become a staple choice for individuals seeking a reliable timepiece. Despite its exceptional quality, the Rolex Explorer remains one of the more affordable options within the Rolex lineup, making it a favorite among collectors and enthusiasts.

History of the Rolex Explorer

The story of the Rolex Explorer began in 1952, a time when the summit of Mount Everest remained unconquered. Rolex, the renowned watchmaker, aimed to have their timepieces accompany climbers on their journey to the peak. 

In that same year, Rolex provided the British climbers with large-size Oyster watches, which would later serve as prototypes for the future Explorer models. The successful ascent of Mount Everest in 1953 by Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay solidified the Explorer’s association with exploration and durability in extreme conditions.

Throughout its history, the Rolex Explorer has achieved notable milestones. The Explorer has been worn by esteemed characters and individuals such as James Bond, Neil Armstrong, and Buzz Aldrin, further cementing its status as a timepiece of choice for adventurers and celebrities alike.

As a result, the Rolex Explorer has gained popularity among collectors and investors due to its rich heritage and lasting appeal.

Rolex Explorer I vs Explorer II

Within the Explorer collection, there are two distinct model families: the Explorer I and the Explorer II. While both models share the Explorer name, they have key differences that set them apart.

The Rolex Explorer I is characterized by its classic and understated design. It features a clean dial with luminous and iconic “369” Arabic numerals and hands, providing excellent legibility. The Explorer I is known for its traditional 36mm stainless steel case, but it briefly appeared in a 39mm case and now exists in both 36 and 40mm versions.

On the other hand, the Rolex Explorer II takes a more rugged approach with its design. Introduced in 1971, the Explorer II was specifically designed for speleologists and cave explorers. 

It features a larger 42mm case, dots and dashes for hour markers, and an additional 24-hour hand, which allows for tracking two timezones simultaneously. The Explorer II has evolved over the years, with the latest reference being the 226570, offering modern features and advancements while staying true to its roots.

Rolex Explorer Models

There have been at least 19 models (the list is not exhaustive) of the Rolex Explorer since 1953, 4 of which are currently still on the production lines of the Genevan factory.

ModelProduction Years
Explorer 61501953 (Pre-explorer)
Explorer 63501953-1955
Explorer 5518/01962-1964
Explorer 66101955-1959
Explorer 1016/01960-1990
Explorer 55001958-1967
Explorer 1016 Space-DwellerUncertain
Explorer 6429 (Known as “Commando”, very rare)Uncertain
Explorer II 1655/01971-1983
Explorer II 165501983-1990
Explorer 142701991-2001
Explorer 1142702002-2010
Explorer II 165701989-2011
Explorer II 2165702011-2021
Explorer 2142702010-2021
Explorer II 2265702021-
Explorer 1242702021-
Explorer 1242732021-
Explorer 2242702023-

Prices and Values

Prices for Explorer I and II models in the current production range between $8,700 and $13,300.

Explorer II 226570, 42mm, stainless steel: $10,900

Explorer I 124270, 36mm, stainless steel: $8,150

Explorer I 124273 36mm, stainless steel & yellow gold: $13,300

Explorer I 224270, 40mm, stainless steel: $8,700

On the secondary market, the first 2 models trade for a premium on the retail price. Overall, Rolex Explorer models usually sell for between $4,700 and $18,600 (for a Rolex Explorer 1016) on the pre-owned market. 

One of the most popular pre-owned Explorer is the 214270 reference, a 39mm edition whose first version (Mark 1) came with notoriously short hands as they hadn’t been adjusted up from the previous 36mm version.

An Understated Legacy

While the Explorer may not command the same attention and high prices at auction as some other Rolex models, its significance as a reliable tool watch cannot be understated. From its historical debuts to being associated with James Bond and its endorsement by renowned figures like Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, the Explorer has garnered a reputation for its versatile elegance.

The Best Rolex Explorer Models

1. Rolex Explorer 40 (ref. 224270)

Rolex Explorer 40 (ref. 224270)

The newest Rolex Explorer is a faithful update with a larger 40mm case that has lovers of assertively sized sport watches rejoicing. What’s an even bigger change is that the Explorer now exists in two size options (36mm and 40mm).

The dial of the new Explorer has undergone a thoughtful revision, showcasing the “Explorer” name positioned near the top, aligning with the design choice of its smaller 36mm counterpart. This departure from the previous iteration, where the name was located at 6 o’clock on the 39mm version, adds a harmonious touch to the overall aesthetic.

It remains powered by Rolex’s robust 3230 self-winding movement with a 70-hour power reserve and comes fitted on a stainless steel Oyster bracelet. A combination of mostly brushed, and some polished surfaces give it the crisp and straightforward look I love in an everyday timepiece.

The new Rolex Explorer 40 sits at the top of decades of continuous improvements and refinements to the Explorer collection and, as such, embodies the very best of it.

2. Rolex Explorer II White Dial (ref. 226570-0001)

Rolex Explorer II White Dial (ref. 226570-0001)

Let’s look at the 2021 Explorer II. It’s got a few new features that make this 42mm sport watch even better than the previous model.

First and foremost, the star of the show is the new 3285 movement that beats at the heart of this timepiece. With an impressive power reserve of 70 hours, this watch keeps ticking even when you decide to take a break.

You can confidently leave it on your dresser for the entire weekend, knowing it will remain in perfect sync until you pick it up again on Monday. The bracelet and clasp have also been redesigned. The bracelet is now wider and more comfortable to wear, and the clasp has been updated with a new, more secure design.

Finally, the hour markers and hands now use new-generation Chromalight luminescent material. This material glows brighter and longer than previous luminescent materials, making it easier to read the time in low-light conditions. These evolutions make the 2021 Explorer II one of the most well-executed Explorer models to date.

3. Rolex Explorer 36 (ref. 124270)

Rolex Explorer 36 (ref. 124270)

When the Explorer 36 made its highly anticipated debut in 2022, it instantly captured the attention of watch enthusiasts, and it’s easy to see why!

One of the most notable features of this release is the return to a 36mm case size, a change that delighted many devoted followers of the Explorer II. The downsized case brings enhanced comfort to the wearer and broadens its appeal to those with petite wrists.

As an added bonus, the reduced dimensions allow the watch to seamlessly transition from an outdoor companion to an elegant dress watch, offering versatility for any occasion.

But the improvements don’t stop there. The new 3230 movement represents a significant upgrade over its predecessor. This movement boasts a longer power reserve of up to 70 hours, as well as greater accuracy. The size and versatility of the 124270 make it one of the most interesting Explorer watches out there.

4. Rolex Explorer II Black dial (ref. 226570)

Rolex Explorer II Black dial (ref. 226570)

Released along with the “Polar” white dial version in 2021, this black edition presents a surprising difference in its dial.

On the black dial of the Rolex Explorer II Black dial, the hour, minute, and 24-hour hands undergo a subtle yet impactful transformation. Crafted from precious white gold, these new hands elevate the design of the watch.

This thoughtful update harmoniously aligns the hands with the markers on the dial, creating a seamless and visually striking ensemble. The choice of white gold for the hands is not merely an aesthetic enhancement but a deliberate design decision.

The contrasting hues of the white gold hands against the black dial create an exquisite interplay of light and shadow. This only adds to the superior pedigree of the 226570 in the Explorer’s team.

5. Rolex Explorer 36 Two-Tone (ref. 124273)

Rolex Explorer 36 Two-Tone (ref. 124273)

The Rolex Explorer 36 Two-Tone emerges as a captivating rendition of the timeless Explorer 36 watch fusing stainless steel and yellow gold.

This audacious design choice sets it apart from the crowd, exuding an air of confidence and style. The contrasting combination of materials adds a touch of opulence to the timepiece, elevating its aesthetic appeal and making it a true statement piece.

As the focal point of the watch, the black dial exudes simplicity and elegance in equal measure. Its refined design serves as a captivating backdrop for the luminescent Chromalight material, ensuring optimal legibility in even the most dimly lit environments.

Combining a bolder yet elegant look and all the credentials of a time-tested model, the Two-Tone is an Explorer model that stands out.

6. Rolex Explorer 1016

Rolex Explorer 1016

The Rolex Explorer 1016 is a vintage Rolex watch that truly captures the essence of a tool watch. It stands out with distinct features, such as the iconic “369” font. But what makes it exceptional are its two records: it’s the longest-running 4-digit reference, reigning for an incredible 30 years, and it’s the final 4-digit reference in the Rolex catalog, last produced in 1989.

The design of the Explorer 1016 has stood the test of time since its debut in 1953, showcasing a rugged elegance that never goes out of style. In recent years, the Explorer 1016 has gained in popularity, becoming a highly sought-after choice for collectors.

And its rarity only added to its appeal. Prices for the Explorer 1016 can range from around $12,000 to $45,000, depending on its condition and production period. Despite being a vintage watch, the Rolex Explorer 1016 has remained relevant and captivating to this day. Its historical importance and enduring aesthetic appeal make it one of the most notable Explorer models.

7. Rolex Explorer 1655

Rolex Explorer 1655

Initially overlooked, this vintage gem now commands the attention of collectors worldwide. Let’s delve into its intriguing past, unique design, rarity, and enduring appeal.

Designed as a tool watch for daring expeditions and adventures, the Explorer II 1655 embodies Rolex’s unwavering commitment to precision and durability. Its unconventional 24-hour dial, big orange hand (“freccione” in Italian), and steadfast non-rotating bezel set it apart from other Rolex timepieces.

The robust 1970s aesthetics, including the sturdy case and plexiglass crystal, exude a charm that will speak to enthusiasts of the era. While it carries the vintage appeal, the Explorer II 1655 holds its own against modern watches.

Though its 24h dial may require a discerning eye, it adds to the watch’s distinctive character once mastered. The less common 1970s look of the 1655, and its distinctive design features make this Explorer a model to remember.

8. Rolex Explorer 14270

Rolex Explorer 14270

The Rolex Explorer 14270, especially the “Blackout” version, holds a special place among collectors. Released in 1990 as an improvement over the iconic ref. 1016, it featured a gloss dial, sapphire crystal, and distinctive black enamel-filled Arabic numerals.

These unique dial details make the “Blackout” Explorer instantly recognizable and highly sought after by collectors. In fact, these early models are considered the rarest sapphire crystal Rolexes

The Explorer 14270 strikes a balance between vintage and modern aesthetics with upgraded details and a classic 36mm case size. Its comfortable feel and understated presence make it versatile and appealing.

Despite being underrated, the Explorer ref 14270 has a rich history and enduring style. It represents the concept of “youngtimer” in the watch market, gaining collectability. The distinctive aesthetical peculiarities of the 14270 and its sheer scarcity give it a unique position in the Explorer constellation.

9. Rolex Explorer II 16570

Rolex Explorer II 16570

The Rolex Explorer II Ref. 16570 holds historical importance as one of the iconic young timer watches. It represents the transitional period between vintage and modern models, offering a blend of cool design, modern features, and accessible prices.

The 16570, positioned between vintage and modern models, features a classic Oyster case made of stainless steel, which hosts Rolex’s 3185 calibre. Its timeless design captures the essence of the Explorer series, with a fixed 24-hour bezel and a clean dial available in white or black. 

The watch’s distinct design elements, such as the angled brushing on the lugs and the textured and graduated bezel, contribute to its overall appeal. One particularly sought-after variation is the white “Polar” dial, which adds a touch of retro charm to the timepiece.

Its availability at a relatively affordable price compared to other Rolex models makes it an excellent choice for watch enthusiasts and collectors alike. The watch’s enduring appeal and value contribute to its status as one of the most appealing Explorer watches.

10. Rolex Explorer 39 (ref. 214270)

Rolex Explorer 39 (ref. 214270)

The Rolex Explorer 39 214270 introduces some important new features that enhance its appeal. One notable modification is the larger 39mm case diameter, providing a more balanced dial with prominent Arabic numerals.

In addition, the Rolex Explorer 39 214270 retains several key elements from previous editions. The watch continues to uphold its iconic design with a minimalist black time-only dial, baton hour markers, and an inverted triangle at 12 o’clock.

The movement inside the watch remains the 3132 calibre, a COSC-certified self-winding movement known for its reliability and precision. While the 39mm case size deviates from the traditional 36mm diameter of previous Explorers, it offers a contemporary twist and a more balanced dial layout.

The Rolex Explorer 39 214270 represents what Rolex does best: consistent, gradual improvement and mastery of execution.


The Rolex Explorer collection embodies the spirit of adventure and has captivated horological enthusiasts worldwide. From its rich history to its constant technological advancement, it has left an indelible mark.

These 10 best Explorers stand as testaments to the brand’s commitment to excellence, and each one is remarkable in its own right.

Let their tales inspire you to embrace the unknown and pursue your passions. The adventure continues—time is yours to conquer. Which of these Explorers will you slap on your wrist to embark on your horological odyssey?

About Exquisite Timepieces

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