One of the most iconic Rolex Explorer models is the Ref. 1016, which was in production for an impressive twenty-six years. As the long-reign of the Ref. 1016 came to an end, a new era for the Explorer series began with the introduction of the Explorer II.
The Explorer II debuted in 1971 with the Ref. 1655. This initial model was specifically designed with speleologists, volcanologists, and polar and jungle explorers in mind. Because it’s often difficult to distinguish between day and night in these places, the Explorer II is equipped with some specially designed features, like a fourth hand and 24-hour bezel. This additional hand is typically orange and has become a trademark of the Explorer II.
The second variation of the Explorer II was introduced in 1985 with the Ref. 16550. However, this is often referred to as a transitional model because a new edition was added just four years later, the Ref. 16570.
It took time for the Explorer II to catch on among a wider scope of people. Although the model shared some of the features of the original Explorer like being self-winding, waterproof up to 330 feet, and exclusively offered in stainless steel, many Rolex enthusiasts missed some of the qualities of the original Explorer models. They were surprised by the Explorer II because it was a relatively extreme departure from the original. The Explorer II has a sportier look and feel with a newly designed dial, sapphire crystal, and caliber 3000 movement. Everything about the Explorer II is bigger and bolder, from the larger case to the lugs and dial markers.
The Explorer II didn’t gain widespread popularity until the early 1990’s, just shortly after the Explorer Ref. 1016 was officially taken out of production. The Explorer II gained attention after it was rumored to be worn by legendary actor and racer Steve McQueen. Since then, the model has been dubbed the Steve McQueen Explorer.
While the Explorer II is the ideal watch for the avid cave dweller, you don’t have to be a passionate adventurer to appreciate it. The more rugged design and appearance of the Explorer II makes it a durable and practical watch for everyday wear.
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