Rolex Explorer I 214270 ¶
Rolex has many storied models that have become legendary among watch aficionados and collectors alike. There are the ubiquitous Submariner and Sea-Dweller models, and the pilot’s favourite GMT Masters, and of course the ever-popular Datejust and Day-Date models that have become symbols of classic style and distinction. But one model range is often forgotten in favour of its more glamourous siblings – the Explorer series. Reaching back over 50 years, the Explorer has long been an understated and rugged sport model that has a rich history that should put it into the pantheon of other Rolex sport models. As a result the Explorer remains a gentleman’s sport watch that is chosen by a distinguished few who eschew the glamour of its more famous stablemates in favour of a simple and functional timepiece that goes about its business quietly and reliably.
The Explorer had its origins in the 1950s as a more rugged version of a “bubbleback” wristwatch with a plain, easy to read dial. The first examples had stainless steel cases, silver dials with applied hour markers and dauphin (pointed) hands, and a proven automatic winding calibre with chronometer certification. Rolex supplied watches to several expeditions to conquer Mount Everest, beginning in the 1930s. In 1953 Sir Edmund Hillary and sherpa Tenzing Norgay finally conquered the summit, with a Rolex bubbleback on Tenzing’s wrist (Hillary was in fact wearing a British Smiths wristwatch, something that has been buried under decades of Rolex marketing). Subsequently a new model line was named Explorer (some confusion exists as to whether Explorer models were made before or after the 1953 expedition, regardless the expedition became the key selling point for the line after 1953), and it soon developed a distinctive style that has persisted to this day.
The Explorer as we know it was introduced in 1953 as references 6298, 6150 and 6350. These references are the most easily recognizable as Explorers as they introduced the signature black dial with luminous hour markers – with Arabic 3-6-9 and block markers for the remainder. Hands were broad luminescent skeleton items. Legibility was key, and these early models set the standard. Most importantly, the name Explorer appeared on the dial and the series was officially born. The 6350/6150 was replaced by the 6610 in 1959 (with a new movement calibre and a different case) but retained the signature dial.
From 1963 onward the 6610 was replaced by the legendary 1016. This would prove to be one of Rolex’s longest-lived models, being in continuous production with minor updates until 1989. As before it had the black 3-6-9 dial and luminous hands (similar to Submariner hands), a 36mm stainless steel case, and a chronometer movement. The 1016 was replaced by the 14270 (now known as the Explorer I to distinguish it from the Explorer II GMT models) which retained the 36mm size but otherwise revamped the model with a new case, sapphire crystal, new movement, and a more modern dial with applied hour markers. An evolution of the ref 14270 was the 114270 from 2001-2010 that had an updated movement and heavier Oyster bracelet, but was cosmetically unchanged.
In 2010 Rolex announced the release of a bigger Explorer I, the ref 214270. For its entire production from 1953 to 2010, as sure as the sun rose, the Explorer I had a 36mm case. The 214270 broke tradition by upping the ante to 39mm. While this may not sound huge by modern standards, it is a sizeable watch with an expansive dial that dwarfs the outgoing 114270. With the classic Oyster bracelet it appears bigger on the wrist than the numbers suggest. Otherwise it is very similar in appearance to the outgoing model, offering the same dial and hands and the same case shape. The bracelet received an update, going to the heavy-link “super” Oyster with machined (vs. stamped) clasp. As always, Rolex allowed the model to gently evolve without making any drastic changes outside of a small bump in diameter. Rolex has never been known to make radical changes, at least not without upsetting their staunch fanbase.
The Explorer has always been a “tool” watch, a rugged and easy-to-read design that can be worn in any situation. It looks good with jeans and a t-shirt, or with a suit and tie. You can wear it while digging a ditch or at a dinner club. It’s functional without extraneous complications, just the time and nothing else. It’s long been one of my personal favourites as it is understated and doesn’t scream “look at me, I have a Rolex”, but offers all of the good qualities Rolex is known for (impeccable quality, excellent reliability and performance, good water resistance, and clean design). There are those of us who appreciate Rolex quality but don’t want to wear the Submariner. You won’t see Explorers on the wrists of every investment banker this side of Luxembourg, and for me that is a plus.
The Explorer is a model with a long history and many decades of consistent design and functionality, and the new 214270 continues the tradition admirably with subtle updates and a modern size. It keeps the tradition going without deviating much from the original design, something Rolex has become known for - almost all their models are evolutions of watches that have been in production for decades. The Explorer is a rugged and simple watch that goes about its business without fuss. It’s a great choice for someone who wants a usable everyday watch that can make the transition from hard use to dress with ease. If you are interested in our Explorer 214270 or any other preowned watch in our inventory feel free to call me at 514 845 8878 or visit our contact page.