Rolex Explorer II Orange Hand
Many watches over the years have been designed to suit
the particular demands of specific sports or activities: the
Rolex Submariner for divers; the Jaeger Le Coultre reverse
for polo players and innumerable watches, from brands such
as Breitling and IWC, for pilots.
However, even watch enthusiasts may find it difficult to
name a watch that was designed with the activity of caving,
or speleology, as it is technically called, in mind. But that is exactly what the Rolex
Explorer II was designed for; its luminous dial and extra 24
hour hand enabling cavers to know the exact time even when
in low or zero light conditions.
Introduced at the beginning of the 1970s, the Explorer II
was a larger, chunkier timepiece than the original Explorer.
Using the same movement as the GMT Master, but doing without
the moveable bezel, its second 24 hour hand enabled owners
to view both 12 hour and 24 hour time simultaneously, but,
unlike the GMT Master, did not allow a separate time zone to
Perhaps as a consequence of this, the GMT Master proved to
be the more popular of the two watches, and it was only in
the early 1990s, when the Explorer II gained the GMT Master
II’s movement (and ability to set a second time zone) that
it became a sales success.
The model in which we are interested, though, is the
orange hand Explorer II (model designation 1655) from the
early 1970s, which has earned its place on The List by
offering the rugged charms for which Rolex is famous, yet
which sidesteps the ubiquity that often detracts from the brand.
Visually there are some similarities to the current
Explorer II, but the earlier watch is, in our opinion,
vastly more appealing; its luminous orange 24 hour hand and
simple straight time markers providing it with a classically
vintage aesthetic that is immediately recognisable. Side by
side, the modern watch, although handsome, does not appear
to possess its own personality, being too close in looks to
other models in the Rolex range.
The Explorer II’s relative unpopularity during the 1970s
means that the orange hand watches are now a fairly rare
sight. This is a double-edged sword, of course, as rarity
combined with popularity can result in stratospheric pricing
(witness the current market price for an original Paul
Newman Daytona, for instance) but, at the moment, at least,
the orange hand Explorer II possesses the twin, and often
incompatible, virtues of being both uncommon and (relatively
speaking) affordable. Our advice is to buy the best you can find while prices are still low,
as they are unlikely to stay that way for long.