The List




The List


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 be set.

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.